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Ryan Garcia Is Promoting His Title Fight By Having A Mental Breakdown

Ryan Garcia speaks to reporters during a media workout at World Class Boxing Gym on April 9, 2024 in Dallas, Texas.
Sam Hodde/Getty Images

No tactic is too low when promoting a prize fight. Homophobia and racism and assault and battery are generally excused as showmanship and capitalism. But the run-up to Saturday’s Ryan Garcia vs. Devin Haney super lightweight championship match in Brooklyn has been unlike any PR campaign I’ve ever seen in boxing. The only storyline that matters centers on Garcia’s emotional state, which is by all appearances profoundly off-kilter. If it's a work, it's a convincing one; everybody who's been paying attention is now wondering if the guy’s actually crazy. Not since George “The Animal” Steele ate his last turnbuckle has a combatant’s ring identity been so tied to his real or performed mental instability. 

Not many fights recently have been worth noticing purely for boxing reasons (circus acts, however, are having a moment). But the Garcia/Haney PPV brings some legitimate sporting intrigue: He and Haney fought each other six times as amateurs, with three wins each. Haney, the reigning champ, is 31-0 with 15 KOs as a pro; Garcia, who got rich by parlaying YouTube notoriety into box office clout, has quieted most doubters while putting up a 24-1 record with 20 KOs. Garcia’s lone loss came last year, when he passed up a fight with Haney to take on Gervonta “Tank” Davis, who is among the most brutal and exciting little-guy fighters of his generation. Garcia was game early, but Davis took over with a second-round knockdown and ended the fight with a seventh-round liver shot that appeared to short circuit Garcia’s nervous system. (View the pain here.)

Haney will be a heavy betting favorite against Garcia. But, for all his gifts and spotless record, Haney has nowhere near Davis’s power—his last stoppage win came five years ago. Garcia’s hand speed often makes up for his slow feet, and if he shows up conditioned and right in the head, and Haney finally tires of hearing how boring his fights are, a fine and lengthy brawl could ensue. And, hell, it’s for a belt! 

Then again, there's no guarantee Garcia will be all right for fighting come Saturday night. The 25-year-old has been non-stop wacky in the months since the Haney bout was announced. On Tuesday, for example, he reportedly had an invitation to throw out the first pitch at a New York Mets game withdrawn. Garcia later ranted on social media that he was given the boot from Citi Field for no reason. Several news organizations, however, said Garcia’s erratic behavior at a promotional event at the Empire State Building earlier in the day scared the team into rescinding the first-pitch offer. The Mets didn’t respond to Defector’s inquiries about whether Garcia’s ejection story was accurate or made up to sell fight tickets.

Either way, the episode blends in with his general comportment of late. Garcia has made outrageous statements at a relentless rate, yet nothing he says seems smart or funny or calculated in the way of boxing's better talkers. It's just lots of stupid and sad words, all the time. A tiny sampling of the awfulness: Garcia, who a few months ago took to Instagram to simultaneously announce that his wife just had his child and that he was divorcing her, used Twitter to claim he was sexually abused by relatives as a child and had been kidnapped by aliens as an adult; he'd add that Kanye West is “gay” and Elon Musk is “the antichrist.” Every interview he’s done or video he's posted makes Garcia seem more in need of TLC.

Mainstream media outlets have taken note. Sports Illustrated wrote a story with “Garcia’s Mental Health Concerns Rise” in the headline. ESPN reported that the New York State Athletic Commission requested a “mental health evaluation” for Garcia. Garcia has had psychological issues before, and has been erratic as a matter of course throughout his career. He was stripped of the WBC’s interim lightweight belt in 2021 when he pulled out of a title fight with Javier Fortuna, saying he needed to take time for emotional healing. Fortuna didn’t buy the excuse, saying Garcia instead was ducking him. Garcia gave him the fight a year later and KO’d Fortuna in six. He talked to TMZ in 2022 about depression and having suicidal thoughts.

Tyson Fury, the heavyweight champion and a guy familiar with both mental health issues and fight promotions, said he’s aware of Garcia’s binge of weirdness but isn't sure what to make of it all. “It really could be having a bad time and he really needs help. If it is the fact that he’s having trouble, then I’d advise him to speak to someone immediately and get medical advice,” Fury said at a recent press conference. “Or if it’s not, then fair play, you’ve done a fantastic job of convincing people. And everyone who talks about it generates more pay per views, more interest. Boxing is more than punching.”

Fury added that only those who “know Ryan Garcia personally” can tell if it’s illness or show biz. And nobody around Garcia has stopped him or even kept him away from cameras, and with the opening bell only a day away the fight’s still on. Then again, lots of people in his camp have an interest in seeing things through. Even without Haney's tools or his unblemished record or his belt, Garcia is the draw in this fight. According to reports, Garcia will get the bigger chunk of a 55/45 split of the purse, and could have a $30 million payday.

Garcia was asked at a press gaggle this week what he would say to all the folks concerned about his mental health. He said he wasn't crazy, but looked crazy saying it. “This is a fucking joke to me. It’s entertainment," he said. "Jim Carrey does this stuff all the time. You guys don’t know acting, bro! Improv! I can do any fucking scene right now.” To prove it, Garcia broke into a lousy impression of Al Pacino's lousy Cuban accent in Scarface: “‘Say hello to my little fucking friend!’” (The extra “fucking” Garcia added was improv.)

Should it turn out Garcia’s madness really was manufactured, the guy deserves an Oscar as well as a title belt. Work or no, at this point there's no way I’m going to miss this fight. If Garcia makes it to the ring, that is.

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