Ryan Garcia faces the hardest fight of his life – on both sides of the ropes

There are fears in the boxing community that Ryan Garcia could get badly hurt when he fights Devin Haney this weekend. There are fears that he is already hurting.

In Brooklyn on Saturday, Garcia and Haney will resume a rivalry that dates back to their amateur careers – a time when there was little to separate the Americans as they went 3-3 across six bouts. Yet as they prepare to meet in the professional ranks as 25-year-olds, nine years on from their last tilt, it feels as though they could not be further apart.

Haney has forged ahead of his old, young rival, establishing himself as pound-for-pound one of the best boxers in the world. To some fans of the sport, he is already No 1; regardless, he is on course to occupy that spot some day. In 2022, the “Dream” dismantled George Kambosos Jr on the Australian’s home soil twice, becoming the undisputed lightweight champion with the first of those victories and retaining that status with the second.

His decisive victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko in May was, in fact, disputed, but Haney again proved his class when he sauntered past Regis Prograis in December. With that win, Haney stayed unbeaten and collected the WBC super-lightweight belt, completing his move to the division after vacating his lightweight titles a month prior.

Haney’s story is simple: He has been sublime. Garcia’s journey, however, has been much messier, and now it is getting murky.

First there is the years-long, ongoing feud with his own promoter: the once great, now grating Oscar De La Hoya. And although “King Ryan” shed his tag as an “Instagram boxer” by climbing off the canvas to stop Luke Campbell in 2021, suggestions that he is not an elite talent were perhaps confirmed in his one-sided loss to Gervonta Davis a year ago. After a tense build-up, Garcia was dropped within two rounds and finished within seven, a body shot leaving him beaten and broken, for the first time as a pro.

Still, Garcia rightly received credit for testing himself against a fearsome puncher while at a tender age, and there are those who observe the same merit in Garcia challenging Haney. Others believe that Garcia, who is yet to hold a world title in an era when they are abundant, would have been wiser to fight Rolly Romero for one of Haney’s old belts – and to use that gold as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Haney down the line.

Garcia (right) stopped Oscar Duarte in round eight in December (Getty)
Garcia (right) stopped Oscar Duarte in round eight in December (Getty)
Garcia facing off with Devin Haney in February (Getty)
Garcia facing off with Devin Haney in February (Getty)

Instead, Garcia stopped Oscar Duarte in a super-lightweight test run in December, and in any case, Haney’s father and coach has revealed a 55-45 per cent purse split in Garcia’s favour. So, Garcia might just have merged bravery with business savvy – a rare combination in boxing.

But any credit paid to Garcia is outweighed by concerns for the young American. At this point, it is not about his physical wellbeing – though that could suffer across 12 rounds with Haney, if the fight lasts that long – but rather his mental health.

Garcia has been open about his struggles before. Not long after beating Campbell in 2021, he delayed a planned bout with Javier Fortuna, citing a need to look after his mental health. For all the bravery Garcia has shown in the ring, that might have been his most courageous move so far.

Recently, however, he has raised concerns with erratic behaviour in front of the cameras and alarming comments on social media. These have ranged from the outlandish – such as vouching for the existence of aliens – to the far more serious, alleging that he suffered sexual abuse as a child and claiming to have witnessed human trafficking.

Those comments emerged during a conversation with influencer Andrew Tate, who is a notoriously controversial figure himself. In December 2022, Tate and his brother Tristan were arrested in Romania over allegations of rape, human trafficking, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women. They have been ordered to stay in Romania pending the next stage of the legal process: a judge must inspect the indictment before ordering a trial.

In March this year, a British request to extradite the Tate brothers once their Romanian charges have been settled was granted, after Bedfordshire Police secured a European arrest warrant in connection to an investigation into “allegations of rape and human trafficking”. The Tate brothers deny all allegations and charges.

Garcia during a media workout on 9 April (Getty)
Garcia during a media workout on 9 April (Getty)

Most would argue that X is not the right platform for Garcia to air his accusations – as undeniably sad as they are – and that Andrew Tate is not the right confidant.

Furthermore, a clip on Garcia’s Instagram in March featured a caption claiming that the boxer had been kidnapped and killed. Garcia’s father played down the video, saying his son was “trolling the wrong way”. Garcia’s ex-wife, whom he divorced following the birth of their son earlier this year, pleaded for the fighter’s followers to “pray” for him. “He may seem fine, but he is not,” she wrote.

Garcia seems mentally and emotionally vulnerable right now, and he must hope that does not expose a physical vulnerability – one that would prove devastating against a fighter as unrelenting as Haney.

For Garcia, a pursuit of some semblance of peace is the only fight that truly matters, but he cannot win that fight alone. Seeking world titles and paydays is no substitute for seeking genuine help.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offer support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

Rape Crisis offers support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland, or visit their website at www.rapecrisis.org.uk.