LOS ANGELES — Ryan Garcia isn’t like other boxers.
Other boxers don’t have teenage fans standing outside the gym hoping to catch a glimpse of the young heartthrob who happens to throw hands exceptionally well inside of the squared circle. When he enters the Azteca Boxing Club in Los Angeles for his media workouts, there are a significant number of young fans eagerly waiting to take a photo of Garcia. And Garcia obliges their wishes by shaking hands, signing autographs and posing with the swath of fans who endured the warm conditions inside of the gym just to lay their eyes on Ryan Garcia.
And he’s not even the main event of DAZN’s Saturday night card at the Dignity Health Sports Park, as Jaime Munguia is the name who sits atop of the marquee. But you couldn’t tell by the audience here to see Garcia, who will face Avery Sparrow in the co-feature.
In a sport that is desperate to capture a young fan base, Garcia has the market cornered.
With an 18-0 record (15 knockouts), Garcia is impressive in his young tenure as a pugilist. But he’s not a world-beater just yet. He hasn’t won a major title nor is he close to being considered one of the best fighters in the world. Nevertheless, Garcia has more Instagram followers than top pound-for-pound fighters Vasiliy Lomachenko (1.7 million), Terence Crawford (486k) and Errol Spence Jr. (506k).
Ryan Garcia’s current Instagram following is at 3.4 million.
That’s the number to beat. And only Anthony Joshua and boxing’s current cash cow, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, have more followers than the recently turned 21-year-old with a megawatt smile who could certainly double as a lead singer of a boy band.
“I don’t even like talking about it anymore,” Garcia tells DAZN News when discussing his massive digital footprint. “By talking about my social media followers all you are doing is giving people ammunition to dislike me. I am a fighter first. I’ve done this my whole life since I was 7 years old. You can focus on my social media following and I’m going to focus on being better as a boxer.”
The fact that Garcia is already a big star without world championship hardware has put a target on his back. As popular as he has become, there has been a significant amount of backlash from the naysayers and skeptics who aren’t convinced that California native is worth the hype.
“What am I supposed to say?” he asks incredulously. “There’s no blueprint for this. I didn’t force anybody to follow me. If that’s what they want to focus on, there’s nothing I can do about that. But my focus is on being the best that I can be in that boxing ring.”
Garcia just didn’t arrive on the scene because of his social media following. He was a 15-time national champion as an amateur, who amassed an impressive record of 215-15 before deciding to turn pro in 2016 as a 17-year-old. Since then, Garcia has left an impression on the lightweight division with his heavy hands and grit.
With all the fame comes the desire to rush him into fights against the biggest names the lightweight division has to offer. And that means the likes of pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, rising stars Teofimo Lopez, Vergil Ortiz and Devin Haney or other division staples that include Richard Commey, Jose Pedraza, Robert Easter and Javier Fortuna. But Garcia is conscious of his progression and wants to make it clear that he’s still a work in progress.
“People often forget that when I blew up on social media I was only 18 years old,” he says. “Everybody wants me to fight all the biggest names right now. But I’m still getting better. I blew up while I was still getting my experience as a fighter.
“People started getting mad because my name was being thrown in there with boxing’s best. They want me to fight everybody now, but I’m not going to rush myself.”
When Garcia earned a hard-fought majority decision over Carlos Morales last September, his detractors were quick to point out that the young fighter may not be ready for the limelight. After outboxing Morales early, Garcia found himself weathering a late onslaught that saw “Kingry” facing some true adversity for the first time as a professional.
Although he won the fight, the skeptics were quick to pick apart his performance. It was a learning lesson for Garcia, who admits that his focus was elsewhere when he took the fight.
“People don’t know how much I was dealing with heading into that fight,” Garcia says. “I don’t even know how I made it to the fight. I sparred maybe one time the entire camp. I had just found out my baby’s mother was pregnant and was dealing with a lot of distractions. I only trained to lose weight. I felt off that night, but knew I had to get through it.”
He did endure the rough patch and came out with his perfect record unscathed, but he knew that changes had to be made.
“I think I needed that fight,” Garcia admits. “I was so young and was on top of the world heading into that fight. I felt like I could run through everybody, but when I didn’t, I had to get back to the basics and learn my craft.”
Keenly aware that he had a unique situation that required a teacher who understood how to manage and balance stardom with the sweet science, Garcia employed the services of the men behind boxing’s highest-paid megastar, Alvarez, who has only continued to get better every time out.
“I needed a trainer who knew how to deal with superstars, and that was Eddy and Chepo Reynoso,” Garcia says. “You can’t buy that experience.”
Under the tutelage of the Reynosos, Garcia is 2-0 with a pair of knockouts. While impressive, the true test will come against Sparrow, who upended seasoned veteran Hank Lundy in his last outing and deploys a slick style that could give the budding superstar fits.
But Garcia is confident that he’ll turn back the challenge of Sparrow. Not because he wants to, but because he has to.
As mentioned earlier, when Garcia fought Morales, he found out he was going to be a father. Now that his daughter is here, the fighter who just reached the legal age to drink now has extra motivation.
“Once you start feeling your daughter grow and see the life that is in her, you want to give everything to her,” he says of his 5-month-old daughter Rylie. “I put her as my priority. She’s a blessing and a motivator. She makes me go harder every day.”
At Thursday’s final press conference, Sparrow and Garcia engaged in a heated staredown where unpleasantries were exchanged. Garcia doesn’t take it personally, though. He realizes the vitriol his opponents possess has more to do with his stature than his personality. For him, it’s business, never personal.
“I’m used to people talking s— to me,” he says with a laugh. “They question me and my boxing skills. They always think they can whoop my ass so let’s try and see what you can do.”
Call him what you want. He’s used to it. A social media superstar, a diva or an undeserving star who is ripe to be exposed. It doesn’t matter to Garcia when the bell sounds.
“I don’t care about labels. I care about fighting. And I’m going to make you respect me in the ring.”