Ryan Garcia continues on a path of proving his worth in the red-hot lightweight division.

Another step up in class is in store for the unbeaten 22-year-old, who will next face Javier Fortuna in the first defense of his interim WBC lightweight title. The bout is set for July 9, live on DAZN from a location to be determined, as confirmed by the evening's headline attraction.

“Fortuna is eager and will be ready, but so will I,” said Garcia of arguably his toughest test to date.

The bout was originally in play for earlier this spring, though Garcia (21-0, 18KOs) was on the hunt for star-making matchups. The undefeated rising superstar from Victorville, California was eyeing showdowns with the likes of reigning 130-pound titlist and secondary lightweight title claimant Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23KOs) and legendary global icon Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39KOs), only for neither option to materialize.

By then, Garcia was compelled to enter talk with Fortuna (36-2-1, 25KOs), a former secondary titlist at junior lightweight who has waited more than a year for his mandatory lightweight title shot. The fight was ordered weeks after Garcia’s last fight, an off-the-canvas 7th round knockout of England’s Luke Campbell (20-4, 16KOs) to claim the interim lightweight title this past January in front of a sold-out American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The win over Campbell—a 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and two-time title challenger from Hull, England—established Garcia’s worth as a top lightweight contender.

“Little by little, Ryan Garcia is silencing all of the skeptics,” states Oscar De La Hoya, García’s promoter and chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. “And the only way to keep doing that is by continually facing tougher challenges. Javier Fortuna is an experienced southpaw who can be very slippery when he wants to avoid punches.

“It’s a dangerous fight for Ryan, but I expect him to show newer elements in his arsenal before ending matters by knockout.”

The 31-year-old southpaw from Dominican Republic earned his way to the front of the line following a 2nd round knockout of Jesus Cuellar in Nov. 2019. Efforts to enforce his mandatory status instead saw the WBC lightweight title become vacant when Devin Haney (25-0, 15KOs) was unable to commit to such a fight due to recovering from shoulder surgery.

All that Fortuna had to show for it was a canceled title fight with Campbell due to the coronavirus pandemic last April and his opponent for last August, Jorge Linares testing positive for COVID ahead of their eventually scrapped fight. Fortuna settled for a stay-busy fight with Antonio Lozada, whom he stopped in the 6th round of their FS1-televised headliner last November in Los Angeles.

The hope remains a title shot in 2021, with the winner due to face whoever prevails in a May 29th WBC lightweight title clash between Haney and Linares.

“Ryan Garcia should take this fight very seriously and train properly because he will be facing, by far, the best fighter of his career,” insists Fortuna. “Hopefully on fight night, there will be no excuses for his loss. I expect this fight to be a war while it lasts, but I have too much of everything for Ryan Garcia. His last fight showed how easy he is to hit. And his power won’t mean anything to me. But mine will put him to sleep.”

Fortuna’s team is equally as confident.

“I’ve had a good relationship with Golden Boy Promotions for 20 years and that made these negotiations very easy,” said Sampson Lewkowicz, Fortuna’s promoter and founder/president of Sampson Boxing. “I commend Oscar De La Hoya and [Golden Boy President] Eric Gomez for their professionalism and for letting one of their big names take such a huge risk against Javier Fortuna.

“Here is my prediction. Fortuna will win the fight against Garcia, and then he will become the full WBC world champion because Devin Haney’s team will vacate and run to 140 pounds to avoid fighting him.”

The bold prediction is outright dismissed by the evening’s marquee attraction.

“No one can beat me in the lightweight division, period,” vows Garcia. “I'm going to show the world who I am.”

Final venue selection and accompanying ticket information are expected in the coming days.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox