The propaganda that has long surrounded Ryan Garcia was trialled by true conflict and adversity on Saturday night but the young American welcomed it in emphatic fashion as he rose from the canvas to knockout Britain’s Luke Campbell.
Garcia, a 22-year-old whose online popularity has until now exceeded his in-ring credentials, made his entrance on a gold throne but soon found himself sprawled on the floor in the second round courtesy of a sharp counter and his own reckless confidence.
His brand of cocksure swagger and lofty prophesies leaves no hiding place and, having won all his preceding 20 fights with relative ease, he was forced to look beyond the glamorous facades and into his own well of courage. There, he found and displayed a fearlessness and spite that should dispel the condemnations of him as an “Instagram boxer” – rather, with his 8m followers, perhaps he is the incarnation of a new breed of fighter, whose heart and steel are hidden behind online savvy.
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The punch that finished it, a vicious left hook to the liver, was no fluke but the culmination of a sustained onslaught by Garcia, who has now established himself as a legitimate contender in the richly talented lightweight division. Campbell is a seasoned veteran and represented a gamble, but this defeat may signal the end of the 2012 Olympic gold medallist’s days among that elite as he succumbed to the first stoppage of his decorated career.
“I think I showed a lot of people who I really am. I showed today I am special,” Garcia told DAZN. “They wanted to show me as a social media fighter. Anybody who puts you down, remember you’re not who people tell you who you are – you are who you choose to be. I chose to be a champion tonight.
“He caught me, I was like, ‘I got dropped, this is crazy’. I’ve never been dropped in my life. I had to adjust. I knew I could beat him, I just had to get back up.”
Garcia, who is mentored by pound-for-pound kingpin Canelo Alvarez, has long been touted as a superstar-in-waiting and was a firm favourite heading into the bout, despite being vastly inexperienced in comparison to Campbell. Yet, for what Garcia lacks in age he counters with confidence and he started quickly, taking the front foot, closing Campbell down and unleashing a flurry of punches on the ropes.
Soon, though, his arrogance was to prove his undoing and, as he chased an early finish, Campbell countered with a fierce left that dropped his opponent.
Garcia claimed it was the first time he had ever touched the floor and, although he was visibly shaken, he reacted well, rising early to the count. Campbell failed to go for the finish and, in that window alone, his chance was gone.
In the third, Garcia began to re-establish his rhythm and range, respecting Campbell’s threat before opening up and firing in bursts again. And while Campbell mustered moments of danger as Garcia’s defence glared with vulnerabilities, the finish only seemed to become more inevitable.
Just seconds before the bell in the fifth round, Garcia caught Campbell with a brilliant counter left hook and the Briton stumbled back to his corner hurt and drained, admitting to his trainer, Shane McGuigan, that he felt “buzzed”. He survived one more round but the ending in the seventh was clinical, with Garcia drawing Campbell’s hands high before planting a hook low to the body. The Briton writhed on the canvas in agony and failed to meet the count.
Garcia’s celebrations were ecstatic, both with joy but, perhaps, largely relief. This was the biggest test of his nascent career and he passed it in absorbing style, proving a wealth of doubters wrong even if he is destined to always divide opinion.
Online his star was already born. Tonight, in the ring, it truly burst into life.
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