Friday, April 12, 2024
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Why Ryan Garcia should be more focused on his mental health than upcoming fight with Devin Haney

If boxing fans are honest enough to think back on what moments planted the hooks in their addictive fandom, it’s likely that a few unhinged moments or two played a huge role. 

Following boxing can serve as an escape from the predictable norms of American team pro sports, which often reflect many of the same values present in polite society. From the in-ring violence to the saucy trash talk that often acts as an aphrodisiac to lure consumers into purchasing a pay-per-view event that simply can’t be missed, there’s a reason why boxing remains, as Hall-of-Fame writer Jimmy Cannon once penned, the “red-light district” of sports. 

It’s often as disturbingly raw as it is real in an era where reality TV and “fake news” have us questioning the validity of everything we see and hear. Oh, and if you like a good scandal or conspiracy to debate around the barber shop or street corner, boxing has plenty of that going on, too. 

So, from a long-time boxing fan and journalist who shamelessly credits infamous moments like the 1996 Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota post-fight brawl, Mike Tyson biting the ankles of Lennox Lewis at a 2002 press conference and anything Ricardo Mayorga ever said about his opponents’ wives for enriching my degenerate fandom, even I have to pause and ask a few questions that too few in boxing’s public eye are saying enough about these days:

What the hell is going on with Ryan Garcia? And why is everyone acting like any of this is remotely healthy or normal? 

Two weeks removed from a bi-coastal press tour to announce his April 20 pay-per-view blockbuster against WBC junior welterweight titleholder Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) in Brooklyn, New York, the last 14 or so days for Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) have felt like one long fever dream that neither he, nor the boxing public, has been able to wake up from. 

While this isn’t a complete recap of Garcia’s bizarre activity of late, here are a few highlights (or, in many cases, lowlights) to catch you up to speed. Over the last two weeks, on social media alone, Garcia has:

  • Released a rap single
  • Attempted to out Haney’s father/trainer Bill as a professional pimp
  • Claimed he was kidnapped into the woods of Bohemian Grove by the Illuminati
  • Made multiple cries for help, including a post which read, “This might be curtains”
  • Revealed he was raped as a two-year-old and that he has proof
  • Challenged UFC star Sean O’Malley to an MMA fight and influencer Jake Paul to a boxing match
  • Accused Jake’s older brother, Logan Paul, of worshiping Satan and urged consumers to boycott his Prime sports drinks
  • Made quasi marriage proposals to two different women
  • Predicted an earthquake would “destroy” Las Vegas and Los Angeles on June 6
  • Recorded multiple live podcasts on X Spaces (formerly known as Twitter), which featured intervention attempts from influencers Andrew Tate and Mike Majlak
  • Admitted to being under “spiritual attack” by Satan because of his faith in Jesus Christ 
  • Announced he has proof that aliens exist 
  • Claimed he has proof that celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Mark Zuckerberg are on Jeffrey Epstein’s list and that Elon Musk is “the Anti Christ”
  • Accused Victor Conte of supplying Haney with performance-enhancing drugs

Garcia was also an hour late to the Los Angeles leg of his press tour and was outed by Haney during the proceedings with questions about why Garcia lost his voice and whether or not he was addicted to cocaine (which led Garcia to reveal alcohol and marijuana use but denied anything more). All of this came just months removed from Garcia announcing a divorce and the birth of his second child on the same day in January.

In the immediate aftermath of the press tour, most felt Garcia was either in the midst of drug addiction, enduring an episode of psychosis or maybe both. What didn’t help matters was that reports from his family, team and even Haney were inconclusive: some felt he was merely trolling as a way to draw more attention to the fight while others, including Garcia’s ex-wife, pleaded publicly for prayers and an intervention. 

On March 4, just days after Garcia shared surveillance video of a suspected home invasion that took place during the press tour, he attempted to explain himself. Although he posted a video with the title “clearing things up,” the results only further escalated the bizarre nature of the situation as Garcia announced he was not in possession of his phone and remained under attack.

“I wanted to personally send out a video to the people that love me and my family that’s concerned,” Garcia posted. “I’m OK. I’m not dead, I believe in Jesus and all those are lies. They tried to put me in jail, they are blocking my cards, I can’t access my money and nobody is hitting me back. I don’t know what’s going on but just know that I’m OK.” 

Two days later, Garcia vowed on social media he would no longer be speaking or posting publicly about anything but boxing until the Haney fight. But, just days after flying to Dallas to begin camp with trainer Derrick James, Garcia continued with a flurry of posts that continue to this day about everything from religion and the Israel-Palestine war to teases purporting his knowledge of who killed Tupac Shakur, nearly two years before Garcia was born.   

But for those hoping the powers that be would step in and save Garcia from himself, or those wanting an admission from the fighter that this was all a bad trolling attempt gone wrong, Garcia posted a new video to Instagram four days later in which he vowed, again, to stop posting about anything but the Haney fight. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.

If this were Tyson over the final 10 years of his career, when public meltdowns became his last relevant calling card, few would’ve batted an eye. But not only have perspectives on mental health changed over the past two decades, even within such a callous culture as that of professional boxing, Garcia is still just 25 and has the world at his fingertips (with nearly 11 million Instagram followers watching his every move).  

In fact, Garcia was seen as a bit of a pioneer following his 2021 breakthrough victory over Luke Campbell, when he withdrew from a subsequent fight against Javier Fortuna and sat out for 15 months in order to get his mental health in order. Not only was Garcia supported and cheered for his courage, the reveal was a natural escalation of Tyson Fury’s public battle years earlier when he emerged from a depression-filled retirement in which he blew up to over 400 pounds and went on to reclaim the heavyweight title. 

One of the more alarming parts about Garcia’s recent negative turn was that if you compare his emotional state and body language to that of the same fighter one year ago, it’s like night and day. 

In the buildup to his superfight with Gervonta “Tank” Davis last April, which produced over one million PPV buys and ended with Davis scoring a 7th-round knockout via body punch, Garcia was much more lucid and confident. Compare that to his demeanor during Super Bowl media day last month in Las Vegas, when a rabid Garcia pushed Haney and nearly brawled with his opponent’s father, and the recent concerns seem valid.

After the press tour, most felt the fight would be postponed or canceled. The minimum expectations were that someone of influence or power, from the promoters to the streaming network DAZN, which will air the PPV, would at least investigate the situation and explain to the public what happened and whether or not we should remain concerned. 

Considering Garcia’s own promoter, Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, has spent much of the past 15 years in and out of drug rehab while fighting through his own public battles with mental health, a humane response to Garcia’s erratic behavior was expected. 

Instead, it was De La Hoya, who spent much of 2023 publicly feuding with his A-list fighter to the point of Garcia petitioning a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed, acting as if nothing was awry at all when the Golden Boy promoter sat down with media members last week

Sporting a transparently inauthentic smile when asked for insight by a reporter as to what really happened, including mention of how concerned Garcia’s fans are, De La Hoya spoke like a promoter whose only responsibility was to make sure the fight goes off and that everyone gets paid. 

“I’ve been in touch with Ryan Garcia, I spoke to him yesterday,” De La Hoya said. “We were Facetiming each other. He looks good! He looks good! He looks ready, I’m telling you.”

“It’s all good. We will see Ryan Garcia up in the ring on April 20.”

The same reporter pushed back by countering De La Hoya’s notion and adding that Garcia hasn’t looked or sounded good, at all, since the press tour. 

“Well, I mean, look … all I know is that he left to camp yesterday and he is with Derrick James and his whole team,” De La Hoya said. “One thing about Ryan is that he has been training! And there is about 6-7 weeks left to train and be ready for this fight, April 20. That’s perfect timing. In my history, when I was fighting, I needed 5-6 weeks in camp. 

“I’m not somebody to speak for Ryan. All I know is that he is a hard worker. All I know is that when he is disciplined, dedicated and determined, he will be in the best shape of his life, April 20. He knows Devin Haney is a tough nut to crack. I feel confident that we are going to have a spectacular fight on April 20.”

If Garcia were the betting favorite, the idea of using his recent issues as a way to sell how unfocused he is (thus, the fight “could be” more competitive than initially expected) is a tactic boxing promoters have used to their benefit for years. It’s no different than Floyd Mayweather or any dominant star teasing that their upcoming fight “could be” the last one of their career as a hope to boost slumping ticket and PPV sales. 

But even though Garcia bounced back from his first defeat by stopping the unheralded Oscar Duarte in December (which saw De La Hoya all but openly cheering for Duarte to win after Garcia banned his promoter from his locker room), the performance showcased just how far behind Garcia’s skills are from equaling his immense popularity. Most suggested Garcia should have fought raw slugger and 140-pound titleholder Rolando Romero, instead, yet chose to chase the bigger purse. 

Haney, a master boxer who is ranked among the pound-for-pound best in the sport, is expected to handle Garcia with ease regardless of his mental state. But it’s fair to question just how much of a negative Garcia is doing to his own promotion by presenting himself as a fighter who is more of a risk to himself come April 20 than he is to his opponent. 

If there was ever a sport where someone battling their demons as aggressively as Garcia has doesn’t belong when they are potentially not of the right mind, it would be boxing. And for as much as we have grown to love the idea of a crazy slugger who can provide a puncher’s chance a la Mayorga, that’s not the role Garcia was ever meant to play (or could successfully pull off). 

This has become about something much more important than PPV revenue or the type of bad blood which, when promoted correctly, can transcend typical boxing circles to create public demand on the mainstream level. This is about the legitimate concerns for the health and safety of one of boxing’s brightest young stars who is navigating what appears to be a true make-or-break moment in the public eye. 

From promoters and network executives to boxing fans and media, the idea that we would all sit back and move forward with business as usual as if nothing was out of the ordinary is even a bridge too far for this savagely beautiful and broken sport that we all love.

There has been nothing about Garcia’s behavior over the past two weeks that suggests he should be medically cleared for the realities of what taking clean punches to the head can do for the health of a fighter’s brain and his ability to discern between what is real and what isn’t. 

The more we all act like the show must go on without proof that this was all a ruse, or a medical episode which has been handled and cleared, the more we all become complicit to whatever happens next. 

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