Trying to figure out what happened to Ryan Garcia as the superstar boxer appears to spiral out of control

For most of his career, the biggest knock on Ryan Garcia from many boxing fans was that he was more focused on his social media than on being a great boxer. Garcia was the product of a different generation, one of the few boxers to use social media to dramatically raise their profile and become a crossover star, something boxing fans have largely resisted.

Ahead of his clash with WBC junior welterweight champion Devin Haney on Saturday, Garcia’s social media presence has taken a dark turn and may finally be providing the distraction many have warned about for so many years. More than talking up his fight with Haney, Garcia has fallen down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories more fitting for QAnon message boards than the timeline of a young social media influencer and boxer.

So, what happened to Ryan Garcia?

Were a promoter to build a fighter in a lab, that fighter would likely come out looking a lot like Garcia. He’s young, charismatic, handsome and blessed with speed and power. Combine that with an accomplished amateur background and a savvy approach to social media, which has led to 10.5 million followers on Instagram, and you have the recipe for a major box office attraction.

And Garcia was that guy as he rose through the ranks. His Instagram posts were drawing in non-boxing fans to the sport and were generally the kind of wholesome, if generic, inspirational and comedy bits you’d expect from a modern “influencer.”

After appearing on Logan Paul’s podcast in 2019, Garcia’s social media fame only grew.

By early 2020, Garcia was expanding on his mission to use his fame for good, continuing to impress in the ring and trying to inspire outside of it.

“Now I’m 21, and I’m looking to become the best role model I can and show how much I’ve matured and how much I can change the sport overall,” Garcia told Forbes in 2020. “I don’t know how far this can go. I’m just happy it can make an impact.”

A year later, Garcia faced the toughest test of his career when he took on Luke Campbell for the WBC interim lightweight title. For the first time as a professional, Garcia was caught with a hard shot and knocked to the canvas. He was able to recover quickly and finished the fight in the seventh round.

In its own way, suffering the knockdown was a valuable moment for Garcia. Being good-looking and active on social media resulted in a knee-jerk reaction from many that Garcia was soft and wouldn’t be able to deal with adversity. Climbing off the canvas and not fighting scared was another positive mark for Garcia as a boxer.

After two more wins brought his record to 23-0 with 19 knockouts, Garcia finally landed the big fight he’d been talking up for years, a showdown with fellow young superstar Gervonta “Tank” Davis.

Ahead of the Davis fight, Garcia showed a little more edge than normal in interviews but nothing outside normal expectations from boxers or boxing promotion. But the fight itself went badly for Garcia as he suffered a knockdown in the second round before being unable to rise after a body shot knockdown in the seventh.

Whether it was the disappointment of the defeat or something deeper, things seemed to change for Garcia.

Garcia once withdrew from a fight against Javier Fortuna, originally scheduled for July 2021, citing a need to tend to his mental health. Garcia became an outspoken advocate for mental health after and discussed how close his life came to ending during that dark period, which came after his knockout win over Campbell.

“When I was deep in it, I didn’t think I was gonna live, I was so depressive and I went to bad habits,” Garcia said on Inside Boxing Live. “I started drinking, and I never drink, ever. But I was getting drunk all the time. I wanted to kill myself at one point … It was so bad, so intense, that I thought maybe I just rather not be here. I didn’t understand what was going on. I needed professional help.”

Aside from the bizarre behavior on Twitter — with the conspiracy theory talk, claiming he has a real photo of aliens, posting videos claiming his phone and social media had been taken away, etc. — Haney and others have accused Garcia of drinking and/or using drugs ahead of the fight, possibly seeking an excuse for Garcia’s bizarre behavior.

Included in those accusors is influencer Jailyne Ojeda, who Garcia “hired” as a “Spanish coach” ahead of the fight, leading to several videos featuring the two. After a video was posted claiming that Garcia had repeatedly made Ojeda uncomfortable, including text messages between the two with Garcia apologizing for making her “feel weird” while thinking they were joking and also saying “I was drunk.”

Garcia went live on Twitter on Wednesday, claiming he wouldn’t be addressing the situation other than that he was planning to sue Ojeda and complaining that the text messages show she said she forgives him, so he doesn’t understand why she would come for him now.

Going back to his 2021 time off to tend to his mental health, Garcia said he was drinking at the time despite that he “never drinks, ever.” But as the fight draws near, he’s now embroiled in controversy around the situation with Ojeda while acknowledging the text messages in the video (which include the “I was drunk” message) just days out from the first time he will challenge for a world championship.

Drinking was behavior Garcia associated with his severely declining, and borderline suicidal, health just three years ago. To be engaging in that same behavior now, so close to the biggest fight of his life, while also repeatedly expressing rage at those who have questioned whether he is in a safe mental state, suggests a possible disconnect that could set the stage for bigger issues in the near future. To say nothing of Ojeda’s accusations of Garcia’s behavior toward her.

This is yet another strange step for Garcia, who once attracted young people to boxing through his charming persona and ability to understand and utilize technology in ways most fighters do now. Now, instead of that same crowd, Garcia is attracting a nearly opposite audience of extreme conspiracy theorists and those with fringe beliefs.

In the end, Garcia beating Haney and becoming world champion would likely gloss over his behavior over the past months. It wouldn’t be excused or forgotten, but fans questioning whether Garcia’s mental state would affect his boxing performance would have that question answered.

If Garcia loses, however, especially in a one-sided fight, it’s easy to imagine the coming days and months getting much darker for him. Not only will the days of the young, exciting and inspirational figure be gone, but it would also likely signal the end of anyone considering Garcia as a legitimate elite-level fighter.

How someone with a history of mental illness, seemingly in the depths of some new type of crisis, would respond to having everything crumble so quickly is a scary thought.


[colabot]

Leave a Comment