LOS ANGELES—Ryan Garcia. Gervonta “Tank” Davis.
Boxing: Please don’t screw this up.
Javier Fortuna had barely scooped up his mouthpiece after being put down for the third and final time on Saturday when the buzz for a Garcia-Davis mega fight began to build. Fortuna, a former 130-pound titleholder, had been beaten before. But he had never been the beat. Not like that, anyway. A body shot put Fortuna down in the fourth round. An orbital-bone-crunching left hook dropped him in the fifth. After absorbing another hook in the sixth, Fortuna, from one knee, wisely chose not to continue.
“I hit hard,” Garcia shrugged.
If last April’s win over Emmanuel Tagoe represented Garcia’s return to boxing, this was Garcia’s return to the brink of the elite. The win over Tagoe was uninspiring, in part due to Tagoe’s unwillingness to engage, and in part due to Garcia, who was coming off a 15-month layoff and was doing it with a new trainer, Joe Goossen, in his corner. Garcia, who underwent surgery to repair an injury to his right wrist six months earlier, was uneasy about throwing his right hand in that fight. And after a recent split with Eddy Reynoso, Garcia admitted to feeling like two different fighters in the ring.
Against Fortuna, there was no hesitation. Garcia ricocheted lead right hands off Fortuna’s head. He buzzed him repeatedly with left hooks. Before the fight, both Garcia and Goossen were in lockstep on the game plan: Be careful early, then go after Fortuna in the middle rounds. “Lead rights and left hooks,” Goossen told Sports Illustrated the night before the fight. It played out as scripted.
“Ryan stands alone in my life training guys—and I’ve done it for decades—he stands alone as one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever coached,” said Goossen. “He’s years beyond his age in thinking. … He’s like nobody I’ve ever met in this game.”
Garcia has struggled to secure the respect of many in boxing, but his recent run—knockout wins over Fortuna and Luke Campbell, with the shake-off-the-rust decision over Tagoe sandwiched in between—is proof of his talent. Fortuna was stopped late by Jason Sosa and took Robert Easter and Joseph Diaz to grueling decisions. He wasn’t in optimal shape against Garcia—at Fortuna’s request, the contract weight was 140 pounds, and Fortuna rehydrated to 157 on Saturday—but Garcia dispatched him with ease.
“Everything was sharp,” Garcia said. “I didn’t feel forced on anything. I was in tune. I was on top of what he did. Any move he made, I had an answer for. I fought exactly how I knew I could fight.”
Fortuna is gone, Garcia is back, and now there is just one fight to make: Davis. He is one of boxing’s biggest stars, a proven attraction—Davis drew a record-setting crowd at the Barclays Center in May for his fight against Rolly Romero, generating a live gate of more than $4 million—with crushing power. Garcia, in his debut at Crypto.com Arena, attracted more than 11,000 fans to witness his 19th professional knockout. With nearly nine million Instagram followers, Garcia has connected with a younger, more casual boxing audience.
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Garcia has been vocal about wanting the Davis fight, and make no mistake: Davis wants it, too. Garcia ratcheted up the rhetoric on Saturday.
“I won’t just beat Tank,” Garcia said. “I will make it look like there was no reason for him to be in the ring with me.”
Davis’s reaction to Garcia’s win was to tweet “See y’all the end of the year.”
But Davis wants it. Of course he does. Davis has publicly chafed at the criticism of his opponents and bristles at the suggestion that Mayweather Promotions is protecting him from dangerous fights. Davis, who will turn 28 in November, is in his prime, and as good as Garcia looked on Saturday, Davis has to be confident he can beat him.
This isn’t about Garcia or Davis, but the people around them. Too often boxing’s caretakers have failed the sport, letting ego and greed stand in the way of substantive fights. A fight between Garcia and Davis will be complicated to make. It will require DAZN, which has a contract with Garcia, and Showtime, which has been Davis’ exclusive home, to work together. It will require Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, bitter rivals, to make a deal. It will need Al Haymon and Lupe Valencia to hammer out an agreement behind the scenes.
But it’s not impossible. HBO and Showtime collaborated in 2002, when Lennox Lewis faced Mike Tyson. They joined forces again in ’15, when Mayweather faced Manny Pacquiao. Tyson-Lewis generated nearly 2 million pay-per-view buys and more than $100 million in revenue. Mayweather-Pacquiao generated 4.4 million buys and more than $600 million in revenue. Everyone involved in those promotions—from fighters to promoters to networks—got rich.
Davis-Garcia isn’t on that level, but what’s the threshold? Industry insiders, including Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza, believe Davis-Garcia can exceed 500,000 pay per view buys. It can generate a live gate of more than $10 million. It may not be, as Garcia suggests, “the biggest fight in boxing,” but it’s on a very short list of them.
And it can happen. It should happen. It needs two happen. Garcia sees a Davis fight as the one that earns him boxing’s respect, while a win over Garcia would easily be the most significant of Davis’s career. For too long the business of boxing has stalled its growth, marginalizing the sport, shrinking the audience of fighters with the power to expand it. Garcia and Davis want to fight each other. Those behind the scenes should not stand in the way of it.
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