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The collapse of Ryan Garner must act as a warning

Ryan Garner
Action Images/Reuters/Adam Holt
John Evans fears Ryan Garner is allowing his talent to go to waste

LAST week’s edition of Boxing News was set to carry an interview with Ryan Garner. The story centred on the talented featherweight finally understanding the potential he possesses and his determination to fulfil it.
The story never saw the light of day. The pages were instead rightly dedicated to memories of Bert Cooper and Harold Lederman, both of whom had recently passed away.

Just as well. Within 24 hours of the magazine hitting newsstands, footage began to circulate of the 21-year-old collapsing after making the 128lb weight limit for a scheduled six-round fight in Stevenage. It is the second time in seven months that Garner, 8-0 (6), has feinted after boiling his body down for what – on paper at least – appeared to be a routine workout.
It was a worrying sight. Thankfully, Garner escaped from the frightening situation none the worse for wear but maybe the saddest aspect of the whole affair is seeing such a promising fighter sabotage his own career. Garner is a prodigious talent. Since turning professional back in 2016, every sparring partner or professional opponent he has shared the ring with, from world champions to journeymen, has raved about his potential. His promoter, Frank Warren, even likened his aggressive, hard hitting style to that of Naseem Hamed.

“He’s obviously depressed,” Garner’s manager, Frank Hopkins told BN. “On the trip home [from Stevenage] it was just me and him and I finally got some insight into his life and what he does. He’s just a cocky little sod who thinks he can do what he likes, when he likes, and still make the weight.

“Every time I went to the gym to see them I’d pester him that he wasn’t on the weight. He’d be saying, ‘I’m fine, Frank. Trust me. The weight isn’t a problem. I can do it standing on my head.’ This went on and on.

“Anyway, when I picked him up on Friday morning he looked horrendous. I bought him a bottle of water and told him to sip it on the way. He was worried because he was on the weight but I said, ‘F**k the weight. You look terrible.’ Anyway, he collapsed and collapsed again in the doctor’s office.”

The repercussions of entering the ring weight-drained and ill-prepared can be fatal. Garner hasn’t been boiling down for lucrative title fights, nor is he a veteran fighting nature to keep himself competitive. He is in the prime of his life, competing in a division that he and his team feel is best suited to his body.

“In his last fight at Brentwood, he looked the business,” Hopkins said. “He did everything right and came in a pound-and-a-half under the agreed weight. Why would you think of moving him up to super-featherweight? I will have to talk about it now though. Now he knows, this is the last chance saloon. He can’t do it anymore.”

Hopkins loves his “little superstar” even more than the horses he keeps at his yard on the south coast but whenever Garner’s name pops up on his phone he cringes, takes a deep breath, and braces himself for the worst. “He is a lovely, lovely boy. You know what I think it is? He’s got so much self-confidence that it’s almost cockiness. Not only has he got the confidence, he’s got the ability. Believe me, that little sod can walk the walk. I just hope he stays sensible long enough to win a title and earn a bit of money. Once he does that, he’ll get so confident in himself that he’ll work even harder to better himself and achieve more and earn more. Once he has a bit of success I think he’ll go for the moon.”

Perhaps. But the pattern is concerning. As well as missing out on two fights due to crashing the weight, the usual frustrations of injury, illness, and show cancellations have restricted Garner to just two outings in almost two years. Back in 2017, he was forced onto the sidelines after earning a suspension following an arrest for crashing a car while under the influence of cocaine. After virtually stepping straight out of the playground and into the ruthless world of professional boxing it is unsurprising that Garner – who trains in Southampton under Wayne Batten – retained an air of schoolboy naughtiness. Given his age and precocious talent it is also wholly understandable that he was mollycoddled and indulged. Maybe overindulged.

“That’s me!” Garner excitedly said a couple of weeks ago when asked if he knew who the potential superstar that Hopkins is constantly referring to was. “He goes around telling everybody that. I just can’t let him down. If I don’t make it it’d kill him wouldn’t it? I genuinely believe I will though. You obviously need a bit of luck but as long as I stay focused and everything goes the right way, I think I can do really good in this sport.

“If I’m honest, all of the sparring has been harder than all of my fights put together, but I know I’m gonna be prepared and ready when I do start stepping up.”

And therein lies the problem. So far, everything has been too easy for Garner. He is a funny, engaging, character with an abundance of self-belief. More rascal than reprobate, he recalls sparring successes with a mischievous laugh and has previously brushed off his misdemeanours as silly mistakes. He has been able to keep winning despite bad luck and worse personal decisions but over time the constant drip, drip, drip of late nights and missed fights will erode the ability that he has been taking for granted.

After his collapse in Leicester, Garner finally had some home truths spelled out to him by Hopkins and his promoter, Frank Warren. Six months later, history repeated itself. So far, neither the sting of ringing ears or the thump of dehydration headaches have been able to convince Garner to begin taking an extremely dangerous sport seriously. Hopefully, that long car journey home from Stevenage and seeing young Dennis McCann effortlessly step into his scheduled TV slot this weekend and set tongues wagging will hammer home both the danger he is placing himself in and the talent he is allowing to go to waste.

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