Sometimes, things aren’t that deep.
Sometimes, things are exactly as they appear. That’s what Ryan Garcia believes, anyway.
The surging lightweight – both in his standing inside the ring and in his popularity outside the ring – frequently is the butt of jokes and gibes from other boxers. The best fighters in the division – a group he assures he belongs with – don’t take him seriously, at least publicly, despite all that he’s proven to possess. His outside interests and identity have drawn skepticism over what his motivations and ambitions truly are in the sport.
It doesn’t take any deep digging to figure out why all this is directed Garcia’s way.
“It’s just the oldest story in the book. It’s just jealousy,” Garcia told The Post. “It’s just jealousy. If they really wanted to look into my heart they would see actually how kind I am. Whether you can see it on the surface, you can make your judgements all you want. I’m just a very kind person, I’m fair, a little vocal but that’s it. If people don’t want to see that, then they can kind of just stay miserable. You’re miserable, I’m not, is how I look at it now.”
On the surface, Garcia should represent everything that boxing, and boxing fans, most want. He’s electric in the ring, combining elite punching speed and devastating power while storming out to a 22-0 record to start his career, 18 of which came via knockout. At just 23 years old, he’s one of the top emerging contenders in the thrilling 135-pound division, ranked No. 2 by WBC, No. 6 by WBA and No. 10 by IBF.
Carrying a boisterous and gregarious persona, the California-native Garcia has grown one the largest followings in all of sports. He boasts 8.9 million Instagram followers, more than any current professional boxer other than pay-per-view superstars Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua. “King Ryan” has the most visible commercial among boxers, his Gatorade promotion alongside NBA superstar Damian Lillard airing frequently on ESPN. His smile, and made-for-Hollywood looks, are always present, as his eagerness in front of a camera. He’s constantly aware of his image and how he presents himself, which could be felt as he finished up a haircut while speaking with The Post.
“If I had to pinpoint anything I would say my big heart.” Garcia said. “I do care about my fans a lot. I care about everything, the way my videos present themselves, I want to be as authentic, but as trendy as I can. I wanna engage with my fans, and really think about what they would like. I really try my best to see what they like. It’s all that. It’s just me, I think, it’s just me. It’s who I am. I love to make people happy. Like I wanna make you smile right now all the time. Just I love to see it.”
All of it has landed a hyper-focused microscope on his back. And all that envy.
After defeating Emmanuel Tagoe via unanimous decision in April – which ended a 15-month layoff, in part due to a mental health break – Garcia has been aggressive in calling out and trying to secure fights with the best lightweights, which is perhaps currently the most intriguing division in boxing.
Undisputed champion Devin Haney, WBA “regular” champion Gervonta Davis, and other top-ranked talents Vasiliy Lomachenko, Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos headline the exhilarating group at 135 pounds, and fights between them are heavily-anticipated in the near future. It’s also a group, however, that goes out of its way to exclude Garcia in its discourse.
During and after Davis’ KO-victory over Rolando Romero last month, Garcia continued his longstanding quest to square off with the lucrative superstar. “Tank” Davis had just produced the highest-ever attended boxing match in Barclays Center history, and Garcia believes adding his own following to the mix would produce one of boxing’s biggest events.
“Ryan don’t wanna fight Tank, man,” Davis’ promoter and CEO of Mayweather Promotions Leonard Ellerbe said after the fight. “Come on, man. You know, you got guys out there, like [Sports Illustrated writer Chris] Mannix and them, trying to pump him up like he’s some killer. You know, Ryan Garcia, like I said, he’s a good fighter. Got nothing but respect for him, but he don’t want none of that smoke. He don’t want none of that smoke because, if he did, he’d make Golden Boy [Promotions] do it.”
“Shut the f–k up!” Davis later responded on Twitter.
After splitting up with trainer Eddy Reynoso, who trains Alvarez, the legendary Alvarez pointed to a lack of “discipline” in Garcia as the reason for the split. Garcia’s following – and devotion to growing it – has prompted many to call him boxing’s “social media champion” instead of wanting to become an actual champion.
“[Ryan Garcia] is popular, but I’m chasing legacy,” Haney said on The MMA Hour when asked about fighting Garcia. “I don’t care about Instagram followers, I wanna make the biggest fights happen for my legacy. I’m not fighting for followers. I’m fighting for my name to live on forever.”
Whether they take him seriously or not, the boxers that can draw the most viewers and sell the most tickets hold the most power in the sport. Already, Garcia has proven an elite and rapidly-growing ability to do both. Against the largely unknown Tagoe, Garcia sold out a capacity 14,459 crowd at the Alamodome in San Antonio, cementing his wide-scale appeal outside of California.
Next, Garcia will fight Javier Fortuna (37-3-1), a tough test that he hopes launches him towards a date with Davis. He will be the main event at Crypto.com Arena, another opportunity to showcase what he believes is his deserving place among the best lightweights, and the sport’s biggest stars. If he continues to win, he will be on a collision course with the top dogs in the division, regardless of their feeling towards him.
“I am a superstar. Whether I’m boxing or I’m not boxing,” Garcia said. “I’m just a superstar overall. There are many influencers that don’t do boxing, yet are superstars. You’re looking at one that just happens to be able to beat somebody’s ass, and is one of the best. I don’t know, it played out how it played out. I’m very blessed.”
Beyond climbing the boxing hierarchy, Garcia has goals in the fashion and motion pictures worlds. Representing both his Mexican and Californian backgrounds are paramount to him, but he promises he’s “in no box” and connects with everyone, another feat of his social media prowess.
He wants to become the face of boxing, and certainly has the charisma and backing to do it. Whether his feats inside the ring allow him to attain that status is yet to be seen, but one thing is already certain.
Along the way, Garcia is going to do it his way. And he’s going to bring as many people as he can along with him.
“Many are called, but few are chosen. It’s starting to look that way,” Garcia said. “I don’t like to say that because it sounds kind of cocky. But if I look at it from an honest way, I’m put here for my purpose, and that’s what it feels like.
“I feel like my purpose is to add inspiration to the world, motivation, love, just everything. I’m gonna give everything that I possibly can out of the gifts God gave me and blessed me with. And he’s blessed me and given me a lot. So I’m using it to its full potential. And I’m so thankful and blessed and grateful that I’m able to reach so many people, I honestly am. I see it even more so now.”