Ryan Garcia is just 23 years old and still looks like he only needs to shave every four days or so. He’s just getting started in life, with so much to learn about the world and how it works.
Most of us thought we knew it all when we were 23, only to discover after another 23 years of living how much we still have to learn.
Garcia worked out for the media in San Diego on Tuesday in preparation for his fight in San Antonio on DAZN against Emmanuel Tagoe on April 9. Banners on the wall dubbed the fight “The Return,” which in many ways was discomfiting because 23-year -olds should be just beginning, not trying to start over.
But here was Garcia, now trained by Joe Goossen, preparing to fight for the first time since an impressive finish of Luke Campbell on Jan. 2, 2021, in Dallas. On that night, after Garcia finished the one-time Olympic gold medalist with a wicked body shot to win the interim WBC lightweight title, Garcia seemed ready to borrow a phrase from Teofimo Lopez, to take over.
His arrow was pointing up and he was being trained not only by the best trainer in the world but working alongside Canelo Alvarez, the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
He was only 22 at the time and the superstardom seemed at hand.
Now, 14 months later, we’re ready for “The Return,” with as many questions as answers.
On April 24, he withdrew from a planned defense of the interim WBC belt against Javier Fortuna to “manage his health and well-being.” Garcia announced he was fighting mental health issues and stepped away from the sport for a while.
It was the wisest decision he could have made, shrewd beyond his 22 years at the time.
Mental health is far too often ignored, and those who talk about it are treated as pariahs by many. Thankfully, that’s changing, and Garcia received an outpouring of support, though it wasn’t as widespread as it should have been.
We know what broken bones and torn ligaments are and, as lay people, can accept those and understand the timeframe to return. We know what cancer is and have had enough bad experiences with it to wish full blessings on anyone who may happen to get it.
Mental health issues are not as clearly defined and easy to understand. They’re impossible to see, and so if we can’t see it and touch it, we tend to wonder if it exists.
We expect our athletes, fighters in particular, to be tough and to grit their teeth and work their way through injuries. We see fighters with massive cuts that impair their vision, or with broken bones in their hands, bravely soldier on, and wonder why someone who isn’t damaged, has no visible injury, can’t do the same.
Garcia, who is 21-0 with 18 knockouts, used a boxing analogy to explain his illness.
“I got knocked out for the first time in my life and I took it well,” he said. “I reacted the way I imagined I would.”
Alvarez was harsh. He told Complex that he felt Garcia was wasting his talent and spoke out in an attempt to motivate him.
Garcia was supposed to come back to fight Jojo Diaz in October, but suffered a hand injury that required surgery.
Alvarez questioned whether Garcia is fully committed to the sport that has, already, given him so much.
“Look, Ryan has a lot of talent,” Alvarez told Complex. “But to me in my eyes, he’s wasting a lot of time and wasting his talent. I look at him and don’t see him 100 percent dedicated and, to us, that’s a bad signal. “
Alvarez and Garcia’s former trainer, Eddy Reynoso, would know better than just about anyone whether the young fighter works hard enough in the ring. They were around him every day.
Alvarez is great because he has natural talent, but he’s got a work ethic that few can match. He’s like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in that regard. They were the most physically talented of their eras, but they also worked the hardest to maximize that ability.
But don’t misinterpret Alvarez’s words about Garcia. Garcia did 100 percent of the right thing withdrawing from the Fortuna fight and addressing his mental health issues.
Garcia’s choice of Goossen as his new trainer is curious if one looks at Garcia as a malingerer of sorts, a guy who doesn’t give his all to his job.
Goossen is a notoriously hard-nosed trainer who will call his fighters out for a lack of effort. Rare is a Goossen-trained fighter who is not in peak physical condition. So if you’re not prepared to go all out in pursuit of greatness, why willingly seek out Goossen?
It doesn’t make much sense.
Goossen knew Garcia from afar, and said his impressions of the talented 23-year-old have been confirmed since they began to work together.
“I knew he had something special,” Goossen said. “We got along and there was something about him that appeared to me personality-wise and fighting-wise. He’s really attacking this like he’s obsessed and possessed. I’m genuinely impressed. ”
It’s easy to be impressed by Ryan Garcia: By the ear-to-ear smile, by the massive social media following, by the fast hands and the crunching power.
But I’m impressed with Garcia for a lot more than that. He’s a leader at 23, and wise enough to know that despite how tough he is, he has nothing to prove to anyone. You have to take care of a mental health issue just like you have to take care of a cold, or a sprained ankle, or a migraine headache.
Admitting to a mental health issue didn’t make Ryan Garcia weak.
It just showed how smart he really is.