DALLAS – Luke Campbell went down, his body paralyzed from the force of a left hook to the liver, and by the time referee Laurence Cole counted to 10, boxing had a new star. Ryan Garcia has been called a lot of things in recent weeks: Skilled, good looking, a social media sensation. After stopping Campbell, a two-time world title challenger, Garcia can add proven to his list of descriptors.
What a night for Garcia, the 22-year-old phenom who has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last year. It wasn’t easy. Campbell, arguably the most decorated amateur fighter in British boxing history, had a solid game plan. He poked at Garcia’s body early, landing enough to get Garcia to lower his hands in the second round, when Campbell connected on an overhand left that put Garcia on the canvas.
“First time I had ever been knocked down,” Garcia told me afterwards. “I won’t lie—I was dizzy.”
It wasn’t enough. Garcia survived the round, and from there picked up his offense. Garcia entered the fight determined to pressure Campbell, and he did, pushing the pace, forcing Campbell to fight moving backwards. A combination at the end of the fifth round sent Campbell spinning to the ropes as the bell rang. In the seventh, Garcia, his eyes on Campbell’s head, uncorked a hook to the body that ended the night.
“Hardest shot I was ever hit with,” said Campbell, who had climbed off the deck in world title opportunities against Jorge Linares and Vasyl Lomachenko.
Said Garcia, “My performance definitely showed a lot of people who I really am.”
A good night for Garcia. A great night for boxing. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Garcia is potentially the most important fighter of this generation. Only a handful of boxers in recent years have magnetized fan bases. Oscar De La Hoya supercharged an emerging Latino market. Floyd Mayweather attracted a strong urban audience. Garcia’s power comes from his social media presence, highlighted by nearly eight million followers on Instagram, most being introduced to boxing by Garcia.
That power will only grow. The 135-pound weight class is loaded. Garcia doesn’t have a world title, but his popularity makes him the division’s most appealing opponent. Some 6,000 fans trickled into American Airlines Center, a COVID capacity sellout. DAZN, the streaming service broadcasting the fight, chose Garcia-Campbell as the unofficial launch of its global service. Highlights of Garcia’s win was one of the top trending videos on YouTube over the weekend.
Officially, beating Campbell made Garcia the mandatory challenger for a version of the title held by Devin Haney. The 22-year-old Haney, who was in attendance on Saturday, wants the fight. Garcia prefers a showdown with Gervonta Davis, a popular two-division titleholder. Then there is Teofimo Lopez, the unified champion and top dog in the lightweight division. Lopez’s promoter, Bob Arum, has said he would be on board with a Garcia fight.
“World champions need Ryan Garcia,” said De La Hoya, Garcia’s promoter. “He does not need world champions.”
Garcia isn’t unbeatable, which is part of his appeal. He fights flat footed, which in part allowed Campbell to land his knockdown punch. He doesn’t utilize much head movement. He relies on blurring speed and blunt power to mask any flaws. He puts himself in harm’s way in order to land big, fight-changing shots. Campbell wasn’t able to hurt him, but chances are someone will.
But Garcia will improve, too. He’s promoted by De La Hoya, the Hall of Famer who once ruled Garcia’s weight class. He’s trained by Eddy Reynoso, arguably boxing’s top cornerman, who has guided Garcia to a 5-0 record since they teamed up in 2018. And he’s being mentored by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who sits atop any credible pound-for-pound list. Two weeks ago, Alvarez was in San Antonio, battering Callum Smith to become a unified super middleweight champion. On Saturday he was back in Texas, shouting instructions at Garcia from a few feet away.
“Without [Reynoso] and Canelo being by my side all the time, I don’t know if I would have learned all the things I’ve learned,” Garcia told me. “I’m always grateful … they take me under their ring, they showed me the ropes and I thank [those] guys with all my heart.”
Late Saturday, Alvarez and Garcia walked down a hallway in the bowels of the American Airlines Center, boxing’s present side-by-side with boxing’s future. Alvarez draped an arm over Garcia’s shoulder, patting his protégé on the chest. “I’m so proud,” Alvarez said, a message he can be sure the world heard: Garcia beamed the exchange out over Instagram.