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Editorial: Ryan Garcia gets his first big test on road to superstardom

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Ryan Garcia kicks off boxing’s 2021 schedule with a tough and intriguing encounter with Luke Campbell.

Canelo Alvarez v Sergey Kovalev Photo by Sye Williams/Getty Images

One of the top names to watch in 2021 regardless of combat sport is Ryan Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs).

The young, photogenic, and popular 22-year-old lightweight boxer has been tagged as the next superstar. He’s been a major local fixture in Southern California, and his social media following is massive for someone who’s not even had a major title fight. Hell, MMA fans who visit this site have seen stories of Henry Cejudo wanting to fight him. And yes, the adulation he receives from the young women in attendance is reminiscent of his promoter Oscar De La Hoya in his heyday.

This weekend on January 2nd in Dallas, Garcia will take on England’s Luke Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs) in what is by far the biggest test of his career. The winner is poised for a showdown with another young star in WBC champion Devin Haney (25-0, 15 KOs), but Garcia already has his sights set on Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) after his ferocious KO of Leo Santa Cruz. Oddsmakers heavily favor Garcia over the two-time title challenger and Olympic gold medalist, but most boxing heads know this is absolutely a compelling and competitive fight on paper.

Garcia’s hype is not without justification; he was a terrific US amateur and turned professional at just 17 years old in 2016. After six fights he was signed by Golden Boy Promotions, who kept him on an active schedule through 2018, although quality of opposition wasn’t exactly the greatest.

If nothing else, Garcia is self-aware about what he could mean to Golden Boy and that he should be paid accordingly. His 2019 saw him in a dispute with Oscar De La Hoya that was eventually smoothed over to the tune of a multi-year deal with GBP. Buuuuuut the storm was already brewing before that.

For the record, his purses for his last two fights were $250,000 after they reworked his deal.

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic and Garcia was shelved as Golden Boy figured out not just what’s next for him, but how they’d handle the financial aspect given the lack of a live gate and the reduced DAZN boxing budget. Garcia was at odds with Golden Boy and DAZN over money, and even outright called for his release. Fortunately, it looks like everything has simmered down, but this is boxing and these stories don’t just permanently go away.

As far as his actual skills, Garcia has undoubtedly fast hands and he’s developing some considerable pop in his punches, as evidenced in his lone 2020 appearance versus Francisco Fonseca.

But whereas Fonseca isn’t really a lightweight, Campbell has long established himself as a 135 lbs contender. His only defeats have come against Yvan Mendy (since avenged), Jorge Linares by split decision, and a spirited decision loss versus Vasiliy Lomachenko. What he lacks in one-shot power he makes up for with fluid combination punching from his southpaw stance and a really durable chin. The size advantage Campbell enjoyed against Lomachenko is gone against Garcia, who’s slightly taller with a slightly shorter reach.

If Garcia does prevail and in impressive fashion then he’ll erase a lot of doubts about his ceiling while sending Golden Boy’s hopes for him through the roof. They do not have Canelo Alvarez anymore and while I personally believe Vergil Ortiz Jr is actually GBP’s best prospect, Garcia is the much more marketable fighter and to Ryan’s credit, he seems driven to fight better opposition and not cherry-pick easy bouts to pad his record. He’s talked a big game and he’s now Golden Boy’s big name. The WBC ordered Garcia vs. Campbell as a title eliminator and the fight got booked without much issue (apart from a short delay while Luke recovered from COVID-19).

On Saturday afternoon we’ll get to see if Ryan will sink or swim after being in the shallow end of the pool for the better part of four years. You can’t be the next superstar without the requisite wins, and Campbell would be step one on his path to becoming a must-see attraction.