Ryan Garcia’s popularity is a blessing and a curse.
He’s getting far more attention than would usually be the case for a kid who just turned 20, has been a pro for barely two years, has only fought 16 times and hasn’t really stepped very far up in his level of competition.
He’s also getting far more scrutiny than would normally be the case.
Garcia has an astonishing 1.2 million followers on Instagram and more than 100,000 on Twitter. He is a good-looking young man who knows how to cater to those fans, even if they aren’t necessarily fans of boxing first and foremost.
And that’s helped make him better known among true boxing fans, who want to know whether this kid’s got the goods — or if he’s just got good marketing.
The fact that so many are already interested in this lightweight prospect is why Golden Boy Promotions wisely featured him Saturday night in its new series on Facebook Watch, attempting to capitalize on social media and capture a new, younger audience.
He took on Carlos Morales, an experienced but rugged fighter who’d only lost twice before: once in his first pro fight, and once last year against Alberto Machado, who’s since gone on to win a world title at 130 pounds.
Garcia and Morales each moved up to the 135-pound division for this bout. And while Garcia left with the unanimous decision victory, he also left with the understanding that he’s got plenty of work left to do.
Entering Saturday night, Garcia had only gone a total of 41 rounds as a pro, and 10 of those had come in his previous outing, a unanimous decision over Jayson Velez. That had been his first real step up after facing a bunch of foes who couldn’t handle his power and speed. Most had been knocked out or stopped, and early at that. Now he was stepping in against better opponents.
And so while Garcia came out aggressively — attacking Morales’ body, landing good counters and drawing blood from Morales in the third round — Morales wasn’t overwhelmed, wasn’t overly impressed, and wasn’t going anywhere.
Garcia seemed to struggle at times with Morales’ pressure, fighting in spurts, holding in clinches rather than battling on the inside, showing lapses in defense and lulls in activity, and getting forced into corners and caught with shots.
Morales began to come on stronger in the fifth. In the seventh, he had Garcia retreating from a body shot early on, and then on surprisingly wobbly legs later from a stiff jab. Morales started the eighth picking up where he left off, landing a good left hook and continuing the attack. And toward the end of the ninth, Morales once again appeared to have Garcia hurt. Garcia faded in the second half of the fight, his condition exacerbated by inexperience going this late and Morales’ dedicated body attack.
It wasn’t enough. While one judge had it a draw, 95-95, or five rounds apiece, the other two saw Garcia the clear winner, 98-92, seemingly too wide at eight rounds to two.
Garcia, to his credit, gave Morales more credit than those judges did.
“I felt like the fight was much closer than the scorecards say,” Garcia, now 16-0 with 13 knockouts, said in a post-fight interview.
Boxing managers, promoters and matchmakers would of course prefer their fighters to be so talented that they never struggle relatively early on in their careers. The truth is they know their fighters need to grow, and that the best way for them to improve is to put them in situations like the one Garcia confronted at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
It’s fights like these that will expose Garcia’s weaknesses without endangering him too much. Morales had only scored six knockouts in his 17 wins. So while he was able to wobble Garcia, he wasn’t able to knock him cold or follow up to the point that he could put him away. These fights, as well as good sparring and coaching in the gym, can help young prospects and contenders shore up their weaknesses, learn how to make fewer mistakes and how to adjust to adversity.
Not every fighter is able to do that. Most ultimately hit the proverbial wall, when whatever skills and talent they have just isn’t enough anymore.
We don’t yet know what Garcia’s limit will be. We need to see who he faces next, and how he fares against them.
But there’s also no rush. Yes, he’s prematurely called out junior lightweight titleholder Gervonta Davis, but that might be more the product of a fighter —confident, as they understandably tend to be — who thinks he can conquer the world, and a 21st century celebrity who also wants to draw attention to himself.
“I don’t care what nobody says. I’m young and I’m hungry,” Garcia said after the fight. “I just got to get back to the gym and work on my craft, and I can be ready for anybody.”
That doesn’t have to mean he’ll be ready for them next, or even any time soon. And, again, Garcia is well aware of that.
“I’m young,” he said. “I got time on my side.”
He’ll need time. The kid needs more seasoning. But unlike most developing prospects, he’ll be coming up under a microscope, with many thinking he’s overhyped and overrated — which may or may not turn out to be the case — with impatient individuals wanting to see him step up now, rather than later.
Yes, he’s built a following. He’s still being built as a fighter, however.
Garcia belongs under bright lights, but he doesn’t yet need to be in deep waters.