Boxing is an undeniably cruel game. Demands that fighters take risks and face the best are constantly present and failure to either take these steps up or suffer a loss if the risk is taken can lead to observers trashing them. Ryan Garcia is one of the latest examples of this. He enters a fight with Oscar Duarte on Saturday in an attempt to bounce back and prove there's still far more to his journey than his April knockout loss to fellow superstar Gervonta "Tank" Davis.
Few 24-year-old fighters with massive upside and hype take a fight against a highly-skilled rival like Davis to begin with, especially without a world championship on the line, but that's exactly what Garcia, now 25, did earlier this year in one of the most lucrative fights of 2023.
"It didn't shake me of my confidence too much, but of my focus? Yeah, I don't want to lose again," Garcia told "Morning Kombat" last month.
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Despite having moments in the fight, things did not go Garcia's way as he was dropped in the second round before being unable to get up from a seventh-round body shot. The finish was seen as just another negative to tack onto an ever-expanding list of reasons some fans and media members have used to write Garcia off as a serious boxer.
For many in a sport that has always been woefully behind the times when it comes to technology, Garcia being active and successful on social media has always been a reason to write him off as a serious boxer. Then there were complaints over his level of opposition. Others wrote Garcia off as weak when he stepped away from the sport to deal with mental health issues. A brutal knockdown suffered against Luke Campbell in 2021 was further proof to the doubters that Garcia didn't have "it," despite quickly bouncing up from being floored and finishing Campbell with a crushing body shot.
So, when Garcia took the full 10 count after the body shot from Davis, in a fight where Garcia had to make a hard cut back to lightweight after having already moved up a division, it was the final proof for many that Garcia wasn't a serious fighter. That Garcia stood as soon as the referee's count hit 10 only served to stoke the flames, with even other fighters criticizing Garcia.
Ryan could of got up.— KING CALLUM WALSH (@KINGCALLUMWALSH) April 23, 2023
Corrales could of easily quit against Castillo, Im not saying it wasn’t a good shot. But fighters get hit like that all the time and continue. Fighters get dropped and get back up, head and body shots. He quit, fighters are warriors. That wasn’t warrior like. I stand by that— Ishé Oluwa Kamau Ali Smith (@IsheSugarShay) April 23, 2023
Ryan stud up as soon as the ref said 10. He gave up to me but great fight!⭐️— Keyshawn Davis (@KeyshawnDavis8) April 23, 2023
Even Hall of Fame boxer-turned-analyst Timothy Bradley piled on after the fight, saying during an appearance on "Max on Boxing," "He quit. I'm just like any other fighter out there. There's no doubt about it. Listen to me. If you can get up at 11, why can't you get up at 9? If you can look up, you can get up, Max, and he chose not to."
Saturday's fight with Duarte is the start of Garcia's rebuild. Of course, it's a fight that won't do much to quiet the doubters.
Garcia is now fully committed to junior welterweight and Duarte is a lightweight coming up a division for the money and opportunity of facing a big-name opponent. It doesn't matter that Duarte is still a dangerous fighter with pop in his punches and only a single loss -- a 2019 split decision against Adrian Estrella -- on his record. Nor does it matter that it has long been boxing protocol for a fighter to face a "get right opponent." It will take a lot more than running through Duarte for Garcia to shed the labels he's been stuck with at only 25 years old.
Then again, it was revealed in the lead-up to Garcia vs. Duarte that WBO junior welterweight champion Teofimo Lopez shot down an offer to fight Garcia in what would have been a massive fight both in terms of importance and box office business.
"When you're the best, when you are the guy, when you bring major sponsors, endorsements, big major business deals, when you offer me a 1.5 [million dollars] stake in the piece, f--- you," Lopez told Boxing News. "So yeah I declined the offer."
Garcia has also changed trainers after the loss to Davis, something the fighter has done a little too often for many at his age. He is now working with Derrick James in Dallas. Repeatedly changing camps is just another black mark on Garcia's record for many, but Garcia says it was the move he needed at this time.
"If you're in a toxic environment, it's just not going to work out for you," Garcia told Chris Mannix on "Off the Cuff." "So it was just in my spirit to change things all the way and I just let God guide me and he guided me to Dallas, Texas, and with a great trainer like Derrick, and I could see the difference. Sometimes you need to lose and sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize the changes you need to make. And I think that what's going to make me great and show people who I am is just how I bounce back. It's not easy to lose, but great champions come back."
Great champions do come back. Garcia now needs to prove he's able to do just that, and it starts in a fight with Duarte where anything other than an impressive showing will only provide fuel for a fire that has been building for years.