For junior welterweight superstar Ryan Garcia, just eight months removed from his first pro defeat, few could have expected Saturday's return to the ring would bring forth so much drama and controversy.
No, the 25-year-old social media sensation hasn't been beefing it up with his opponent, Mexican slugger Oscar Duarte (26-1-1, 21 KOs, whom Garcia will face off against inside the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday. Nor has Garcia (23-1, 19 KOs) been found wasting too much time verbally sparring with his online critics or the legion of big-name opponent prospects who continue to call him out thinking his knockout loss to Gervonta Davis in April was some form of referendum as to why Garcia is more hype than substance.
Instead, Garcia's fight this week has been against his own team, Golden Boy Promotions, and the two key figureheads in founder Oscar De La Hoya and fellow Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins.
In one sense, the escalation of their disagreement isn't much of a surprise, especially after the Golden Boy executives infamously skipped the post-fight press conference following Garcia's loss to Davis. The aftermath of that incident, which De La Hoya described as merely miscommunication, also saw "The Golden Boy" take shots at Garcia publicly about the much-ballyhooed hydration clause that the California native accepted in order to secure such a difficult-to-make superfight involving multiple networks.
The major surprise, at least this week, was how embolden the two sides have been in reactivating said beef, especially in public at Thursday's press conference, which saw De La Hoya make exaggerated faces in reaction to Garcia while standing behind him on the dais, just as the fighter ripped into both for being disloyal.
‼️ Ryan Garcia PUBLICLY FIRES BACK at his Golden Boy promoters Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya at the presser ahead of his fight vs Oscar Duarte on Saturday night: “Bernard said he'd never lose to a white boy, then Joe Smith Jr knocked him out of the ring.”— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) November 30, 2023
[🎥 @DAZNBoxing] pic.twitter.com/K9WMpRfaPf
When the Duarte fight was first publicly announced in early November, De La Hoya spent much of the media stops proclaiming he had repaired the relationship with Garcia.
"I think we are like a family and every family has its differences," De La Hoya told "Morning Kombat" last month. "Every family has their little arguments but at the end of the day, it's family. And we understand that and understand the value of each other. We understand that boxing is what got us here and we make a good team.
"Coming off the biggest, record-breaking pay-per-view of this year, there is a lot of business to be done. We both understand that and we are going to continue doing our business. We patched things up and we are going to move forward."
Only, the patch never took and the bad blood appeared to spill over once more when Garcia took umbrage with Hopkins' comments last week that essentially presumed that he and De La Hoya would have the final say about whether Garcia's boxing career should continue after Saturday, or whether an upset loss might force them to advise him to step away.
At Thursday's final press conference, Garcia roared back with authority as the tension between fighter and promoter continued to escalate.
"One thing that has 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," Garcia said. "He don't decide that. My coach does, my team does, everybody that grinds with me day in and day out, that's who decides, and ultimately, God decides. Not [Hopkins]. Nobody was telling him when to stop boxing. He stopped at what, 45? So, kudos to him. But he don't determine [my exit]."
Garcia's facts might have been a bit off considering Hopkins, the oldest fighter in boxing history to win and defend recognized world titles, walked away from the sport just 29 days short of his 52nd birthday in 2016, when slugger Joe Smith Jr. knocked him through the ropes and onto floor to end their light heavyweight bout in Round 8.
Even if Garcia's subsequent jab also wasn't fully accurate, it was particularly bold as he went on to reference Hopkins' infamous statement ahead of his 2008 loss to Joe Calzaghe, where he claimed he would never lose to a "white boy," in clapping back at the ageless wonder.
"You know, [Hopkins] calls out on the bullshit, the lies," Garcia said. "Man, last time I checked, he said he'll never los to a white boy and then Joe Smith Jr. knocked him out of the ring. Last time I checked, Joe Smith Jr. was white. So, you know, they be lying."
Although the exact details of Garcia's current contract with Golden Boy aren't public, it's assumed that the promotion has contractual rights over him that would prevent Garcia from doing anything but being forced to fight out his deal in order to gain freedom. If there's a comparable precedent, Garcia would look no further than Andre Ward, who lost three court cases aimed at extricating him from a promotional deal with the late Dan Goossen (and lost nearly three years of his prime sitting idle until a settlement was eventually reached).
To Garcia's credit, he has simply added his own promotional staff to the long list of doubters that he is motivated to prove wrong this weekend and has appeared to weaponize the drama as fuel to be better inside the ring.
"Oscar is saying that we misinterpret what they say but it's plain English," Garcia said. "I didn't hear anyone speaking any language that I don't know. It's very clear to me, they are backing [Duarte] to beat me just like they thought [Romero] Duno was going to do [in 2019] as the next, great Filipino star. Suddenly, [Duarte] is the next great Mexican star."
After the press conference, De La Hoya tweeted out a since deleted post meant to stir up concern over Garcia's mental health, which can only be seen as a low blow. Garcia sat out 15 months following his breakthrough 2021 victory over Luke Campbell, citing both injuries and a mental health episode that led to him becoming a public advocate. De La Hoya, who has been in an out of drug rehabilitation for most of the last decade, has also publicly battled depression.
"I have to say that I'm really concerned about Ryan Garcias state of mind," De La Hoya wrote in the deleted post. "Considering his history of mental instability (which he has documented himself), his current erratic behavior shows he's clearly not focused on Saturday's fight. You won't take my calls, Ryan I hope you're OK."
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Sadly, the rift between Garcia and his promoters dates back multiple years. The fighter and promoter came to a 2019 impasse over money, only to see their seemingly fractured relationship temporarily fixed when Garcia re-signed with De La Hoya months later on a multi-year deal to extend his contract.
Then, following the Davis loss, Garcia's adviser/attorney, Guadalupe Valencia, sent a demand letter to the court alleging Golden Boy's violation of the promotional agreement, which it was alleged broke both California and federal law. One month later, De La Hoya and company filed a lawsuit against Garcia and Valencia in the U.S. District Court of Nevada aimed at enforcing its contractual agreement with the boxer.
Despite how petty Golden Boy has seemingly acted at times, there does remain questions about everything from Garcia's work ethic to his actual boxing IQ, which are complaints that former trainers Eddy Reynoso and Joe Goossen have only seemed to echo in their own ways (although Goossen publicly handled his firing in May with nothing but class and grace for his former pupil). Garcia's messy split with Reynoso, in particular, wasn't helped by Reynoso's star fighter, Canelo Alvarez, also questioning Garcia's commitment to getting better.
This weekend, Garcia will welcome his third big-name coach in as many years when 2022 trainer of the year Derrick James takes over, which has only further created questions as to whether Garcia is running towards the type of next-level discipline he has been accused of lacking or running away from it.
"I feel good, this is my moment," Duarte said at the weigh-ins on Friday. "This is my time, I'm ready for this Saturday. I want to fight the best fighters, he's a great rival and one of the top fighters. I think he made a mistake in choosing me. It's going to be a great fight."
The undercard features the return of Shane Mosley Jr. when he takes on Joshua Conley in the middleweight division. Mosley Jr. is out the blaze his own trail after his father's illustrious career in the welterweight division. The 32-year-old is 20-4 so far in his career and a winner in his last three appearances. Conley has fought just three times since the COVID-19 pandemic and is 1-2 in those bouts.
Elsewhere, lightweights square off in the co-feature when Floyd Schofield takes on Ricardo Lopez Torres. Schofield, 21, is a rising prospect at 135 pounds. He's 15-0 with 11 knockouts, but has yet to be challenged in the ring. Saturday marks his fourth trip to the ring when he takes on Torres, who is 17-7-3 in the ring. He's 1-2 in his last three appearances, but is coming off a TKO win in August.
Let's take a closer look at the rest of the undercard with the latest odds before getting to a prediction and expert pick on the main event below.
Fight card, odds
|Ryan Garcia -480
|Oscar Duarte +360
|Ricardo Lopez Torres
|Shane Mosley Jr. -440
|Joshua Conley +335
- Date: Dec. 2
- Location: Toyota Center -- Houston, Texas
- Start time: 8 p.m. ET
- How to watch: DAZN
A 27-year-old native of Mexico, Duarte certainly brings a reputation as a puncher but very little is known about him beyond that, mostly because Garcia represents such a huge step up in class compared to his recent fare.
Does Garcia have enough speed and power to constantly sting and frustrate Duarte? In theory, yes; mostly because pure talent has never been an issue when talking about Garcia. The real question, which Garcia faces every time he steps down in matchmaking seeking a redemptive win, is whether his technical lapses in defense and questions concerning his fighting heart became an issue at all.
Although Garcia has gone on to reveal he brought a pre-fight rib injury into the Davis bout, which went a long way in preventing him from answering the bell after being dropped by a body shot in Round 7, there are many within boxing who have been dismissively outspoken regarding their opinion that Garcia quit just as things became difficult.
Yet, even with the constant swirl of questions surrounding Garcia, he does appear to be emboldened by the soap opera between him and his extended team, which may lead to him looking to make a statement against Duarte.
Will Garcia's search of said statement lead to him finding trouble, similar to when he was forced to rise from the canvas in Round 2 against both Campbell and Davis? It's possible but it's probably not likely given the gap in terms of speed and explosiveness between the two.
The jury is still out as to whether Garcia has enough foundational elements necessary to be a sustained champion, but this is a test designed for him to pass with flying colors.
Pick: Garcia via TKO7