THE lightweight division has moved on drastically during Ryan Garcia’s 15-month absence and the 23-year-old has some catching up to do.
Garcia had not beed seen since he came of age by way of an impressive stoppage of Luke Campbell back in January 2021.
‘King Ry’, the social media monarch and self-styled ‘boxer-influencer’, took a mental health break from the sport after sustained bouts of depression and anxiety. Outwardly, he may seem like an unlikely mental health advocate but the youngster believes the trappings of his early fame may have played a part.
Garcia had broken down in a San Diego gym in front of his old trainer Eddy Reynoso in the spring of last year and decided that some time off was needed. He sought professional help and says regular therapy got him back on his feet.
But the boxing world, of course, did not stop turning. After he beat Luke Campbell, the Californian had been tagged as one member of the new ‘Four Kings’ alongside Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis and Teofimo Lopez.
Thing have changed, however. Haney and Davis have both won twice since Garcia beat Campbell while the last of that quartet, Lopez, was shocked by George Kambosos in November. The Australian now sits atop the world rankings.
Garcia, for his part, remains in the top five despite a lack of action and was desperate to show that he has been reinvigorated by his break.
But he was forced to go the distance against the negative Emmanuel Tagoe, who he tried and failed to put away over the full 12-round distance on Saturday.
It was a different, older man who made his ringwalk this time, not only by virtue of the tattoos he now has adorning his chest.
Garcia’s spell away was also punctuated by a split from Reynoso, the trainer behind the rise of Canelo, as he teamed up with Joe Goossen instead. The influence of the new coach was obvious as he got straight on the front foot.
Garcia showed no respect for Tagoe, marching him into every corner and looking to land hard right hands and left hooks with his trademark handspeed. Jabs were at a premium.
He towered over the Ghanaian and was essentially doing whatever he wanted. Garcia made a breakthrough in the second round when he dropped Tagoe midway through the round but he did not jump in looking for a finish.
The rounds came and went in a similar fashion, with Garcia loading up with nearly every punch as he went in search of the sort of finish which would capture the attention of his millions of Instagram followers. But Tagoe weathered the early storm and began to land some decent shots of his own on the counter in the seventh and eighth.
He was not winning rounds, however, as he was not willing to stand, trade and present a ready-made opening for Garcia.
He fashioned himself one in the 10th and looked set to close the show after a crunching right hand early in the round. But again he failed to capitalise on it so, for the first time, he saw the 11th and 12.
Goossen had said during the week that he would be very surprised if the fight went the distance and he was not the only one. The judges scored him a wide winner (119-108 x 2, 118-109) but this was not quite the return he would have envisioned against a hand-picked opponent in Tagoe.
“I got nothing but respect for Tagoe, he made it a hard fight,” Garcia said. “He was crafty with the holding and stuff. He was moving a lot, it was a new experience, I need to learn to cut the ring off.
“If I had started pressing him harder in the beginning I would have got him out of there. It was a track-down fight, I had to track him down.
“I went for it, I tried to knock him out. But it’s OK, I’ll learn more.”
Even so, job done and Garcia is back – and the sport seems like a more exciting place with him back on the inside of it.