Thursday, April 18, 2024

Haney-Garcia: Should It Go On?

It is often customary prior to what is viewed as a significant or “Major” fight on the Boxing calendar to fall into a seemingly endless cycle of hype surrounding what often becomes more of an event rather than simply an encounter between two world-class boxers. When it comes to the scheduled encounter between undefeated two-division world champion Devin Haney and top Jr. Welterweight contender Ryan García, who are to do battle for Haney's WBC Jr. Welterweight world championship on April 20th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this observer has been asking himself one question for the previous two months. Should the fight go on as planned? 

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, when I question if the fight should go on, it is not another in my long-standing criticisms regarding the pay-per-view model,  in which this will be slated as a DAZN Pay-Per-View offering in North America,  nor is it a concern similar to those that yours truly was very vocal in expressing during the global COVID-19 epidemic where I outright questioned whether due to health concerns, whether it was in the best interest of Boxing to resume under what were at that time, never before seen circumstances. A view that I also expressed regarding other sports as well during that time. Rather, when I ask the question of if a fight should go on, it is in this case, out of concern for the well-being of one of the combatants. I am referring to Ryan García. 

Under most circumstances when someone in my position in covering the sport voices concern for a fighter's well-being, most would probably associate such concern with citing eroding skills that often come with a long career inside the ring. In this case, I would not be doing my job nor the reader any justice if I said that my concern for García was not in relation to his mental health,  a subject he has been open about throughout his career. A major focal point in the lead up to this encounter with Haney has not been on anything related to the styles of the two fighters or what each brings to the battle inside the ring, but rather what can be described as erratic conduct of Garcia at press conferences as well as numerous online videos posted by the fighter himself. Out of respect for the reader, I will not discuss each instance, but Garcia's conduct in which he has ranted, made accusations, and even threatened to sue  the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), to name a few, suggests to this observer, someone who has praised him before when he put his mental health first in taking time away from Boxing, that perhaps he might be struggling with something that might not be known to the public and it would then make one question whether Boxing should be a priority. 

At this point,  I feel it is important for me to state that I am not a mental health professional and I do not have a medical background, and there are surely folks who are more qualified than I on the subject of behavior and whether or not someone might be struggling with something that may be previously diagnosed that could likely share a more educated point of view than I could.  I am simply sharing my point of view having quietly observed the circumstances leading up to this fight. While some may dismiss Garcia's conduct as merely promotional tactics in an attempt to drum up interest in this fight, I simply do not see things with a similar view. As I have continued to observe things, I have kept repeating three words. I am concerned. 

Obviously,  I am not involved with Ryan Garcia's team and I will state for the record that I have never had an opportunity to meet Garcia, but in watching what has gone on, I wondered for a time whether the concern I have might be an overreaction in some way. As a noted historian, I decided to try to jog my memory to try and remember a circumstance where a fighter's struggles outside the ring were such a focal point prior to a bout that it ended up overshadowing the fight itself.  One such instance came to mind. On February 7, 1997 Heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis and Oliver McCall met for the vacant WBC world championship in the Heavyweight division. Both former champions at the time of what was a rematch of a world championship bout three years earlier where McCall scored a second round knockout of the then WBC champion Lewis to become a world champion in his own right.

Prior to the rematch, the main topic of discussion among many was not about the fight itself,  but centered around McCall, who was said to had prepared for the bout while undergoing drug rehabilitation treatment. This along with other troubles McCall was going through outside of the Boxing ring cast some uncertainty regarding what type of bout it would be, despite McCall's success in the first encounter as well as being an underrated fighter who was taken lightly prior to that first fight, despite having been in the ring with many of the top Heavyweights of the late 1980's and 1990's, where he held his own. 

Despite exiting his dressing room at the Las Vegas Hilton, jumping up the ring steps,  and appearing motivated, it was not long before McCall in the midst of the fight began to have what by all accounts seemed to be a breakdown where he refused to engage with Lewis and began crying. The bout would be halted in the fifth round when the late great Referee Mills Lane stopped the fight and the victory was awarded to Lewis beginning his second reign as a world champion. In response to what had occurred the Nevada State Athletic Commission withheld McCall's purse for the bout.

It was and remains one of the most bizarre events this observer has ever seen in his career covering the sport and to my knowledge, to this day, there has never been an explanation for what exactly happened that evening other than to say a man who was going through significant struggles in his life at the time had a breakdown. While as a society there is more known now about mental health as compared to when the Lewis-McCall rematch took place twenty-seven years ago, I will take it a step further by saying based on what I saw that night that there were likely signs that McCall should not have been in the ring and for whatever reason, they were likely ignored. 

With regard to Ryan García, I sincerely hope that those around him are not turning a blind eye to what may be occurring, despite the appearance that some including Oscar De La Hoya, his promoter, and a man who himself has had personal struggles,  have seemed to find humor in his fighter's conduct,  most notably at recent press conferences promoting this bout against champion Devin Haney. While it remains to be seen what the New York State Athletic Commission might do and whether they will license García, despite his threats towards the commission as well as his overall conduct,  this observer believes at least for García, Boxing might not be a priority right now and the last impression I have as this fight approaches is not one of a fighter who is prepared to fight for a world championship for the first time in his career. 

Assuming the fight is allowed to go on as scheduled,  what should one expect in terms of styles? While one should keep in mind the stance of yours truly that perhaps this fight should not go forward out of concern for Garcia's well-being, if we are to assume the fight will go on, this will be the first time that Haney and García will have met as professional boxers,  but they have faced each other three times as amateurs. In those bouts, which took place between 2014 and 2015, Haney emerged with two decision victories, while Garcia was victorious via decision in the second of those three bouts.

It goes without saying that there are differences between the amateur and professional ranks in Boxing and what happened in amateur bouts nearly a decade ago when two fighters were teenagers might not necessarily be an indication of what will happen ten years later as professionals. Both fighters have quick hands and while some might give an edge in power to Garcia based on his twenty knockouts in twenty-four professional victories compared to the champion's fifteen of thirty-one wins,  Haney is very crafty and has shown an ability to dominate world-class opposition by winning every round of a fight and of the two, it is the champion who has more accomplishments at the top level of the sport as a two-division world champion. 

The key will be, if the fight is allowed to go on, whether Garcia will be able to respond to not only the pressure of the event, but also a very crafty and slick opponent that will be in front of him. While the styles of the fighters and the circumstances were different,  the one time Garcia was involved in a fight similar to this in terms of atmosphere and hype,  García was knocked out by Gervonta Davis under circumstances where, despite being knocked down by a left hook to the body, there are some who felt that Garcia could have continued rather than allowing himself to be counted out while on one knee. Although Garcia himself is the only one who can say what happened in that fight, it might give an impression that he does not respond well to pressure and regardless of the view of this observer regarding this fight taking place given his well-being is being questioned, it is something to keep in mind if this fight does indeed happen. 

Usually, at the end of a column discussing an upcoming fight, readers are used to me giving a positive spin on things in hopes that Boxing will be benefited from what takes place rather than ridiculed. In this case,  I truly hope that all my concerns for one fighter's well-being turn out to be unfounded, despite how things would appear. It is also my hope that in the days that follow, we as a sport, and those of us who cover it are not talking about something that probably should have been prevented where the blame will fall squarely on those who were in positions to do something, but chose not to,  whether it be promoters, networks, family members,  or a state athletic commission,  who will be overseeing and sanctioning the bout. If a worse case scenario does indeed occur,  whatever that might be, it will be hard to defend all of the above and not say criticism, ridicule, mockery, and inevitable calls for reform and yes, accountability will not be deserved.

“And That's The Boxing Truth.”

Haney vs. Garcia takes place on Saturday, April 20th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. The fight can be seen in North America on DAZN Pay-Per-View beginning at 8PM ET/5?PM PT for $69.99 and will be available through the DAZN app as well as through traditional cable/satellite providers. For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, availability around the world, to subscribe and order this select pay-per-view event please visit:

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