It used to be that when the latest hotshot lost his first fight, he returned with perhaps a little less fanfare, but wasn’t normally seen as someone who was damaged goods.
Remember, it’s one loss. In a fight. Against a fellow professional, and one of the best in the world, no less.
But in 2023, the rules have changed, and as Ryan Garcia returns this weekend for his first bout since he saw his 23-0 record turn to 23-1 in April, courtesy of Gervonta Davis, there are questions whether we’ve seen the 25-year-old’s best days.
Garcia doesn’t have such questions. Not after some soul-searching, a move out to Dallas to train with Derrick James, and a focus he believes was lacking when he fought Davis in one of the biggest fights of the year.
“It's been a great change for me,” Garcia told Chris Mannix on a recent episode of DAZN’s Off the Cuff series. “I definitely feel more focused, more committed to the sport, more dedicated. It feels like just the thing I needed.”
It’s fighter speak, for sure, and with Garcia’s track record for changing trainers and saying what the media wants to hear, it can come off as disingenuous. But what if it isn’t? Maybe his latest switch from Joe Goossen to James is the spark he needs to fulfill his obvious potential.
“If you're in a toxic environment, it's just not going to work out for you. So it was just in my spirit to change things all the way and I just let God guide me and he guided me to Dallas, Texas and with a great trainer like Derrick, and I could see the difference,” Garcia told Mannix. “Sometimes you need to lose and sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize the changes you need to make. And I think that what's going to make me great and show people who I am is just how I bounce back. It's not easy to lose, but great champions come back.”
Garcia has time, but from this point forward, each fight will have to count. The fact that his opponent at Toyota Center this weekend, Oscar Duarte, hasn’t been mentioned until now is because while he’s a hard-hitting, gritty Mexican battler whose only loss in 28 pro fights was via split decision to Adrian Estrella in 2019, he isn’t being brought in to upset the A-side in this matchup. So Garcia has to dazzle.
“I think he's a tough fighter,” Garcia told Beto Duran on Golden Boy Promotions’ YouTube show, The Showdown. “It's going to prepare me for the top at 140. It's going to be a tough fight, but that's the whole point of boxing. Take on the best fighters and prove myself. So that's why I'm here. And picking him, it sounds kind of disrespectful, but it’s more like I know he'd be a great opponent.”
There’s the other new twist for Garcia 2.0, a permanent move to 140 pounds after obvious difficulties making the lightweight limit for the Davis bout. Most fight fans did give Garcia a pass for that affecting his performance, but there are those who are still skeptical about how the fight ended, with Garcia rising immediately after taking a 10-count following a Davis body shot. It was an anticlimactic end to a highly anticipated bout, and what added to the sour taste left in fight fans’ mouth was the apparent apathy to the ending from Garcia.
“I didn't feel one moment of sadness and people say it's because of the money, but it wasn't because of the money,” Garcia told Mannix. “It was because that I stopped caring about just winning in general. My competition edge was just not there. It was like, okay, I did the big fight. Great. I don’t know what was missing.”
But as time went on, losing for the first time hit him, and he vowed that it wouldn’t happen again.
“It kind of hit me, and I was like, I'm never going to lose again,” he said on Off the Cuff. “I don't want to lose again. I'm going to erase the things I was doing. I wasn't being a professional, but sometimes you got to lose to realize I got to make a change here. It's not fun and games. This is a real sport. You could get hurt.”
Say what you want about Garcia and his status as the social media king of boxing, but he’s right. And getting knocked out on the biggest stage in the sport proved that, yes, this is a hurt business.
So now he’s in Texas, trying to rebuild with a trainer also trying to rebuild after high-profile losses by Errol Spence and Jermell Charlo. It could be a disaster, or a match made in heaven. Saturday night won’t likely provide those answers, but that’s good, because one loss shouldn’t be a death sentence. Fighters fight, fighters win, and fighters lose. What happens this weekend will show how Garcia reacts to that reality. And that has nothing to do with a new trainer or a new zip code. It has everything to do with the intangibles, the things that you can’t measure or see on paper.
And only Garcia knows if he’s still got those.