Ryan Garcia tried to be kind by accepting a high school homecoming invitation from one of his more than 500,000 Instagram followers.
“But she caught feelings,” Victorville’s Garcia, 19, said before asking a reporter more than double his age, “Do you know what that means? It means she really started liking me.
“Still, I’m willing to do a prom … .”
The millennial knows how to play the social media game well, and beyond his gift to maximize the young audience’s interest in his looks, he’s injecting a sport considered the domain of an older generation with an expected sellout crowd of fresh blood.
Thursday night at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Garcia (13-0, 12 knockouts) will meet Mexico’s Fernando Vargas (32-13-3, 21 KOs) in the super-featherweight main event of an ESPN-televised boxing card that begins at 6 p.m.
“This guy’s going to bring it,” Garcia said of Vargas, 29. “He definitely doesn’t want to lose and I know you can’t overlook anybody. I’m going in there to find out if he can take my punches and if he can’t, he can’t. We’ll see.”
That swagger and powerful punching brings Garcia’s promoters, Oscar De La Hoya and Eric Gomez, to draw comparisons to the young versions of De La Hoya and Canelo Alvarez – gifted fighters who could make young females swoon.
“The sky’s the limit with him because with all the talent in the world and being a hard worker he can be a superstar with that mass appeal he already has,” Gomez said of Garcia, whom ESPN ranked as its boxing prospect of the year following six knockout victories in 2017.
“Maybe in about two years, I’ll have to turn it over to someone, but I pretty much have it down to a tee now,” Garcia said of his occasional shirtless posts and another which revealed, “I do have a girlfriend, wanna know her name … ? BOXING GARCIA.”
“I let everything fly because I pretty much know what to put out there and what not to put out there. It’s not that hard. Some people are just naïve to what they say. I’m aware of everything I say. I can run it myself.
“I know pretty much all my analytics and I take that into consideration when I’m posting. Twitter’s pretty much all for the females. Instagram’s for the guys and girls … .”
Amateur boxing commitments forced Garcia to leave Adelanto High School for home schooling, and he expects to obtain his diploma later this year.
“I had a vision to do this, to blow up quick, and then it happened. Crazy,” Garcia said. “I told Golden Boy and everybody, ‘Wait on it … ,’ I know I can blow up on the Internet, I know I can become the youngest world champion, I know you can put me on ESPN and I’ll do something spectacular.
“I’m a go-getter. Everything I say I’m going to do, I don’t stop until I do it.”
Gomez is thrilled by what he’s seen in the ring so far, and hopeful about Garcia because he says the fighter’s parents are committed to keeping him grounded.
“The only thing that can derail him is himself. If he starts believing the hype and stops working hard, that’s what you always have to be careful with in any prospect or contender — if they lose their focus … ,” Gomez said.
“In building them up, trying to get them to the promised land, that’s always in the back of our minds: They’re just kids.”
Garcia said he’s become a more patient fighter, and is pleased with his defensive strides to complement a chin he says has allowed him to “never wobble” from the amateurs on.
Out of the ring, he says, “I don’t respond to everything” on social media. “The ones that go all out with an essay, I’ll reach out and let them know how much I appreciate the support. I can’t pay too much attention to that because the girls are going to be there, man, and I’m trying to get somewhere so far that I can’t even look back. I’m not worried about that right now like I’m worried about [boxing] belts … that’s all I’ve ever wanted since I’ve been a kid.
“I’ve always had girls liking me. I’ve been able to stay away from that temptation for quite awhile now. Now, it’s easier because I’m so focused on my dream.”
Still, the social questions persist — like, does he have a girlfriend?
“I’m going to say no,” he said.
How can he resist?
“I know what you’re trying to say, but I’m going to deny this question,” Garcia answered.
How do you let them down easy, then?
“You just basically say, ‘I’m a busy guy, I don’t have time for a girlfriend … ,’” Garcia said. “They either take it well or they don’t. I just tell them the truth … and the truth shall set you free, brother.”