Touted prospect Ryan Garcia turned 21 this August, but the landmark birthday had more consternation than celebration.
The undefeated Victorville-born boxer (18-0, 15 KOs) easily dismantled the only opponent he faced in the ring, but everything that transpired outside of the lightweight’s life was an uneven ride.
The highs included being a father for the first time to daughter Rylie on March 21 nine days before his March win against Jose Lopez, posing as a model for Abercrombie & Fitch’s ad campaign and fragrance, launching his own YouTube series “On the Ropes” and finding his boxing identity by training alongside Canelo Alvarez in San Diego.
The lows featured his manager Roger Ruiz taking him to arbitration, being the subject of tampering charges after toeing too close to Floyd Mayweather, which led to a cease-and-desist letter, having a fight cancelled during a weigh-in because his opponent was arrested on gun charges, and months-long public spats and conflicts with Rylie’s mother Catherine Gamez, as well as his promoter Golden Boy and Oscar De La Hoya on how his career, contract, compensation, matchmaking and main event status was being handled.
His social media sparring match with De La Hoya eventually led to a new multi-year agreement with Golden Boy in September days after his fight cancellation, and thus, has finally provided the chance for him to return to the ring with intentions to show his true value Saturday against Romero Duno (21-1, 16 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The fight will stream on DAZN, and will be the co-featured main event as part of Alvarez’s quest to becoming a four-division champion against Sergey Kovalev.
“The last year has been a roller coaster — but a good one, a fun one,” said Garcia. “A lot of things happened, and it was meant to be. Some of it was not ideal, but in the end, it worked out for the better. I figured myself out more outside of the ring. I wanted my career to be valued.”
Garcia, a social media sensation with boy-band looks, brute strength and an Instagram following of 3.7 million — an unprecedented figure for any unproven fighter — has the ingredients to become boxing’s next big thing, and has since turned to Alvarez to seek the right recipe.
“Canelo has experience and is a superstar. He’s showed me a lot as a mentor. It’s the biggest blessing that I can have,” said Garcia, who also shares Alvarez’s trainer in Eddy Reynoso. “I’m learning vicariously how to handle the attention. I take note of all that. We have a mutual respect for each other. We laugh and get along. We’re friends.”
Although the Mexican-American Garcia doesn’t speak Spanish, and Alvarez speaks very little English, they’ve both shared a bond of their real-life telenovelas involving De La Hoya. The Hall of Fame fighter also has a strained relationship with Alvarez that led to Alvarez retweeting Garcia’s disparaging remarks toward the promoter last month.
“That was a big-brother moment. I appreciated it, knowing that Canelo has my back no matter what,” said Garcia. “It made me respect and care for him even more, because I never asked him to use social media to support me. He just did it. He understood the severity of the situation, and he had my back.”
Garcia, who demands attention as an influencer for the diverse audiences he’s capable of reaching, was mostly upset because he earned a $50,000 purse for his fight in March in Indio as Golden Boy pocketed $1 million in gross revenue. The relationship worsened in the following months as the unhappy Garcia wanted out of his contract.
“It was an important issue to address for him to be paid his true value,” said Garcia’s lawyer Guadalupe Valencia, who mended fences with a two-day, 14-hour sit down with De La Hoya and agreed on a new deal through 2024. “A promoter’s job is to make as much money for themselves, but we made them realize and accept how valuable Ryan is to the sport and their company.”
Valencia said he believes Garcia will have a successful career with or without Golden Boy.
“They had a choice to treat him right, make him happy and make him the highest-paid prospect, or have him go elsewhere once his contract was over,” said Valencia, who also represents boxers like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and holds very close ties with De La Hoya rival Al Haymon, Mayweather’s manager and adviser.
An exasperated De La Hoya said that a fighter’s relationship with his promoter is always going to be like a marriage.
“You’re never happy all of the time, but when you are, things are amazing,” he said. “It’s been stressful, but this is what boxing is all about. When you have a target on your back, and everyone is after you, you have to fight. What better person than me? No other promoter has laced the gloves in their lives like I have.”
“I know Golden Boy definitely believes in me and backs me 100 percent,” added Garcia, who has since deleted all of the tweets. “They listened to the matters that I wanted addressed before getting this fight done. They respected it, and that’s how we were able to move forward.”
Now that the verbal punches have been pulled back, Garcia is ready to get back in the ring to let his hands go. Standing in front of Garcia on Saturday will be the Filipino fighter Duno, a credible foe who he’s been calling for in recent months, and his toughest test to date.
With a win on Saturday, Garcia wants to continue his climb up the ladder facing fiercer, top-10 competition in 2020 to further cement his own main event status. If Garcia becomes a champion, De La Hoya said he believes he can get Garcia double the amount he was able to net Alvarez when he signed a 10-fight, $365 million deal with DAZN.
“My main thing is to prove all the doubters wrong. I’m looking to prove myself and earn that respect in the ring,” said Garcia. “I’m not going to try and explain it to everybody. Either you get it, or you don’t, and that’s the bottom line. Everything will unfold in the near future. People will look back and say, ‘Ryan was on to something.’”