Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Ryan Garcia and The Gift

I may have told this story once before, but it's probably been a number of years so if you could, indulge me for a minute. When Deontay Wilder was fighting on undercards and not necessarily progressing in his career, I remember pointing out a number of his flaws after one of his performances: his ponderous footwork, his limited repertoire, his low punch volume, etc. A fellow boxing writer, Ryan Bivins, responded that with Wilder's right hand, it might not matter. His right could knock anyone out. And Ryan gave no caveats regarding skill level. It was a blanket statement. Everyone, even those with more perceived talent or skills, was at risk. 

Over time, Bivins was proven to be correct. Wilder did become a champion and it was his right hand that brought him to the dance and kept him there. And whatever else Wilder did or didn't develop in the ring, his right was a true eraser, and few opponents were able to escape its wrath. 

In addition, Bivins' comment exposed a crucial flaw that too many in boxing succumb to: we focus too much on what a fighter can't do rather than what he can. And Bivins' comment had one more vital application. Identify the A-plus punches in boxing. There aren't too many of them. A fighter with an A-plus punch, despite other limitations, can still go far. 

This naturally segues us to Ryan Garcia, the controversial young fighter who has legions of fans, as well as detractors. Garcia was a decorated amateur with wins over Devin Haney, Vergil Ortiz, Tiger Johnson and a number of other professional fighters you may have heard of. At the moment he's 23-0 with 19 knockouts in the professional ranks, including a stoppage win on Saturday against Javier Fortuna. On one hand Garcia's only 23, but he's also been on the world scene for several years. His resume isn't filled with top contenders and there have been a number of attractive fights that either he or his team has rejected. 

Ryan Garcia before the Javier Fortuna fight
Photo courtesy of Tom Hogan

Garcia's a "new-school" fighter, embracing Instagram, amassing millions of followers on social media. He's released several training videos that display what looks like blinding hand speed. I'm sure they have impressed many novices, but many of his drills don't have practical applications in the ring. 

In addition, he's already had his fair share of personal and professional problems. He's already on his third pro trainer. He tried to get out of his deal with Golden Boy. He left the ring for 16 months while undergoing assistance for mental health issues. 

Garcia in the ring has a number of technical flaws that give many fight observers pause. He doesn't move laterally well. He stands too upright and leaves his chin exposed. In addition, he doesn't set punches up well. Very rarely will you see a three- or four-punch combination from him. He likes fighting on the outside and at this point has very little to offer at close range.   

All of these points are worth considering, but let's not lose sight of one thing: he has The Gift. Ryan Garcia's left hook is one of the best punches in boxing, maybe the best hook since Nonito Donaire's. He can throw it to the head or body and although Ryan isn't known for having a high Ring IQ, he throws the punch with deception. He understands how to look up top and throw the punch down low. Fighters who follow his eyes may have a real disadvantage in trying to anticipate the trajectory of the punch. 

The punch itself looks different than most left hooks in the sport. Ryan gets so much torque on the shot. He whips the punch and it usually travels downward before it connects. If a typical hook is thrown somewhere between a 75 and 90-degree angle. Garcia's more often is in the 30 to 45-degree range. It's almost a straight shot, but not quite. Think of his hook as a late-breaking slider or curveball in baseball. And fighters, like those defenseless batters, struggle to track it. 

But it's not just the trajectory on the left hook, it's also the speed and the power. He has landed his hook on everyone – orthodox, southpaw, tall, short, offensive-minded, defensive-minded – it doesn't seem to matter. Similar to Wilder's right hand, even when a fighter knows it's coming, Garcia is still able to land it and end fights with it. 

In and around Garcia's weight class, there are a number of fighters who would be favored to beat him, such as Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson, to name three. And it's very possible that they will, but I also want to remind everyone: always remember an A-plus punch. 

Garcia will have a puncher's chance against any opponent. As long as he is standing, he remains a threat. His left hook is that special. Even at 37 and well past his physical prime, Donaire was breaking the orbital bone of perhaps one of the best fighters in the sport. And Garcia's left hook may be on that level. 

Yes, it would certainly help Garcia to incorporate different elements into his game. His right hand and jab are inconsistent weapons. In addition, the more that he can go away from his left hook with other punches, the better off he will be when he decides to go back to it. The element of surprise is in his favor and if he gets too hook-happy, top fighters will be zeroed in on trying to take it away. 

As Garcia ascends in the sport, he will face elite fighters and trainers who will know several ways to neutralize a hook. It will be up to Garcia to become more well-rounded if he wants to be considered among boxing's best. 

Ryan Garcia's myriad flaws may dissuade you from believing that he may become elite, but discount him at your own risk. His hook is a game-changer, a finisher, a sleep aide. He could win any fight at any time. He has The Gift, and The Gift can make up for a lot of mistakes.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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