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Ryan Garcia had just turned 20 years old when he appeared on a Canelo Alvarez undercard in New York on Dec. 15, 2018. Alvarez was about to embark upon a $360-million contract with streaming service DAZN, and there was plenty of reason to believe that the cherub-faced lightweight would be the next boxer to land that kind of a contract.
Garcia stopped Braulio Rodriguez in the fifth round of their bout at Madison Square Garden that night. It was his second fight in three months and in another three months, he’d be back in the ring again.
It’s the way smart managers build potential young stars: Keep them active, pit them against different types of opponents and showcase the young fighter as often as possible.
Things changed dramatically for Garcia since then. He’s a month out from his 24th birthday and on Saturday at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, he’ll fight tough veteran Javier Fortuna. It will be Garcia’s second fight in three months, the first time he’s fought that frequently since the halcyon days of 2018 and 2019 where the only thing rising quicker than his paychecks were his social media followers.
Garcia’s career has been derailed by battles with his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, and, more significantly, mental health issues.
After he won an interim world title on Jan. 2, 2021, by knocking out Luke Campbell with a withering body shot, Garcia was felled, temporarily, by mental health issues.
Garcia was in a spirited mood as he spoke to Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, but his ebullience couldn’t match his trainer, Joe Goossen’s, enthusiasm. The veteran, who took over Garcia’s training from Eddy Reynoso, could barely contain himself.
“I have seen nothing but strength and determination from Ryan,” Goossen said. “I brought in some of the toughest sparring partners I could get my hands on, believe me, and he’s right in the pocket with those guys, not running, not moving and just going at it. Plus, he’s in great shape.
“I see nothing that concerns me about his make-up or his eagerness to fight. Nothing. There’s no chinks in the armor at all. He’s fierce right now, he really is. He’s extremely determined. And he’s going to be 24 in a couple of weeks and he’s gotten his man strength and he’s feeling his oats. He’s an ass-kicker and he’s acting that way. I need to stress this: I haven’t had one negative thought or concern about him at all, of any kind, ever, since we got together. None.”
Garcia took his mental health break after the Campbell fight, shrewdly prioritizing his own health. One of the oldest cliches in boxing is how it’s primarily a mental game, so if a fighter’s mental health isn’t where it should be, nothing good can happen.
Garcia said it began as simply as just questioning the good things that had been said about him.
“I rarely thought about my job in those days,” Garcia told Yahoo Sports. “I was really thinking about, how true are these things about me? Am I over-exaggerating how good I am? There are so many things that go through your mind and it threw me for a loop. I had to look internally to find out what was going on and why I was feeling the way I was. Why couldn’t I focus? What was really going on? Through part of that process, I became a … better human overall.
“I understand what is truthful and what is not. Anxiety is the fear of the unknown. I fact check the truth and it’s good for me. You have anxiety over a fight, but you also have anxiety over something like, ‘Hey, is this color blue or red? Well, I think it’s blue.’ You fact check it and you see the truth, that it’s blue, and your anxiety doesn’t have a hold on you like it did.”
Garcia pulled out of the Fortuna fight a year ago. So he made it a point to want to take on Fortuna again. He said he feels like he’s found himself and is comfortable and confident with where he’s headed.
Goossen said the benefits of getting back on a regular schedule are huge for him, and said he’s ready as soon as his next fight for anyone in the division.
“How good would a hitter in baseball be if he only got to bat once every four or five months?” Goossen asked rhetorically. “Not very well, I can tell you that. It’s imperative to stay busy in any sport. NFL players practice every day and play once a week. Basketball players have 80-some games a year and they practice between games and they have shoot-arounds on the days of game. To be an elite athlete, like Ryan is, you have to constantly work at it. What bothers me in the past few decades in boxing are fighters who aren’t staying busy.
“Fighters have a truncated career path and Ryan understands this. It’s compressed into a short period of time. He’s been in the gym basically since Feb.1 except for a few weeks. He gets it. And that’s going to allow him to develop and bring out this unbelievable ability he has.”
Garcia will have to prove himself to a skeptical public that he’s really back and is here to stay.
There is no shame in having a mental health issue. It’s no different than getting ill or pulling a muscle or anything else. It’s a health care issue.
Garcia has taken care of his health. And from the sounds of it, he’s gearing up to take care of the lightweight division.