'Nobody Is Invincible' Ryan Garcia on Mental Health Advocacy, Upcoming Fight

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2022

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 02:  Ryan Garcia stands in his corner before the WBC Interim Lightweight Title fight against Luke Campbell at American Airlines Center on January 02, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Ryan Garcia could be a perfect spokesman for a lot of causes.

He's bright, articulate and has looks a movie star or boy-band frontman would covet.

And he's a certified social media powerhouse with almost 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube and 8.7 million followers on Instagram.

So when he talks, people clearly listen.

However, the cause he's chosen to champion creates a fascinating juxtaposition.

For those unaware, the 23-year-old punches people on the body and head for a living, and he's proved adept at it to the tune of 21 straight wins with 18 KOs since going pro in 2016.

And at no point was his star brighter than last spring, shortly after he'd climbed off the floor to dispatch veteran and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell with a vicious left to the body in the seventh round of a would-be 12.

The rumors swirled, and the trash talk flowed as eyes pointed toward a potential showdown with Gervonta Davis—another young, brash fighter whose promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., just so happened to be a longtime nemesis of Garcia's chief hype man, Oscar De La Hoya.

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 02:  Ryan Garcia is congratulated by Oscar De La Hoya after the WBC Interim Lightweight Title fight against Luke Campbell at American Airlines Center on January 02, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

But just as the crescendo neared, the music stopped.

Barely three months after the Campbell victory, Garcia put himself on the shelf to focus on his mental health, having previously talked publicly about his depression and anxiety. He issued a statement suggesting he'd take time to "focus on becoming a stronger version of myself" and return "when I am my healthiest self."

It was a shocking departure not only because of the fighter's rapidly elevating profile but also as a rare revelation of personal vulnerability in a sport largely built on machismo and auras of invincibility.

That, however, is exactly what made it necessary, Garcia told Bleacher Report.

"Not acting like you're invincible and perfect is actually what the world needs. Because that's the truth," Garcia said. "Nobody is invincible, and nobody is perfect. You actually become stronger when you acknowledge some weaknesses you have, so you can come together and build stronger. So I think what I'm doing is a breath of fresh air. Everybody can fake it all they want.

"At the end of the day, everybody is dealing with their own demons. So if I shine light on what I'm going through, hopefully, somebody else that's having similar issues won't be afraid to speak up."

With social media being what it is, though, speaking up didn't come without a price.

Though the mainstream boxing and sports worlds were unanimously vocal in their support, Garcia was ridiculed for his decision in cyberspace by the ever-present trolls who equated his confessions to weakness and other fire-starters who suggested the mental health announcements were simply a distraction to cover up other issues in his personal life.

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 02:  Ryan Garcia lands a left hook against Luke Campbell during the WBC Interim Lightweight Title fight at American Airlines Center on January 02, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Not surprisingly, Garcia swatted them away like an opponent's lazy jab.

"That's on their character, whoever they are," he said.

"They're always hiding behind a private page anyway. So that's just on them. But there's a lot of people that I helped out during that time, and there's a lot of things I'm doing outside the ring to be an advocate for mental health, and I'm happy on the decision I made. There's always gonna be a lot more hate.

"That's just how the social media world is and the world in general. They gravitate to put somebody down. But honestly, one person coming up to me and telling me I saved their life is worth 10,000 bad comments. So I really don't care what they have to say."

And as for claims of weakness, Garcia is itching to prove it with more than words.

"I'm not weak in that ring. I'm not weak when I step in there," he said.

"You won't see no fault from me in there. In life, we're all human, and we all deal with stuff. Whether you're a boxer or not a boxer. If you're working every day, day-to-day on your job or you're an at-home mom, there's stuff that you go through. I think this is going to shine light for everybody. So I'm happy. I'm happy with the decision I made.

"They can't take that away from me. They can try to take all that. They can try to talk all the smack, but my talent remains the same, and they don't have the balls to even try to do what I do. So it makes me actually happy to step in that ring and show what I can do, and they can't."

John Locher/Associated Press

Fittingly, Garcia said, it's time to get back to work.

He'll return Saturday in San Antonio, Texas, to headline a card at the Alamodome promoted by De La Hoya's company and streamed live on the DAZN platform.

His opponent, Ghanian veteran Emmanuel Tagoe, is an 18-year pro, hasn't lost since his debut fight in 2004 and has suggested, according to Garcia anyway, that it will be an easy fight for him.

It's nonsense, Garcia insisted, and it'll show quickly.

"I missed this. I missed this type of zone I'm in," he said. "I missed beating down people in sparring, hurting people. But now I've done it so many times I just now want to beat somebody down in a fight. I was telling my coach the other day I'm tired of beating my sparring partners up, it's time to fight now.

"He says it's going to be an easy fight for him, and he's gonna make it look easy. And all these other things. My job is to not make it easy, that's for sure. That's what I told him, 'You can say a lot of things, but fighting me will not be easy.' Be ready for me to give him everything I've got. If he can take a shot, it'll be a good fight. If he can't, he'll be out of there pretty quick."

Assuming the victory that Garcia is a -1600 favorite on DraftKings (bet $1,600, win $100) to secure, he'll instantly return focus to the big events that were discussed this time last year. He's ranked fifth at 135 pounds by The Ring, one spot behind the aforementioned Davis and in the mix with fellow social media savvy 20-somethings, Devin Haney (No. 3) and Teofimo Lopez (No. 1).

And when those fights do get made, he'll regard the hiatus as an advantage he gave himself.

"It definitely has helped me as a leader, as a grown-up, as a man maturing and realizing certain things," he said. "Things catch up to you from outside the ring. You need to be great everywhere, and I think this going to help me overall as a fighter mentally, in training and in other things."


Gambling problem? Call (877-8-HOPENY) or text HOPENY (467369).

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL/IN/MI/NJ/PA/WV/WY), 1-800-NEXT STEP (AZ), 1-800-522-4700 (CO/NH), 888-789-7777/visiting ccpg.org/chat (CT), 1-800-BETS OFF (IA), 1-877-770-STOP (7867) (LA), visiting OPGR.org (OR), or calling/texting TN REDLINE 1-800-889-9789 (TN) or 1-888-532-3500 (VA).

Odds and lines subject to change. 21+ (18+ NH/WY). AZ/CO/CT/IL/IN/IA/LA/MI/NH/NJ/NY/OR/PA/TN/VA/WV/WY only. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for full terms and conditions.