By Elliot Worsell
WHEN a fighter goes through a period of rehabilitation it is just as much about finding out who they are, what they can do, and how they should do it as it is getting back on track and stringing some wins together to restore shattered confidence.
In the case of Ryan Garcia, beaten for the first time in April by Gervonta Davis, tonight’s (December 2) catchweight fight (made at 143 pounds) against Oscar Duarte in Houston was crucial in each of those respects. On the one hand, nothing was more important for Garcia than registering a victory and remembering what that feels like, yet, equally, there was always going to be a sense of the new with Garcia this evening; both for him and for those of us watching.
Since losing against Davis, he has after all split from trainer Joe Goossen and is now trained by Derrick James. Moreover, having been humbled by Davis seven months ago, Garcia, 24-1 (20), will know he needs to either be better or be something else in order to flourish at the very elite level of the sport.
Not only that, Garcia, at 25, has time on his side and should be afforded this time to grow, improve, perhaps even change. Tonight, for example, when going through the gears and, on occasion, leading Duarte a merry dance, there was often a feeling that Garcia was not only figuring out his opponent but figuring out himself as well. Each time he performed a shoulder roll, or went for a jog, it wasn’t so much escape as experimentation; recalling moves from fighters he has long admired and trying them out in the heat of battle.
Granted, this experimentation made for a curious sight to behold at times but Garcia, in getting the job eventually done in round eight, is unlikely to be too concerned about that. Indeed, by the time the finish presented itself, Duarte, now 26-2-1 (21), was getting desperate on account of Garcia’s tactics. He was marauding forward by then, sometimes aimlessly, and his downfall was in the end triggered by his own wayward right hand, which Garcia countered expertly with a left hook. This punch, seemingly innocuous-looking at first, sent a jolt down the spine of Duarte, making his legs unsteady, whereupon Garcia spun him, put him in a corner, and forced through some spiteful right hands. Even more unsteady now as a result of this, Duarte, with nowhere to go and no fight left in him, had no option but to stumble to the canvas, where he remained, on one knee, for the duration of the referee’s count (rising on 10 but surely aware he had left it too late).
For Garcia, who all week carried a Me vs. The World mentality, this was precisely what the doctor ordered and his reaction to it – vaulting the ring post as though having avenged his loss to Davis – said so much about the importance of the result and the relief he felt having secured it. There will be sterner tests ahead, of course, and bigger names with whom he shares a ring, but tonight Garcia, for so many reasons, arguably came through the most challenging assignment of his career to date.