Friday, April 26, 2024

Garcia Shows Legitimacy In The Ring, But Should Concern Remain?

Prior to the encounter between undefeated two-division world champion Devin Haney and top Jr. Welterweight contender Ryan Garcia on April 20th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this observer expressed concern for Garcia's well-being due to his documented struggles with his mental health. A subject the fighter has been open about in the past, which I have praised him for, particularly during the times where, despite his success in the Boxing ring and his status as a celebrity in the social media age, he has put his health first as the main priority, even walking away from the sport for a time to address his struggles when he appeared to be on the brink of fighting for a world championship. 

My concern for Garcia was and is based on his erratic behavior, which has been shown to the world both in various press conferences to promote his bout with Devin Haney, but also in numerous posts that circulated online that were posted by the fighter himself that frankly should have raised concerns for anyone who views things objectively and with a level head. It was on this basis of simply observing things from a far that I spent the majority of a column released two days before the fight outright questioning whether it should take place and though I did briefly touch upon the fight itself, it should have been clear to the reader that I was thinking less about the fight and more about Garcia's long-term well-being.

This observer also went on to state for the record that I do not know Garcia and have never had an opportunity to meet him, despite covering many of his bouts in his career. My concern was and is merely based on what I had seen put out by the fighter himself and was not based on any background in mental health or in medicine, which yours truly does not have and am far from an expert on either subject. I did, however, state based on what I had seen in the lead up to the fight that perhaps Boxing should not be a priority currently for Garcia and those around him should voice their concern if they genuinely care for him and have his best interest at heart. Comments which I stand by.

Nevertheless, I would be lying to the reader if I said that in the days prior to this fight I felt excited or was filled with anticipation. Rather, I was hoping that what I had seen in the build up would not lead to yet another instance where the sport of Boxing would be subjected to ridicule and see calls for reform and accountability after another instance possibly occurring that could have been prevented. My concern seemed more justified on the day before the fight where Garcia showed up to the weigh-in drinking what appeared to be a bottle of beer while on the scale and subsequently weighed-in over the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight limit by three pounds resulting in Garcia no longer being eligible to win the WBC World Jr. Welterweight championship and paying Haney $1.5 Million in order to keep the fight on. 

Upon learning of this, I put out a statement on this observer’s respective social media platforms where I said in the midst of said statement “This will be a non-title bout now, but at the risk of sounding unprofessional should people really give a damn about a world championship not being on the line when the question should be whether this should be taking place at all. Not because a fighter missed weight, but because it's obvious to anyone with a level head, who is objective, that something is wrong here.” Comments, which I also stand by.

After a lifetime covering the sport, I have learned not to be surprised if a fight gets cancelled or postponed for any reason prior to two fighters actually getting in the ring. This has even at times included seeing scheduled main events of a card I was covering cancelled mere minutes before the two fighters were due to enter the ring. It certainly would not have surprised yours truly based on Garcia's behavior and also threatening the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) in the weeks prior due to them wanting Garcia to undergo a mental evaluation before licensing him to compete, to have been notified at some point during fight day that there had been a postponement, whether it be due to the commission mandating it or one of the fighters opting not to compete for whatever reason. In the interest of honesty with the reader, I will say for the record that I spent most of fight day, Saturday, April 20th keeping my phone nearby waiting for a potential text, which seems to be a preferred method of communication for many in present times or an email informing me of a change or cancellation of the bout. It would not have surprised me at all, especially in knowing that the NYSAC is regarded as one of the strictest athletic commissions in the United States.

Despite the previous statement, the fight would indeed move forward at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Although both Haney and Garcia are highly skilled world-class boxers, who split their previous meetings as amateurs, my main focus was simply on whether Garcia's behavior, which was dismissed by some as merely promotional hype, would manifest itself negatively during the fight. As sad as it is to admit, when you have covered more than a few bizarre incidents in nearly three decades covering the sport, there are times when unfortunately you almost expect something bad to happen.

To my pleasant surprise, I am grateful that Haney-Garcia did not result in such an incident. Instead, the Boxing world was treated to what any fan should want to see. A highly competitive fight with twists and turns that kept one interested throughout. What stood out immediately was García attempting to impose his will on Haney and landing his signature weapon, a left hook that landed flush on Haney's jaw and staggered him in the opening round. While some might attribute this to him not making weight, García was able to establish that he was the stronger fighter and his perceived advantage when it came to punching power was not theory, but a statement of fact. It seemed that whenever he was able to land punches cleanly, he hurt Haney. 

What should not be overlooked is there was also a lot of rough housing that occurred throughout this fight by both fighters, which made Referee Harvey Dock a central figure throughout the bout. Despite the success he was able to have early on, there were two things that came to mind as I watched this fight that I did wonder about Garcia. First, even though it became clear as the fight progressed that his punches were harder and doing more damage, would it be enough to earn the nod of the three official judges in rounds where Haney appeared busier and García was not able to land attention grabbing power punches to leave an impression that he was winning rounds that might otherwise be viewed as close where Haney might have had the upper hand.  

Secondly, while both fighters did their share of rough housing, I wondered aloud whether from Haney's point of view, he was trying to either make Garcia make a mistake that he could try to exploit, and/or whether he was trying to give Garcia a test, perhaps trying to instigate Garcia into allowing his struggles outside the ring to get the better of him in the fight. Although it would be dishonest of me to say that the holding and grappling that took place throughout the fight did not make it at times ugly, Garcia managed to keep his composure for the most part. In round seven, Garcia would drop Haney for the first time in his career with a left hook to the head. Haney was badly hurt upon getting up from the knockdown and immediately held Garcia seemingly in a death grip looking to survive. In response while Referee Harvey Dock was in the midst of trying to separate the fighters, Garcia threw and landed a punch on the break, resulting in him losing a point following the knockdown.

Some may contend that Dock acted too quickly in deducting a point from Garcia for the deliberate foul. While Dock is the only one who can say why he opted to take a point from Garcia at what turned out to be a crucial moment in the fight, one should keep in mind that there were a lot of roughhouse tactics being used by both fighters in several rounds prior to Garcia being able to score the knockdown. It is logical to guess that perhaps Dock, having admonished both fighters before the seventh round, opted to deduct the point as a means of both showing the fighters he was serious as well as a means of establishing control as the referee.

What was indisputable however, was once Haney was knocked down, it became a different fight in that he was hurt and as most fighters do when they are in that position, the instinct to go into what is often referred to throughout combat sports as “Survival Mode" seemed to kick in. While this is understandable given that he was hurt, in this case it seemed as though he not only had trouble recovering from the knockdown, despite getting out of the round, but also did not seem to have an answer to stop the momentum Garcia was building. Subsequent knockdowns in rounds ten and eleven for Garcia giving him a total of three knockdowns in the fight, based largely on his left hook and the power advantage he had over Haney, not only minimized the point deduction in round seven following the first knockdown, but seemed to seal a victory for him at the conclusion of the twelve round bout in what should have been fairly lopsided fashion due to three knockdowns being scored by one fighter throughout. The competitiveness of the first half of the fight made the scoring of it narrow, which was perhaps also due in part to the point deduction against Garcia following the first knockdown.

It would ultimately turn out to be a moot point as Garcia’s rally over the second half of the fight and knockdowns in rounds ten and eleven resulted in him winning the fight on two official judges' scorecards for a majority decision victory. At least in terms of what happens inside of the Boxing ring, if one is objective, they would have to say this was the biggest win of Garcia’s career, despite his behavior and what are obvious signs of a person struggling with their mental health.

Although the latter was dismissed by Garcia and many after the fight as him “Fooling Everyone," the bottom line here is even though he did what he had to do inside the ring, despite the fact that he failed to make weight and thus blew an opportunity to be a world champion, his behavior should be a concern to anyone who legitimately cares for him and who will be around him long after his career is over and not the hanger on types that will be more than happy to enable such conduct and take whatever they can from him while they can. If this will be dismissed as nothing more than hype tactics and using the tools available to all of us including social media to make people concerned, perhaps like a lot of others of this generation, who tend to find humor in such conduct, Garcia should be advised on maturity.

The bottom line is he is talented as a fighter and does have a following that could help grow the sport and perhaps set himself up for other opportunities in and outside of Boxing once his career as a fighter is over. Garcia's talent is all the hype he should need and he should understand that per his position as a rising star in the sport as well as a public figure, there are responsibilities that come with that. One other thing he should keep in mind, while he has been open in the past about his struggles with mental health, something this observer has commended him for, it is not a subject to be taken lightly and definitely not something that should be treated as a joke, a card to play, or used for promotional purposes unless the goal is not promoting a fight, but rather raising awareness with the intent to help people.

Millions of folks around the world struggle every day with various mental health issues. The last thing it should be treated as is a game or a tool for manipulation. Garcia and those around him may not want to hear this, but if his behavior is and has been nothing more than attention ploys and a means of attempting to gain publicity and his talking about mental health struggles is not now or ever was legitimate, it makes it that much harder for those who are legitimately struggling and suffering to take the necessary step to seek help because there is still a stigma attached to the subject of mental health and he is in a position to at minimum help encourage folks to take that step. This may sound harsh, but if that is the case and all of his claims of dealing with mental health struggles were never legitimate, Garcia and those around him should be ashamed of themselves.

“And That's The Boxing Truth." 

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