BN Preview: Haney and Garcia are actually going ahead with it

By Elliot Worsell

The great thing about writing previews before the advent of social media and the push for boxers to inform you of their every thought and move was this: one’s focus and frame of reference tended to be narrow, specific. You focused not on what a boxer had posted online when bored, crying for help, or craving validation, but instead their fighting style and what they did in the ring. You treated them, to some extent, as outlines, rather than, say, flawed human beings; flawed human beings whose flaws are made all the more obvious by a social media addiction.

In the case of Ryan Garcia, perhaps the case, it is hard to now separate the boxer from the damaged young man. For example, at the time of me writing this, the preview of his next fight, he was busy posting the following on social media: “I actually get excited when people say I’m crazy.”

That, when viewed without context, could be mistaken for a throwaway comment written by any 13-year-old girl fed up at school and in need of someone to tell her that she is special. However, given what we know about Garcia, and given that we have for the past couple of months had to endure his countless conspiracy theories and cries for help, it is hard not to consider such comments as either (a) yet another warning sign or (b) somewhat annoying.

How you ultimately choose to interpret Garcia’s behaviour will depend on whether you believe he is a young man fighting personal demons or instead so desperate for attention he will stop at nothing to get it. Some, upon reading his words and watching his videos, will express concern, whereas others will feel that to ignore him is in the end the best policy.

Devin Haney, Garcia’s next opponent, has seemingly always known Garcia’s motive. He, with an eye-roll and shrug, has said from the very outset that Garcia has just been trying to cause chaos and create attention the only way he knows how. Haney can see nothing else, in fact, and has none of the sympathy others extended to Garcia when first getting wind of his issues.

Perhaps, as his opponent, Haney must think this way; offering no mercy, ignoring the human in the boxer he plans to defeat. Or perhaps, like so many, Haney sees in Garcia a man whose quirks – to put it mildly – are no different from those of countless other boxers throughout history, only today, thanks to social media, are exposed for the world to see and, worse, and even more cynically, exploited by both the boxer himself and those around him as promotional tools.

Either way, the entire buildup to this event in Brooklyn has been unsettling; unorthodox; wrong. If Garcia, for instance, is as remotely unstable as it would appear from his online displays of attention-seeking, he should be nowhere near a boxing ring this Saturday (April 20). Equally, if it’s all some bizarre ruse, or an attempt to cause controversy because he knows that’s what his audience desires, both Garcia and the people around him have really let themselves and the sport down.

Save for Garcia now pulling out, or pulling an Oliver McCall/Andrew Golota-style meltdown on fight night, we’ll likely never know. But there can be no doubt that the buildup to this fight – specifically Garcia’s erratic behaviour – has overshadowed what was, when initially announced, an intriguing battle between two young super-lightweights. Indeed, it has done nothing to help fans – and, more importantly, Haney – feel confident that this fight will even take place on Saturday. (Frankly, at the time of writing this, and having previously written previews for fights that never happened, I am still not sure whether we will see Haney and Garcia share a ring this weekend.)

Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia face-off at The Empire State Building on April 16, 2024 in New York City (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

Still, as tough as it is, we must try to refocus and view Haney and Garcia as purely boxers. We must forget what Garcia has revealed, both about himself and other people, and we must see him and Haney as two super athletes in a ring – orthodox, coiled – rather than flawed young men. Only then can we get a proper read on this fight and return to the purity of previews of old; when, somewhat refreshingly, it was about just the two boxers and the fight to come; when there was a mystery to it all, one that didn’t necessarily starve you of knowledge but instead helped you concentrate more on what is important: the two protagonists.

Here, with Haney and Garcia, there is plenty to both analyse and admire. For one, they are in their athletic prime, both aged 25. They are meeting at the right time, not too soon and not too late, and despite both being young they have in recent years accumulated a decent amount of experience at the top level. Haney, for example, has gone the 12-round distance in each of his last eight fights and has during this period beaten Vasiliy Lomachenko, Regis Prograis, George Kambosos (twice), Jorge Linares, Joseph Diaz, and Yuriorkis Gamboa. Garcia, meanwhile, has been winning fights at a level beneath this, yet was involved in a big one against Gervonta Davis, which took place in 2023, and has, to his credit, successfully rebounded from the defeat he suffered that night.

In short, we know a lot about both fighters, despite them being only 25 – an age one typically associates with an untested prospect these days. Haney can do the 12 rounds in his sleep, and has outclassed some very good men over this distance, while Garcia, one would assume, is now liberated for having lost his unbeaten record and will have learned countless lessons in that defeat to Davis last year.

In terms of confidence, Garcia’s eighth-round stoppage of Oscar Duarte in December will have done him the world of good, too. That was the first and only fight he has had since losing against Davis – stopped in the seventh round by a body shot – and beating Duarte in the manner in which he did, when weighing 143 pounds, was precisely what the doctor ordered. New weight, and new attitude, the expectation following this fight was that Garcia, 24-1 (20), would now start afresh as a super-lightweight and that he would present a more mature and thoughtful version of himself, the result of having been humbled by Davis, at lightweight, the previous April.

Instead, the new Garcia with which the world has been lumbered is quite different from the one we expected. If anything, rather than mature, Garcia has in the past four months shown an immaturity most concerning and had many pleading for someone to intervene and help him. That hardly bodes well when approaching a fight against a fighter as well-oiled as Devin Haney, yet it is true nonetheless. To some, in fact, the actions of Garcia in the past few months are more telling and revealing than anything he managed during the eight rounds he spent dominating Duarte in December.

Ryan Garcia

As for Haney, in contrast to Garcia, steady is the word. He is steady whenever he appears in the ring, often controlling opponents and doing with and to them whatever he wants, and he is steady outside the ring, too; where Haney, 31-0 (15), has only ever appeared the model professional. Indeed, the single knock against Haney, the WBC super-lightweight champion, is to say that sometimes he is a little too steady and a little too safe. Meaning: whereas someone like Garcia is all emotion, chaos and drama, which produces quite the cocktail in the ring, Haney is a peppermint tea of a fighter. He is reliable, assured and, for the purists, precisely what they want to sip before going to bed. There are, for those people, healing properties in watching someone like Haney. Even just his jab, a punch he throws as well as anyone, is a thing of real beauty; a work of art. His control, too, is something to behold and respect, especially given the run of decision wins he has had and the pressure for him to buck this trend and prioritise the bloodlust of fans.

In that respect, an opponent like Garcia is probably ideal for Haney. As seen already, Garcia is happy to do the bulk of the talking and the selling and this leaves Haney, the craftsman, able to work hard and focus solely on what he does best on fight night. In fact, one could argue that Haney, he of eight straight decision wins, needs opponents like Garcia just to strike up interest in his fights, not too dissimilar to how Floyd Mayweather needed a perfect foil or two during his long reign as champion. Mayweather, you see, was also someone accustomed to going 12 rounds and, although a tad more exciting than Haney, he too came to rely on the presence of stars like Arturo Gatti and Oscar De La Hoya to drum up interest in his fights and elevate his profile to the next level.

With Ryan Garcia, Haney will be expecting the same. He will also be expecting to use Garcia’s emotion and instability against him and maybe in the process break him down and get his first stoppage win since 2019. That, when taking into account everything we have seen from Garcia these past few months, seems an inevitable conclusion to this fight, for there can surely be no worse boxer to face, if struggling mentally, than someone like Devin Haney; someone whose very steadiness and consistency is a cruel reminder of everything Ryan Garcia currently lacks.

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