No one expected Ryan Garcia to beat Devin Haney at the weekend.

Not because he didn’t have the physical gifts or the talent – but because in the build-up to the fight he looked a mess, and because a year earlier he quit against Gervonta “Tank” Davis and looked far from spectacular when beating Oscar Duarte. It was right to question whether he should even have been fighting Haney.

Which isn’t to say I think Garcia winning was as big an upset as James “Buster” Douglas beating Mike Tyson in 1990. There’s an upset similar to Garcia beating Haney every year; those seeing it otherwise were probably guilty of really overrating Haney.

More than an upset, or showing how great Garcia can be, Haney-Garcia exposed Haney’s limitations. Garcia did show he retains real potential when he’s motivated – whether he was struggling at the weight or just didn’t believe in himself against Davis he rarely seemed motivated – just like he was against Luke Campbell in 2021, when he was knocked down, got back up and won. 

When he lost to Davis I thought he’d lost his love for the sport and had almost given up on it – he was easily beaten, mentally and physically. Against Haney, he was hit by a big right hand, and even in the first round when he hurt Haney, you could see he was locked in, psychologically, in a different way to against Davis. He refused to be intimidated by the moment, and he made sure that if Haney was going to win, Haney was going to have to earn it – you could see his determination in his body language. He also didn’t have to boil himself down to 136 pounds, or respect a rehydration clause. He’s one of the most enigmatic fighters in the world; in so many respects he reminds me of Victor Ortiz.

Haney and Garcia had shared the ring six times as amateurs, and their rivalry, and the knowledge of those fights, gave Garcia confidence and motivation. Sometimes, walking into a darkened room can be scarier. Even if it came years ago, Garcia had experienced sharing the ring with Haney.

A puncher should always believe in themselves – no matter what difficulties they’re experiencing during a fight, they have the ability to bail themselves out. When Garcia’s motivated he’s willing to endure difficult moments; the combinations of those two, which was missing against Davis, makes him so dangerous.

Garcia also potentially had a big advantage that involved him not losing the last 3.2lbs to make weight. It’s not just 3.2 pounds, by the way – it’s 3.2 pounds when a fighter’s already dehydrated, when there’s so little left to remove. It can take so much out of a fighter – and keeping that weight on was a calculated decision. Haney accepted the compensation; maybe Haney was more guilty than anyone of underrating Garcia – even if, given their recent trajectories, it’s difficult to blame him for doing so.

You could see how much energy Garcia still had late on, when he was continuing to hurt and drop Haney, but, from a technical perspective, Haney was very disappointing. When you’re fighting a puncher you should never fight as squared-up as he was; you should always be defensively responsible. Standing as he did made him even more of a target for the left hook – but perhaps if Garcia hadn’t had so much energy in the later rounds, Haney would have been able to make a late push for victory. It was the best victory of Garcia’s career – and felt like his coming-out party. 

Haney had never previously fought someone capable of matching him for youth and physicality. When he fought Vasiliy Lomachenko, Jorge Linares and Yuriorkis Gamboa, all were past their prime. No one had ever made Regis Prograis look so old, but Prograis was 34 when they fought, and perhaps hasn’t been the same since he lost to Josh Taylor. 

I was criticized for suggesting, previously, that Haney was like me with more financial backing. By which I meant he’s a good fighter with the resources to fight suitable opponents, like retired world champions, who cost more money and who are beyond the reach of less influential promoters, such as those I worked with. That type of backing is a blessing and was used, in Haney’s case, to deliver high-profile opponents at a time any prospect should have beaten them, and to build Haney's name. He was also fortunate that Lomachenko was unable to fight and to replace him against George Kambosos Jr., a less-than-ordinary champion. Haney’s a solid fighter who’s been guided very well – and I think that showed against Garcia.

There have been times Haney has been compared to Floyd Mayweather Jr., but when Mayweather was hurt by Shane Mosley in 2010 he proceeded to win every second of the remainder of their fight. Haney took a big shot in the first round against Garcia and proceeded to perform like he’d forgotten how to box. He lost control of his jab, and he squared up. Against powerful opponents at the highest level fighters have to trust in their strengths; Haney’s at his best not when he’s trying to punch with power, but when he’s using his jab. By sacrificing his strengths when he’s under the most pressure he’s known, against an explosive opponent, he showed his limitations – which doesn’t mean Haney’s not world-class or a solid championship fighter, just that he’s not a pound-for-pound level talent. Getting hurt early made him think he needed to earn Garcia’s respect, and that was the wrong approach. 

He can come back and win titles in the future, but he’ll also encounter opponents with similar power to Garcia, so he’s going to have to learn to be more deceptive. He has to believe in himself; he also needs to ignore those suggesting he’s had such a tough fight he might never again be the same. At 25 Haney’s young enough to recover and come again – he’s a very good fighter. I just don’t think he’ll find himself on pound-for-pound lists again, or that he deserved to be on any in the first place.

Shakur Stevenson, who unlike Haney looks likely to prove capable of succeeding Mayweather, would have handled Garcia easily. He’d beat Haney, too. What we saw in Haney-Garcia was more about what Haney isn’t, instead of what Garcia is – he showed the way he thinks when he’s under pressure. He also showed plenty of heart to keep getting back up after getting knocked down, and he toughed it out – his face was swollen. But I think he thought he’d reached the highest level, when actually he wasn’t mentally prepared. That adjustments should have been made but weren’t also means his corner – led by his father, trainer and manager Bill – deserve some of the blame for his first defeat.

Haney retains the backing to have a rebuilding fight before he has the rematch with Garcia, and that’s what he should do. Psychologically, and physically, he needs to fight and beat another opponent before then – and then fight Garcia with a smarter game plan. Their fight will prove one of the fights of 2024, so there’s certainly cause for a rematch.