Boxing stunned by bizarre case of Ryan Garcia: Ultimate wind-up merchant

Ryan Garcia knocks down Devin Haney
Ryan Garcia knocked Devin Haney down three times - AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Did Ryan Garcia – like Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV with his courtiers – have the last laugh, leading us and his opponent on a lavish ruse that he had lost his mind coming into his WBC light-welterweight fight in Brooklyn?

It was as spectacular in the end as it was bizarre with huge underdog Garcia routing foe Devin Haney with three knockdowns on a raucous night in New York.

My word, boxing has a habit of creating the greatest and most peculiar moments in sport. This one had the feel of an ultimate drama (like playwright Pirandello, who liked to suspend reality) and perhaps the ultimate mind games.

It felt like it would transpire thus from the very first shouty ‘palm in the throat’ antagonism of the media tour weeks ago with the two young fighters at each other with noise and abuse. Bragging rights fight, this. They met six times in the amateur ranks, with three wins apiece. The seventh game – if you like – was always going to be special. Two of the biggest young boxing stars in the United States. The California Kid Garcia: handsome, out there and on the edge, versus Haney, who was boxing in the dark bars in Mexico as a teenage professional against grown men, intent on taking over the sport.

Was this ultimate mind games from Garcia, or was he a slightly unravelled young man making the most of his moment of brilliance in the ring over an opponent who looked set, potentially, to be the new Floyd Mayweather?

That Mayweather thing is over now, and we may never know if it was Garcia’s moment or a huge send up as Garcia, with magnificent power, felled Haney in the seventh round, again in the 10th and the 11th, and reduced the boxing stylist to a wobbly legged foe looking for respite.

Garcia, he of the matinee idol looks, simply beat up Haney with his speed and power. Had it been the other way round in the fight, however, given Garcia’s wild pronouncements in the build-up, there would have been great concern for him. There were concerns for Garcia, moreover, as three years ago he took almost a year away after suffering from what he later revealed to be anxiety.

Instead, Garcia’s name was roared by the crowd, as if in the Coliseum in Rome. Going into this, the world questioned Garcia’s mindset and mental health, now he is the new crossover megastar of American boxing. The people’s champion. Yet with a caveat. And we will come to that.

This entire event and build-up was strange, notably because Garcia’s ranting and ramblings – watched by his 12 million social media followers – had every self-styled psychoanalyst and therapist on the planet (including boxers, trainers, journalists, commentators and promoters) giving their tuppence worth on his mental state.

The truth is, no one really knew whether Garcia was unravelling or not. Post fight, he told the world that it had been one long wind-up. Was he really just sending us all up? Was it a ruse ? Was he on the margins teasing us that he was drinking beer (at the weigh-in) and smoking marijuana after training?

“You really thought I was crazy? You all lost your own minds,” he said.

“You guys over-egg everything.”

Whatever he was going through, this was a triumphant young man and a fighter who truly belongs in the square circle. His performance, certainly, was not that of a man who lacked any mental fortitude or self belief. He beat up a pound-for-pound star in Haney.

In the weird few weeks leading into the fight, the storyline which dominated was whether Garcia was mentally fit. Yet at every turn, he upped the ante all the way, using his social media platforms to rant about the Illuminati, child abuse, P Diddy and anything else he could summon up, while doing his utmost to antagonise opponent Haney, the defending champion, and his ubiquitous father, Bill.

Indeed, Bill had said his son would try to put Garcia in hospital in the fight, in an unsavoury end to the final hours before the showdown. I’ve rarely seen anything so abnormal. Haney is very talented. Yet he was the one unhinged.

Now – that caveat. There is the little matter of Haney still holding onto his 140lb title belts, because Garcia weighed in 3lbs over the limit and forfeited $600,0000. There is a school of thought that Garcia, eschewing the fine and world title by not making weight, did not want to cut to the slimmest 10st version of himself, intent on using all his power on the night. He gambled. People are critiquing Garcia for the lack of weight cut, and sending us on a merry dance. Yet it has simply made him a star.

They will fight again, these two, for mega bucks. Haney will want revenge after the majority decision defeat. He will need to regroup. Garcia will come up with a new game, for sure. But he is largely the new hero. The next fight will be even bigger. And we’ll always wonder whether Garcia was just playing the greatest mind games since Muhammad Ali.