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Ryan Garcia’s Redemption

A Second Chance at Stardom

A Second Chance at Stardom

Photos: Golden Boy / Cris Esqueda

In life, second chances are often hard to come by. Some simply aren’t aware that, at any given moment, something they’ve dreamed about could arrive at a moment’s notice. Letting the moment slip by, often unnoticed, is often a regretful experience that is only fully realized once it has passed. However, some choose to shoot for the stars. For some, comfort and complacency isn’t an option. For those who fit into this category, coming up short while shooting for the stars is a far more viable option than succeeding in shooting for the dumpster. Rising pugilist Ryan Garcia most definitely fits into the latter. And while he may have come up short last April, in his bid to be considered one of the elite, Garcia now finds himself being given a rare opportunity to shoot for the stars once again.

On April 22nd, 2023, Ryan Garcia stepped into the ring for his toughest and most ambitious fight of his career. On that night, in front of a sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the long-awaited fight between Ryan Garcia and Gervonta “Tank” Davis took place. The fight ended up generating $22.8 million in ticket sales, and sold 1.2 million pay-per-view buys. By all accounts, this particular fight was on all boxing fans wish list for 2023. And while fantasy matchups often make up the lion’s share of boxing fans passionate discussions, these fantasy encounters are, often, unable to be signed, sealed, and delivered. However, on this night, talk gave way to action. Two undefeated stars who were willing to risk their unblemished professional careers for a chance at super stardom? This was a scenario that was prevalent in boxing’s rich and illustrious past. Unfortunately, these kinds of scenarios are also few and far between these days. Never the less, fights that meet these criteria become far more than a simple sporting event. For the fans and fighters alike, it becomes an experience.

In front of 20,842 spectators, Garcia went after the WBA lightweight champion, who came into the fight with a record of 28-0, with 26 of those wins coming by knockout. To say “King” Ryan was playing with fire would be a gross understatement. While Garcia initially pushed the action, Tank Davis was able to adapt to Garcia’s style. In round two, Garcia was floored by a well-timed counter left hook by Davis. Garcia wasn’t hurt by the blow, but for the rest of the fight, Garcia’s usually contentious nature was noticeably subdued.

As the rounds progressed, it became more and more evident that Garcia was in the ring with a superior pugilist. And then it happened. In round seven, Davis landed a well-placed left hand to the body of Garcia. At first, Garcia didn’t appear hurt, and many didn’t even notice the punch had landed. However, as with most significant body blows, a delayed reaction rendered Garcia immobile, and sent the twenty- four-year old down to the canvas for the second and last time of the fight. Referee Thomas Taylor officially counted out Garcia at 1 minute and 44 seconds of the 7th round.

After the dominate performance, Davis exclaimed that he was now “definitely the face of boxing”. Garcia, for his part, kept his post-fight comments simple and straightforward. “He just caught me with a good shot. I don’t want to make any excuses in here.” It was a painful lesson for Garcia, who was now forced to contemplate his career after losing in such a dominate and decisive fashion. In that moment, Garcia’s millions of dollars, 9.8 million Instragram followers, and movie star good looks took a backseat to uncertainty in what lied ahead.

After such an experience, many fighters might have felt a level of discouragement that would have sent them into hiding for a year, or worse, retirement. However, Ryan Garcia chose a different approach. In December of last year, a mere eight months after his devastating defeat at the hands of Gervonta Davis, Gacia climbed back into the ring. Many thought he should have taken more time off to regroup, but “King” Ryan was anxious to shake off the memory of his first professional defeat. In doing so, Garcia made some adjustments. Joe Goossen, who had trained Garcia for the fight against Davis, was replaced with ESPN’s Trainer of the Year, Derrick James.

Garcia chose journeyman Oscar Duarte (26-1-1, 21 KO’s) for his comeback bout, to take place at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Duarte, who moved up from lightweight to challenge Garcia, was thought to be a safe choice for Garcia, who desperately needed a spectacular win in order to raise his stock.

During the fight, Garcia appeared to, at times, be in distress. Duarte’s aggressive and relentless style appeared to be problematic for Garcia, who decided to execute a shoulder roll against his opponent that proved to be ineffective against Duarte’s onslaught. Garcia was clearly out of his comfort zone, again.

By round 8, the crowd appeared to be turning on Garcia, who was not fighting like the superstar he had been built up to be. He might have been up on the judge’s scorecard, but it made little difference to a live crowd that was expecting Garcia to put on a clinic. And then, as all great fighters have done so in the past, Garcia found a way to get the job done. A left hook thrown by Garcia, followed by a bombardment of follow-up blows sent Duarte down and out. Although Duarte was able to get to his feet as the referee counted to ten, the fight was declared over, with only nine seconds left in the eighth round. Indeed, Garcia was back in the winner’s circle, even if his performance was slightly less than his usual spectacular fare. And, inevitably, fans and the media wasted little time in posing the obvious question to Garcia and his camp, “who’s next?”

In February, 2024, Ryan’s Gacia and his camp answered that question. Garcia has agreed to a super fight with the number one 140-pounder in the world, and ESPN’s number six ranked pound-for-pound boxer, Devin Haney. For Haney, this will be his third consecutive pay-per-view fight. For Garcia, it’s a second chance at stardom, which many fighters before him have often squandered. Garcia, like his fans, understand that a victory against another elite fighter is the only thing that can truly save Garcia’s career, and help him rise up off the canvas that Tank Davis’s body shot sent him down to.

Victories over Yuriorkis Gamboa, George Kambosos Jr. (twice), Vasiliy Lomachenko, and Regis Prograis have made Devin Haney one of boxing’s most dominate current champions. He is also no stranger to Ryan Garcia, either. The two fought six times back in the amateurs, and are well acquainted with one another. And while Haney’s resume is, undoubtably, for more impressive, a win against Garcia would still be considered a career-defining moment.

A win for Garcia would dramatically change his career trajectory. While some fans might have initially believed that Garcia could have been boxing’s biggest star, that belief is waning. Garcia’s mix of hand speed, knockout power, good looks, and canny utilization of social media have been pivotal in turning the young star into something far more than simply a good fighter. However, it’s up to Garcia live up to that reputation. If Garcia is truly serious about making his mark on the sport of boxing, then he must prove that he’s not a fraud. He’s already tried to do this once, and unfortunately for him, he failed. And now, Garcia will get a second chance to make a first impression in a sport where one fight…one moment can make or break a fighter’s career and reputation.

Win or lose, the silver lining for Ryan Garcia is that he is willing to fight the best, even at great risk to his career. And in today’s boxing landscape, which has steadily declined due to many star fighter’s unwillingness to risk their records against formidable opposition, Garcia has earned respect for his unwavering belief in himself. The vast majority of fight fans and the media alike believe that Haney is just too skilled for Garcia. Haney will be making his first defense of his WBC super lightweight championship, and will assuredly be prepared for whatever Garcia brings his way on fight night. Haney, for his part, doesn’t even feel confident that Garcia can last a full twelve rounds against him. Speaking with DAZN, Haney stated “We’ve seen Ryan quit before, and I think we won’t see anything different. I think he’ll quit on April 20th.”

While the smart money will unquestionably be on Devin Haney, come April 20th, boxing has shown time and again to never disregard a pugilist with something to prove. Garcia must prove to his fans, the media, and most importantly, himself, that he really is one of the elites. He had that chance against Davis, but failed in his pursuit. This time around, I think he’ll be a little wiser, a more focused, and better prepared. Does that mean he’ll get his hand raised by the referee at the end of the night? Maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Win, lose, or draw, Garcia will walk away after April 20th knowing that he pursued greatness, and to that, he should have fight fans respect.

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