Ryan Garcia was victorious in his first fight back after suffering his first professional defeat, a seventh-round knockout loss to Gervonta Davis, in April. He defeated Oscar Duarte via eighth-round knockout on Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas to improve to 24-1 with 20 KOs.
On paper, fighting a guy like Duarte who’s stopped eleven people in a row fresh off of a knockout loss and finishing him in your first fight under a new trainer is an impressive bounce back.
But for many who watched the performance closely, they were left with more questions than answers and can only wonder where exactly Garcia fits into a talent-rich 140lb division.
Overall it was good to see Ryan back in the ring. No matter how you rate him, he brings eyeballs to the sport and the more active he is the better off the sport is.
Here are five takeaways I have from the fight:
1) The fight had sparring session vibe
The fight was expected to bring fireworks, and though it had its moments it felt more like a sparring session.
Garcia seemed to be trying to find his identity as a fighter inside the ring, attempting several different approaches on both offense and defense similar to how fighters treat a sparring session. This isn’t necessarily a negative, I think it was a good learning experience and he now has a better idea of what he can and can’t use going forward.
Duarte made Ryan uncomfortable at times, but was never able to sustain enough consistent offense to take over the fight.
Garcia used more lateral movement in this fight, which the crowd did not appreciate but I thought was an important tool he can add to his arsenal going forward. He is at his best as a natural counter-puncher, and using his legs can force his opponents to come to him and walk into shots just like Duarte did in the eighth round.
He also tried some questionable defensive strategies, which I break down further in my second takeaway below.
2) The shoulder roll and turn defense must go
The shoulder roll (also known as the Philly Shell) is a defensive technique that fighters such as James Toney, Floyd Mayweather, and many others have been able to perfect, which limits their opponent's offense.
Much to the dismay of the viewers, Garcia tried his own version of it.
When Duarte was able to close the distance Ryan would utilize the shoulder roll and also turn to the side and duck his head. He was able to bait Duarte into hitting him behind the head which caused him to be warned, but it also left him in no position to counter or do anything offensively.
I thought the warnings should have been given to Ryan more than Duarte due to him not giving Duarte anything to hit, but as Shawn Porter mentioned on the broadcast if you aren’t being called out for doing it by the referee and it is forcing your opponent to foul then you might as well continue doing it.
He may have been able to get away with it in this fight, but a fighter with quicker feet than Duarte and a higher IQ will look to step around and land a big shot on Ryan if he finds himself in that vulnerable position again.
When he was asked in the post-fight press conference if that was something that he and new trainer Derrick James worked on, the answer was a resounding no. He said that DJ’s response to seeing him use it was “Don’t do that sh–, you ain't Mayweather”.
Ryan mentioned on an Instagram post late last night that he is “never trying the shoulder roll again.”
3) Ryan’s explosiveness will carry him against most opposition
For all of his flaws, Garcia has some traits that cannot be taught.
His twitchy reflexes, coupled with his blazing hand speed and level of explosiveness will still cause problems for a lot of guys out there.
He still has some of the bad habits that have troubled him in the past, such as pulling straight back with his hands down.
To be able to take advantage of that though you are going to need to be a world-class fighter that can avoid being hit by his offensive firepower, see his mistakes in real time, and make him pay for them.
4) He’s consistently inconsistent
The one thing that Ryan has been able to consistently do so far in his career is be inconsistent.
After throwing a total of 69 jabs in the opening two rounds, he wound up throwing only 93 more the rest of the way (an average of 15.5 a round).
He shows flashes of offensive brilliance when he’s able to let his hands go, but has struggled to put it all together and is still a work in progress that needs development.
The elite of the elite are all able to consistently follow a game plan and adjust as the fight progresses to give themselves the best chance of victory.
The longer he stays with Derrick James and continues to work, the more consistent I believe he can get.
5) Go the Rolly Romero route, leave guys like Teofimo Lopez alone for now
There were two titleholders at 140 lbs that had been rumored to be potential Ryan Garcia opponents if he were to get past Duarte, WBA Champion Rolando “Rolly” Romero and WBO Champion Teofimo Lopez.
After the fight, Ryan turned his focus solely on Romero, which is a good move.
Still being in the developmental phase of his career as I previously stated, a fight with a guy like Teofimo Lopez is not one that I would pursue at the moment if I were his team.
The Rolly fight would be a big fight commercially, and out of all the potential title opportunities it is easily the one he matches up best with stylistically.
The two also have a history, their heated sparring sessions have gone viral and the build-up to the fight would be just as entertaining as the fight itself.
At the end of the day Garcia was in a high-risk/low-reward type of fight, especially considering he was stopped his last time out and was in with a puncher, and got the job done.
Duarte began to gain momentum in rounds five and six, but it wasn’t enough to turn the tide fully in his favor.
Garcia may be the hardest fighter in the sport to pinpoint where he stands in his respective division.
There are twenty or more fighters at 140 lbs that could give Ryan issues and potentially beat him, but only a handful of those guys would I confidently pick to get the better of him.
Him being both so dangerous and vulnerable makes him a must-watch every time he is in the ring. He’s one of those guys that while watching gives you the feeling that anything can happen at any given moment, whether it be good or bad.
With his recent actions, Ryan Garcia has turned me into a fan.
Whether you like him or not and no matter your opinion on where he ranks in the sport, you have to respect how hard he pushed to make the Gervonta Davis fight when it is now clear that his own promotional team was not fully behind the idea.
I also appreciated his honesty during the pre-fight press conference which saw him take shots at both Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya in response to comments they’ve made pertaining to him since his last fight.
As a promoter your job is to be an asset to your fighter and it was refreshing to see Ryan speak up on his own behalf and defend himself.
It is impossible to tell how Garcia's career will unfold, but one thing I can guarantee is that we are all along for the ride and will pay close attention no matter what happens.