Ryan Garcia, WEARING an open black shirt with sparkles that revealed his chest and an oversized gold cross pendant, stood at the dais and answered questions, one after another. With media members glued to every word, he attempted to explain why he couldn’t beat the referee’s 10 count after Gervonta Davis knocked him down in Round 7 with a left hook to the liver.

Garcia was solemn as he searched for answers to share on why he came up short in not just the biggest fight of his life, but boxing’s biggest commercial event since Canelo Alvarez‘s rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin in 2018.

“I was close to getting up for sure,” said Garcia, who later revealed he entered the bout with a rib injury suffered in training. ” … I couldn’t breathe. … I don’t want to make no excuses. .. I just couldn’t recover. … He caught me with a good body shot.

“I was going to get back up, but I just couldn’t get up.”

Win or lose,the event was highly lucrative for Davis and Garcia from a financial standpoint. The event generated approximately 1.1 million PPV buys in the U.S., sources told ESPN, along with a $22 million-plus gate. At a time with few genuine stars in the boxing world, there is no doubt that Garcia is indeed a box-office attraction.

But after earning a fight with Davis — both through words and in-ring action — the same old lingering question remains about Garcia: Does he have the skills to match his superstar appeal?

“A lot of people will disagree with me, but I strongly feel that Ryan Garcia can be the face of boxing very, very soon at such a young age,” says Oscar De La Hoya, Garcia’s longtime promoter and the former face of boxing himself.. “[Fighters like] Canelo are … at the tail end of their career. Tyson Fury? He’s still going strong, but he’s fighting overseas and he must fight here in the U.S.

“And guess what? Ryan Garcia is the only guy who can have these mega events. I mean, Ryan Garcia can still fight Teofimo Lopez. He can still fight the winner of [Devin] Haney vs. [Regis] Prograis. He can fight anybody and it’ll be a huge event. That’s the advantage that Ryan Garcia has over everybody.”

That advantage is only on paper if Garcia can’t cash in on a boxing title. After all, the intrigue of a potential boxer vanishes if they fail to deliver. It’s true that he’s had limited opportunities to obtain a title, and given his powerful status in the sport those opportunities will come, but starting this Saturday against Oscar Duarte, it’s time for Garcia to show the world what those in his corner believe he can do.

“I feel like I’m right there in the top three, top four of the biggest stars in boxing. You go around, ask people my name, they’re going to know. Really, I’ve made myself a household name in boxing.”

Ryan Garcia

His plaudits outside the ropes are undeniable. Garcia built his social-media following during his days as an accomplished amateur boxer in Southern California. His posts on Instagram that displayed his blinding hand speed amassed a legion of fans that’s now at 10.3 million and counting.

“I knew when I met Ryan four years ago that he was a star in and out of the ring,” says Garcia’s attorney and advisor, Guadalupe Valencia. “Just look at what we are doing — 1.2 million PPV buys in his first outing. Sponsorships such as Gatorade. Fendi runway shows with Rihanna. [Hugo] Boss in Milan for fashion week. I can go on and on.

“Literally making dozens of millions outside of the ring and dozens inside. He could retire from boxing today and live wealthy. But we are only getting started.”

Now it’s time to put it all together. All of the biggest fights boxing can deliver at 140 pounds are seemingly within his reach, but a misstep against Duarte could wreak havoc on any future boxing plans.

“When I put my full focus, you see what made me a star, and with more activity you’re going to see the knockouts you used to see and all the things that made me who I am,” Garcia says. “So that’s the statement I’m trying to bring to this fight….

“I’ve been a special fighter since I was a little kid. I was special in the amateurs, special in the pros. This last fight was just a lot of things that had to go wrong for me to lose. … I’ve experienced a fight at the biggest stage now, so nothing could really shake me up. … I gained a lot of confidence from that. What else am I going to fear?”

ON THAT APRIL night in Las Vegas, Garcia (23-1, 19 KOs) fielded questions alone, without De La Hoya, at his side. De La Hoya later said he wasn’t present due to death threats. Also absent was Garcia’s trainer, Joe Goossen. He was replaced after the bout by Derrick James, ESPN’s 2022 Trainer of the Year, who trained Garcia at his gym in Dallas alongside Errol Spence Jr. and Jermell Charlo before training camp began.

Garcia seems poised to start over Saturday in a tougher-than-usual matchup for a star boxer coming off a loss.

“Ryan Garcia got knocked out by ‘Tank’ Davis in his last fight. What do you expect me to do — bring him back in a rematch or back against the world champion?” De La Hoya asked. “Boxing, the way it works is you choose an opponent for your next fight that you should win to get your confidence back to be on top of the world once again.

“But what does Ryan do? He picks a knockout artist in Oscar Duarte. I believe his last 11 fights are by knockout. So, it’s no easy task. So, I have to commend Ryan for this. I have to commend him because he could have chose somebody who has one knockout or no knockouts at all. … This is a perfect fight for him to shine, yes, but it’s also a risky fight because of Oscar Duarte’s style and his power.”

Garcia said he was weight-drained against Davis after he agreed to a 136-pound catchweight with a same-day rehydration clause that didn’t allow him to exceed 146 pounds.

His two previous fights were contested at 140 pounds, without a rehydration clause, and Garcia now returns to the junior welterweight division against Duarte. Duarte isn’t a top-10 fighter at 140 pounds, but he is riding an 11-fight KO streak following his lone pro defeat. Per ESPN BET, Duarte is just a +310 underdog (as of Friday morning).

“I’m at the top of my game; my confidence isn’t shot,” Garcia says. “I didn’t come into this sport to just take these easy throwaway fights. I’m here to give the fans great fights. I know this guy’s coming off 11 straight knockouts, so he’s confident, he’s happy and he says he wants to be the next idol of Mexico. So there you go. This is his chance and I got to stop that. So that’s my intention.”

De La Hoya and Garcia are on the same page when it comes to his opponent, but since that last fight — and even well before that — the two have been involved in some classic promoter-boxer drama.

There was public acrimony between the pair, which mostly played out on the platform then known as Twitter. Legal letters followed, including a lawsuit from De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions to enforce its promotional contract.

De La Hoya and Garcia both told ESPN last month that they put outside-the-ring distractions to the side for the benefit of his preparation for this fight.

“Cordial, all respect each other, so that’s good,” Garcia said then. “Again, all the legal stuff, I just leave to my lawyers and let them handle it. So, I haven’t really thought about it too much. Just focus on the fight. And that’s it.”

That all changed in ugly fashion at Thursday’s news conference in Houston. Garcia claimed De La Hoya and Golden Boy executive Bernard Hopkins are “backing” Duarte to defeat him.

“One thing that’s been on my heart is the statements that Bernard made where he’ll decide if I’m going to finish or if I should continue boxing after this fight,” Garcia said. “He don’t decide that. My coach [Derrick James] does; my team does. Everybody that grinds with me, day in and day out, that’s who decides.

” … Nobody was telling him when to stop boxing. He stopped boxing at what, 45 [actually 51] so kudos to him.

“Another thing I want to touch on is Oscar saying that we misinterpret what they say. It’s plain English. I didn’t hear anybody speaking any language I don’t know.”

The comments from Garcia came one day after De La Hoya, the founder of Golden Boy Promotions, addressed a back-and-forth between Hopkins and Garcia that played out in the media.

“Bernard and I have spent decades putting on the biggest events in the sport – including Ryan’s last fight which generated $30 million for him,” De La Hoya wrote on Instagram on Wednesday. “We build champions, help them navigate their careers to the top and make them the highest paid fighters.

“Ryan: keep focused on your craft instead of listening to some of your ‘team’s’ interpretations of comments taken out of context. Bernard and I will remain committed to taking your career to the top.”

Garcia alleged in June via a demand letter that his promotional contract with Golden Boy had been breached. The allegations laid out in that letter prompted a response from Golden Boy in the form of a lawsuit filed later that month in the U.S. District Court of Nevada to enforce its contract with Garcia.

GARCIA AND DE LA HOYA still believe this fight is the stepping stone to a big 2024 with big-name fights on the horizon. Garcia mentioned matchups against champions Teofimo Lopez Jr. and Rolando “Rolly” Romero, and Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion who relinquished his belts on Wednesday to move up to 140 pounds. That blueprint is something De La Hoya knows well and despite the rocky moments in their relationship, following in De La Hoya’s footsteps from a business perspective would be a massive win.

It’s referred to as the “boxing business” for a reason. Unlike team sports, a boxer’s ability to draw fans to the gate and to televisions usually trumps one’s fighting ability.

Few fighters know the business from both sides as well as De La Hoya. After all, he starred as a boxing mega star who raked in tens of millions per fight purse as the face of the sport from the moment he defeated Mexican idol Julio Cesar Chavez in 1996 and until 2008, when Manny Pacquiao beat him into retirement.

While he was still fighting, De La Hoya, who won titles in six different divisions, started Golden Boy Promotions and for years, staged some of the biggest events in boxing as the sole promoter of Canelo Alvarez. That partnership ended in 2020 after Alvarez sued the company, but De La Hoya believes he could have another standard-bearer in the fold in Garcia.

He believes the title of “Face of Boxing” is between Canelo and Fury, but says Garcia is “not far behind.”

But just how much money Garcia generates in the long run will be intertwined — in some part – to his ability to defeat the best. Conor McGregor remains the biggest star in combat sports even though he’s lost three of his last four bouts, but that skid comes after a long run as one of the best fighters in the UFC.

Garcia has shown vulnerability with his guard, perhaps making De La Hoya’s words about this matchup more than routine prefight promoter speak. Garcia found success early in his bout with Davis before he was floored in Round 2 by a counter left cross after Garcia overextended.

“The first knockdown was just him not knowing his placement,” Davis said afterward. “I knew that I was the smaller guy, and my coach was telling me in camp that he’s going to come up with his head up, so just shoot over the top.”

That was the second knockdown of Garcia’s career. The first came in January 2021, also in the second round. Luke Campbell, an Olympic gold medalist, connected with a left cross square on Garcia’s chin. Garcia’s right hand was low, creating an easy target for the southpaw.

Garcia’s ring IQ is still questioned to this day, but he proved his fighting spirit on that night. He rose from the knockdown and scored a KO of Campbell with a left hook to the body in Round 7 in what remains his career-best victory.

But against Davis, he was floored by a similar shot, proving that he has much to work on with James in his corner.

And Garcia isn’t shying away from that. He knows he must improve to realize his potential inside and outside the ring. That’s why he changed his corner and why he’s taking on a tougher-than-usual comeback opponent in Duarte. The total package is there for Garcia to transcend boxing as a superstar and become the face of the sport. He’s telegenic, possesses an entertaining fighting style and scores explosive KOs. Simply put, he has it.

But it all will only take him so far if he can’t reach the upper echelon of the sport as Alvarez and De La Hoya did before him.

“I feel like I’m right there in the top three, top four of the biggest stars in boxing,” Garcia says. “You go around, ask people my name, they’re going to know. Really, I’ve made myself a household name in boxing, which is a blessing. All that matters is being in the top five really.

“People could argue about who’s the ‘face’ all they want. It doesn’t really matter. As long as you match up with a great guy, it’s going to be a great event. I know I’m right there and with many years of my life to come in this sport, I could definitely be the face of boxing. Just going to take a mentality and a discipline and it’ll get me there.”

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