Boxing never lies SAN DIEGO — It’s not what I’d expect of a Gen Z playlist, much less from a fighter losing himself in the imagined aggressions of shadowboxing: “Married Life,” better known as the theme from “Up,” Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major.
“It calms me down,” Ryan Garcia says. “I need that.”
The notes are so soft, but Garcia looks to be throwing everything hard.
“It just looks hard because it’s so easy for me,” he says. “I could throw this hook a million times and not get tired.”
I ask about the hook that took out Francisco Fonseca 80 seconds into the first round last Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t remarkable for the power as much as for its length and slight curvature, like a corkscrew. Boxing never lies
“I learned that from watching Sugar Ray Robinson,” says Garcia, 20-0 with 17 knockouts. “We have the same body type.”
By now, the kid’s playlist has hit a stretch of inspirational Christian music. I remind him of his expressed intention to punish Luke Campbell — a veteran lightweight contender he’ll meet Jan. 2 in Dallas — beginning with the ruination of the Englishman’s eye socket. Doesn’t sound very Christian to me.
“He disrespected me off when he said my fans couldn’t fight for me,” says Garcia, who nevertheless concedes, “Like I said, sometimes I need to calm down.” Boxing never lies
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Garcia looks to the fight with Campbell, a rangy southpaw with an Olympic gold medal, as the one that will announce him as a force in what has quickly become boxing’s hottest and youngest division. He returns to shadowboxing, apparently lost in the music, but only for a moment. There’s something he wants to clarify.
“All jokes aside,” he says. “I’m praying for him.”
For Luke Campbell, he means. Boxing never lies
It’s an odd remark from a fighter. Then again, if you judge merely by looks — like so many of the “casuals” who constitute the bulk of Garcia’s 7.8 million Instagram followers — you’d never know he was a fighter. At 22, Garcia has been in the ring since he was 7. After that long, even young boxers usually show signs: ridges or trace threads of scar tissue, a blunting of the features. Not Garcia, though, who looks as if he stepped out of an anime cartoon, right down to his perfectly contoured GI Joe beard. Boxing never lies
“I’m serious,” he says. “I pray that Luke Campbell is OK after this fight. I pray that Luke Campbell is able to walk.”
Garcia trains under Eddy Reynoso, the precocious dean of Mexican trainers, at a nameless gym leased by Garcia’s idol, Canelo Alvarez, the current standard-bearer for Mexican fighters. He is promoted by a man he used to idolize, Oscar De La Hoya, who is Mexican American. But Garcia, out of Victorville, California, doesn’t speak Spanish, nor does he feel the need to fake it. He is a purely American conception: a creature of youth and ambition with an opportunistic fluency in the latest technology.
Garcia is not getting Campbell because he waited for a promoter or a network to smile upon him and declare him deserving. Rather, he leveraged those 7.8 million followers (and another 722,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel) to make it happen. It wasn’t by accident but by design. If Garcia makes good on his master plan — to be, as he puts it “the last greatest boxer of all time” — it will be, in great measure, because he used Instagram as Muhammad Ali once used Howard Cosell and Floyd Mayweather used “24/7.” Boxing never lies
The question, of course, is can he fight?
“I’m going to find out — this fight,” he says. “We’re all going to find out.” Boxing never lies
Under the tutelage of his father, Henry — a jazz pianist who boxed as a kid back in Chicago — Ryan was a top-tier amateur, winning 15 national titles. Joe Goossen, the veteran Southern California trainer, recalls a teenager with a ready-made pro style: “He needed to learn the inside game, and how to bump with guys up close, but he wrecked a lot of people in the gym. What was special? Anything he threw with the left hand, but especially that shot to the liver. You have to take a risk to throw it like he does, from a distance. But Ryan could deliver it so quickly. He didn’t need to wind up.”
Garcia was 18, already 6-0 as a pro, when De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions signed him. Still, nothing in his résumé suggested superstardom until Aug. 13, 2017. Boxing never lies
It was just a post of him working on a Ringside Cobra bag — basically a speed bag mounted on a coil spring. His father has had him on it since he was very young. He said it would help Ryan’s timing and speed. Over the years, it became his favorite thing to hit. Boxing never lies
That joy — expressed in a rhythmically powerful beat — is evident in the video. It’s just 38 seconds, and received “only” (Garcia’s adverb) 455,000 views. But it changed his life. Boxing never lies
“The first day I went viral,” he says.
n Sept. 16, he posted the entirety of his 11th fight, which lasted 30 seconds and consisted, mainly, of two punches on two knockdowns, the finale being a lightning long left hook. That one got more than 962,000 views.
Garcia could sense he was in the midst of a change — not in himself but the idea of him, the way people saw him. “I was looking for something,” he says.
A way to complete the transition.
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“Put on that body protector,” he told his brother, Sean, two years Ryan’s junior.
Sean, now 5-0 as a pro featherweight, did as instructed.
“I’m going to hit you as hard as I can,” said Ryan, before whaling away.
“Dude!” Sean protested. “You’re hitting me hard.”
That was the idea, right? So much for the dress rehearsal. Now, the real thing. “Make it look even more dramatic,” Ryan said.
They sold the hell out of it: handsome big brother apparently pounding kid brother into submission in the family garage in Victorville.
Finally, a million views.
A star was born.
“I don’t care if they say it’s fake,” Garcia says. “I knew that’s what people want to see.”
Three years hence, rappers and YouTubers still beg to be on the receiving end of what Garcia christened “The Body Shot Challenge.”
“It wasn’t because I love Instagram,” he says. “It was for my boxing career. I had a vision.”
That vision didn’t merely change his life. Judging from acts as varied as Mike Tyson’s “comeback” to YouTuber Jake Paul’s pay-per-view knockout of former NBA player Nate Robinson — it has changed the game itself.
“I knew Nate Robinson was going to get knocked out,” Garcia says. “Jake visited me like four years ago, before I was even big on the internet. He wanted to know how boxing works. He’s been at this for a while now. He has an eye for what stuff is going to be big.”
Garcia’s associations with the cyber fabulous, the beefcake ab shots on his Instagram feed and the apparently endless emoji stream of heart eyes to be found among his comments don’t exactly endear him to real-life boxing people or hard-core fans. He gets it; they don’t. But that’s the point.
“The casual fans love me. They don’t care if your hands are up, if your feet are moving, if you’re slipping or dodging,” he says. “People want to see knockouts. They want to see home runs. They want to see ass whuppings.
“Where I hear the hate is from the boxers and the coaches, who for some reason want to see me fail. But they underestimate me. That’s what I want them to see. Their hate and envy blinds them into the shots I’m setting up.”
What makes a good post? I ask.
“You need three elements,” he says. “I have to go my fastest. I have to go my hardest. I have to do something amazing.”
And what else?
“I make sure I look good.”
Garcia belongs to one of boxing’s time-honored archetypes: the Pretty Boy. The last great one, of course, was his former idol and current promoter, De La Hoya. It wasn’t an easy role for De La Hoya. He was from East L.A. but not of East L.A. He was special — destined for Olympic glory, and effectively cloistered from neighborhood life.
De La Hoya never quite fit in. I remember him telling me — at the Riviera Country Club, of all places — that he never even had a street fight. Mexican fans — whose respect he so coveted — thought him too white, and the hard-cores dismissed him, inexcusably, as a candy-ass crossover. On the eve of his lightweight title fight with the great Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, De La Hoya visited his alma mater, Garfield High. The crowd threw eggs at him. De La Hoya wanted to be loved, and he wanted to get paid. His quest to achieve both proved impossible.
But a quarter century later, Garcia knows exactly whom he antagonizes and why he’s doing it. He understands — kind of like Mayweather — that haters pay the bills.
What he can’t figure out is De La Hoya. After almost five years with Golden Boy — public feuds, a conciliation and new contract last summer — he says: “There’s a front, but I don’t know who Oscar really is. I haven’t gotten close to him, to keep it frank. We still haven’t had that breakthrough moment. Maybe we will, but right now, the whole Canelo situation caused a rift because I’m closer to Canelo.”
The “situation,” as he euphemizes it, deteriorated into a bitter feud, with a corresponding lawsuit. Last year, Alvarez famously told The Athletic that De La Hoya has “no loyalty in him.” This year, he finally broke free of his contract, leaving Garcia as the marketable jewel in De La Hoya’s stable.
“All the stuff people are telling you? Those are lies, some of it. But when you get in the ring, that’s the truth. Boxing never lies. Who you really are will come out in the ring.”
Ryan Garcia on social media compared to boxing
I remember De La Hoya — around the same age Garcia is now — telling me how difficult it was for him to trust people, and describing the complexities in navigating his then-peculiar brand of fame. “Same with me,” Garcia says. “Sometimes people want to force me to be something I’m not. … I think I could relate to some things he’s gone through. I think he has a lot of knowledge I could use.”
Garcia endured his own adolescent trials. The confidence he had in the gym abandoned him in school. He says he was bullied. At 17, he experienced anxiety attacks. But it’s nothing he has ever discussed with his erstwhile idol.
“I went to his house one time,” Garcia recalls. “He took me on a tour of the place. But there was just something I didn’t feel. Not in what he was saying, but in his genuine feelings. … I think he wants to have a closer relationship. He just doesn’t know how … I don’t know whether it was the fame. Can he get close to people? I think it would be hard for him. Maybe he’s been screwed over. Or maybe when he has opened up, he fails people. But I don’t know him. I don’t know where his heart really lies.”
De La Hoya, after hearing Garcia’s take on their relationship, responds: “I see a lot of similarities between Ryan and myself: success at a youthful age, the ability to cross over beyond the hard-core boxing fans. … I want to help him to navigate the opportunities that come with being special, but I always want to be respectful of letting him be his own individual.
“I would 100 percent welcome a beautiful conversation with him about being a young star, a young man with money, a young man with whispers in his ears. … Having experienced it myself, having my own fame and glory … it’s a world of seclusion, a world of being careful … at the same time, I have to understand I’m Ryan’s promoter. It’s not my obligation to give him personal advice. It’s my obligation to take him to the top and to the biggest stage and give him the biggest opportunities.”
As for the Canelo “situation,” De La Hoya adds, citing his young star’s crossover appeal and ability: “I strongly feel that Ryan is going to be 10 times bigger than Canelo.”
If De La Hoya’s 20-something self played a role to please others, Garcia is playing a role of his own design. He points at his phone.Boxing never lies
“That?” he says, “all the stuff people are telling you? Those are lies, some of it. But when you get in the ring, that’s the truth. Boxing never lies. Who you really are will come out in the ring.”
It’s the ring, he says — and not social media — that will soon reveal his great glories.Boxing never lies
He’s talking about something bigger than Campbell. Garcia is already way ahead of himself.
I suggest Teofimo Lopez, just a year older than Garcia but already having taken custody of four lightweight belts when he beat Vasiliy Lomachenko in October. Not only has Lopez just been named The Ring’s co-fighter of the year but he has taken to calling Garcia “The Model.” What could be better?Boxing never lies
“It will happen,” he says. “But Lopez is just another boxing match.”
C’mon.Boxing never lies
What about Devin Haney, owner of the WBC lightweight belt, who last beat Garcia in the 2015 youth nationals in Reno?
“Just another boxing match.” Boxing never lies
What then?Boxing never lies
“I need to defeat Tank Davis,” he says. “My legacy starts with Tank. I want him next.”
At 26, Gervonta Davis is a compact southpaw and four-time world champion coming off a spectacular knockout of Leo Santa Cruz. A couple of years ago, Davis tweeted a disparaging remark about Garcia’s parents. Already fluent in the art of internet provocation, Garcia wouldn’t be offended. It goes deeper than that, he says.Boxing never lies
“I grew up in an area where there were a lot of Tanks,” he begins. “I got bullied a lot. By the kids next door. The kids at school. They would make fun of me. Throw me on the ground. I was scared of confrontation. I was maybe 14, never been in a street fight. And this kid in class chucks a pencil at me.”Boxing never lies
The guy was already 6-foot-2, as Garcia remembers, the school bully.Boxing never lies
“You couldn’t even hit me with a pencil,” Garcia told him, surprised that, for once, he actually talked back.
“What you say?” asked the bully.Boxing never lies
“You couldn’t hit me with a pencil.” Garcia still doesn’t know why he repeated it.
The bell rings. A girl warns Garcia not to go to his next class. “He’s going to whup your ass,” she says.
I’m done being afraid, Garcia tells himself.Boxing never lies
He steps outside. The bully is waiting — only now he’s wearing batting gloves on each hand.
I really don’t want to fight, thinks Garcia, but if it’s gonna happen …
He gets into his boxing stance. Here we go. Takes a breath. Here we go … Boxing never lies
And then the bully starts backing up. Then he takes off the batting gloves. “I’m good,” he says.
Back in the present, with a private chef in a glass-enclosed corner unit overlooking Coronado Beach, Garcia says, “When I see Tank, I see that bully.”Boxing never lies
That’s not all he sees, though. It will be like Tyson-Evander Holyfield, Good versus Evil. No, scratch that. It’ll be bigger than that. It will be like Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. Boxing never lies
“I can go down the list of what this looks like,” he says. “Did you know Ali bugged the s— out of Liston?”
And Ali didn’t even have Instagram. Or YouTube. Boxing never lies
“That’s why Ryan Garcia vs. Gervonta Davis is going to be one of the biggest fights you’ve ever seen,” he says. “I have to make the bully want to bully me. Or shame him. I got to do something to get him in that ring.”Boxing never lies
That he will. Garcia won’t merely pursue this fight as much as he will prosecute it on social media.
In the meantime, he says, pray for Luke Campbell. Boxing never lies
Could Joshua and Fury vacate their titles? How will Ryan Garcia fare in biggest test?
By the time we reach the weekend, the calendar will flip to 2021. The new year in the boxing world kicks off right away on Saturday, as one of the sport’s most intriguing prospects, Ryan Garcia, vies for the vacant WBC interim lightweight title against Luke Campbell. Boxing never lies
The action is set to pick up in a major way with a trio of title fights in late January, as Stephen Fulton gets his delayed shot at the WBO junior featherweight title against Angelo Leo; and Caleb Plant defends his super middleweight belt against Caleb Truax. Boxing never lies
But the biggest question of all, to the surprise of no one, is how the heavyweight division moves forward with the roadblocks still standing in the way of an Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury superfight. With implications of a willingness to vacate some or all of their titles to make it happen, could the opportunity for a long-awaited undisputed heavyweight champion of the world be derailed by politics? Boxing never lies
Our panel of boxing writers is here to break through the noise and offer insight.
Real or not: The fight against Luke Campbell is the one that will make Ryan Garcia a boxing star.
Ben Baby: Real. Ever since Garcia entered the consciousness of boxing fans, many viewed him as a social media star first and a prospect second. And if we’re going to be honest about Garcia, let’s go ahead and acknowledge the obvious: He’s incredibly valuable because he captures a vastly younger audience, which boxing has been losing to other sports, including MMA.
But his ring prowess has grossly lagged behind his marketing acumen — until now. The upcoming bout against Luke Campbell will be a true test of where Garcia stands at this point in his career. Campbell is a legitimate lightweight who lost a split decision to Jorge Linares in 2017 and a unanimous decision to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2019. He’s no slouch.
Yes, Garcia is only 22. But because of what Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney are doing, there’s pressure on Garcia to accelerate his career path. If Garcia has the goods and beats Campbell, he has the potential to eventually become the biggest star in boxing. Boxing never lies
Eric Woodyard: Not real. To quote a wise man by the name of Shawn Carter — aka Jay-Z — it’s “politics as usual.” It’s hard enough to make the megafights that fans want because of business and the conflicting governing bodies, but to think that all the championship belts won’t be on the line for a potential Joshua-Fury showdown is bizarre. That’s like playing for an NBA championship without receiving a ring for your performance. That’s wack. Boxing never lies
The belts are what excites boxers. Outside of the huge paydays, it’s also what separates these bouts from being viewed as a glorified sparring matches. I hear what Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has said about not being afraid to proceed without any titles on the line, but I can’t see the fighters going for this without an opportunity to secure the crown as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. It means you’re the best of the best. King of the hill. I just can’t see that happening, and if it does, this would be another black eye for the sport, robbing the public of a heavyweight joining an exclusive club for the first time since Lennox Lewis 21 years ago. Boxing never lies
Real or not: Devin Haney is next up for Teofimo Lopez.
Michael Rothstein: To me, this is a question of “should be” versus “will be” — and it’s part of the overarching problem for boxing to begin with, although there isn’t enough space to go into that. Lopez’s next fight absolutely should be against Haney. It is a unification bout and those tend to bring in some level of money. It would consolidate all four of the belts in another division into the possession of one man, which I believe is the best for the sport. So from a “should” happen standpoint, yes, this is real and a no-brainer — even if Lopez questions whether or not Haney is ready. In my head, if Lopez doesn’t think Haney is ready, that’s all the more reason to fight him, get the belt and move on as an undisputed champion.
But will it happen? That’s always the question when it comes to boxing or MMA. The two Americans are young fighters, so there is time to make this fight happen, and it feels like the talk around this one might be the setup to get it to go. For Haney, the fight makes sense on every level. Lopez, to me, has more options, whether it’s his IBF mandatory challenger George Kambosos Jr., a rematch against Lomachenko or going up in weight to fight titlists Josh Taylor or Jose Ramirez at junior welterweight. There’s also the fight — and I’d hold off here for a bigger payday with fans and more hype — with Gervonta Davis. Boxing never lies
All of that said, while Lopez has options, it might be best for him to take care of the immediate business in front of him and line up either Haney or Kambosos Jr. before making bigger moves out of the division. Boxing never lies
Real or not: Caleb Truax will upset Caleb Plant.
Nick Parkinson: Not Real. Truax’s best form was when he deservedly won an upset decision over James DeGale in London in December 2017 to capture the IBF super middleweight title, before losing it back to DeGale four months later. Now 37, the Minneapolis native does not have the same appetite or energy, and he faces a boxer in IBF super middleweight world titlist Plant, 28, who is focused and in form with three good wins behind him. Boxing never lies
The win over Jose Uzcategui, a more experienced fighter with knockout ability, was especially impressive from Plant, who knocked down Uzcategui twice on his way to a unanimous decision. After being linked with a fight against Canelo Alvarez in 2020, Plant knows the importance of defending his belt and staying in contention for a lucrative fight in 2021 against Alvarez, who recently won two other versions of the world super middleweight title. Boxing never lies
Real or not: It was the right call to give Stephen Fulton another chance at Angelo Leo. Boxing never lies
Cameron Wolfe: Real. Fulton shouldn’t lose his shot at the WBO junior featherweight title because he contracted COVID-19 in July. Leo won the vacant title easily against fill-in Tramaine Williams, but the true battle to show who deserves the belt is rightfully between Fulton and Leo on Jan. 23. Besides, Fulton vs. Leo should be a very entertaining fight between two undefeated 26-year-old top-10 contenders in the division. Leo, No. 10 on ESPN’s junior featherweight rankings, is a fair champion in giving No. 8 Fulton another chance, and boxing will likely be rewarded with a very competitive title fight.
Public By: espn.in