Saturday, April 20

In an attempt to do credit to the extent to which Ryan Garcia is responsible for, unquestionably, one of the most remarkable fight stories and triumphs of the modern era, it is perhaps necessary to revisit the hours before the fight.

Since Saturday’s date with Devin Haney was announced, widespread concerns surrounding his mental health have justifiably grown. Even the fight poster again seen throughout the Barclays Center in Brooklyn gave the appearance of a fighter who looked almost dead behind the eyes.

When he arrived, wearing a t-shirt that read “Murder on the mind”, it did little to inspire confidence that he was any closer to being in a suitable headspace to fight. That he had violinists in his dressing room was a further demonstration of how increasingly strange the evening was about to become.

But it was when he was finally making his way to the ring that the sense of foreboding for what was to follow was unavoidable, and to the extent it made BoxingScene feel uncomfortable. It felt, simply, cruel that so presently vulnerable an individual was being encouraged to fight a world-class fighter on so high profile a platform when – once again – everything about his demeanour suggested he’d prefer to have been elsewhere. 

One respected member of what in the US is known as “press row” told BoxingScene at that moment that it reminded him of when he’d attended a bullfight. BoxingScene found it similarly unsettling to observe what appeared to be, across Garcia’s face, an unhealthy looking sweat not unlike that someone produces when in intense physical pain or physically unwell.

Regardless Garcia – the wider picture considered perhaps one of the most unenviable underdogs in history – proceeded to transform his career and to shock the world.

What those who had – from BoxingScene’s perspective rightly – repeatedly written him off had perhaps overlooked was the benefits to him of, from his and Haney’s time as amateurs, their six fights. It was regularly mentioned that they had won three fights each, but not the belief that those wins could potentially allow Garcia to take into the ring.

As a consequence what Garcia – who all week so admirably refused to be bullied by the Haneys – fought with was the conviction that he had the speed and power to hurt Haney. He did so, and repeatedly – perhaps only poor officiating from the referee Harvey Dock denied him a stoppage victory in the seventh round.

When Haney could be seen in his dressing room and on his way to the ring he looked a considerably more at ease and healthy fighter. The benefit of hindsight also suggests that he and those around him had become complacent as a consequence of Garcia’s conduct, and maybe that they previously didn’t even believe, like so many others, that Garcia would make it as far as the ring.

That Haney returned to his feet after three heavy knockdowns and continued to fight on proved that there was little wrong with his conditioning and also proved – not that there had previously been cause to doubt it – his fighter’s heart. But the quality of his preparations – he oddly seemed under-prepared for the left and right hooks Garcia would inevitably target him with, and at times to believe that he could walk the bigger, heavier fighter down – are in doubt.

It would not have helped Haney, nor his father, trainer and manager Bill, that he so recently lost his supportive grandmother to cancer. Yet as a fighter at his best on the back-foot, and one who only consistently fought going forwards against Vasily Lomachenko – a considerably naturally smaller fighter – it defied logic to watch him so regularly attempt to do the same against an opponent in Garcia he sometimes made look one-dimensional, and who had come in overweight at 143.2lbs.

At the conclusion of the seventh round, when both fighters returned to their corners, it became difficult to avoid the conclusion that Garcia had already enhanced his reputation to an all-time high. If he had proceeded to lose on points or even be stopped by Haney he had been consistently exciting and competitive with someone recognised as one of the world’s finest fighters. After recording so remarkable a victory, it’s far from unthinkable that his career will never again reach the same heights.

It was in April 2023 when, at a catchweight of 136lbs, he was stopped by Gervonta “Tank” Davis and accused of lacking heart. BoxingScene was among those present that night in Las Vegas who believed he had chosen not to fight on after Davis’ body punch – even when it was apparent that making weight had made him vulnerable – but on Saturday in New York he proved that, for all of his marketability and profile, he has an abundance of heart.

Victories of that nature often have far and wide-reaching consequences. Matchroom were already in talks with Haney to extend their two-fight promotional agreement with him, but it is unlikely that their plans will change.

Garcia spoke, post-fight, of his intention to move to welterweight. It had remained a mystery what he had weighed on fight night and the potential advantage he had on Haney, who weighed in at 140lbs – the super-lightweight limit they had agreed to – so BoxingScene asked Garcia just before he departed, and he responded “around 155lbs”.