It wasn't that long ago that Rod Salka was fighting in sports complexes in his hometown of Bunola, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. It wasn't that long ago that Salka lost a majority decision to Ricardo Alvarez (brother of Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez), something that put thoughts of a major fight in a major arena in serious jeopardy.
But after a win over previously unbeaten Alexei Collado in April, Salka finally will fight on a big stage -- Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He'll face undefeated Danny Garcia (28-0, 16 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight bout Saturday night.
For a boxer trying to make a name for himself, the scene might seem daunting. But not for Salka (19-3, 3 KOs). He knows firsthand that life is a lot bigger than what's between the ropes.
Salka spent 10 years in the Air National Guard, enlisting on Aug. 21, 2001. He was a crew chief, in charge of maintaining planes in the 171st Air Refueling Wing. Though primarily based in Pittsburgh, Salka spent time in Kurdistan, Turkey, Germany and England.
At first, Salka was unsure if he'd like the Air Force, enlisting primarily because of the financial help that would be provided when he went to college. But after Sept. 11, his outlook changed.
"It was motivating because it gave me a sense of [national] pride and a bigger sense of doing good," he said. "I'd be in charge of a plane and I had to get it off in half an hour because it's giving support to guys that are on the ground. If I don't get it off in time, the guys on the ground are going to be under fire for longer than they need to be."
After facing that kind of pressure for nearly a decade, Salka doesn't look at Saturday night's fight under the bright Brooklyn lights as anything more than another "awesome" experience in his boxing career.
"A lot of bigger things are going on in the world than what's here," he said. "It makes this all entertaining and fun. There's zero pressure here."
But just because Salka doesn't view the fight as stress-filled doesn't mean he's taking anything lightly. He said the Alvarez decision made him angry, but he has learned from it.
"I watched the Alvarez fight 100 times," he said. "I see everything I'm doing wrong or that I feel I'm doing wrong. At this level, you have to keep getting better."
One of the things Salka wants to improve is his energy distribution. He doesn't want to let an ounce of power remain in his proverbial tank at the end of the fight.
"At the end of the Alvarez and the Collado fight, I wasn't tired at all," he said. "I had a ton of energy, and that shouldn't be the case at the end of the fight."
Salka said if he throws more punches and expends more energy, he will win.
"I feel like I'm the favorite," he said. "I have what it takes."