It will be said that a star was born in downtown Dallas on Saturday afternoon. Not really.
Ryan Garcia was a star when he walked into the ring. He was a champion when he walked out.
The process began in the second round, when Garcia offered a weak jab at Luke Campbell and caught a right to the body and then a clubbing left hook to the top of his head. Garcia hit the deck for the first time in his career. This fulfilled the wishes of those Twitterers who dismiss Garcia as a Backstreet Boy or a Twitter poser, or think he got here by knocking out inflatable mannequins.
They wanted to see Garcia fall. He obliged them. Then he rose.
He stabilized himself by the end of the round. He took over the third round, with a crisp, two-handed attack. In the final second of Round 5 he stunned Campbell so profoundly that the Englishman turned his back to Garcia and yearned for the bell.
There was no escape hatch in the seventh. The two were exchanging vigorously, and then Garcia appeared to load up for a left hook to the head. Campbell reacted accordingly, and Garcia slammed him with a classic liver shot, the kind that forces its victim to stagger and blink and then fall like a matinee cowboy.
“It was the hardest I’ve ever been hit,” Campbell said. “Just a fantastic body shot.”
Campbell was counted out by referee Laurence Cole, and Garcia was mobbed by trainer Eddy Reynoso, his dad and co-trainer Henry, and finally Canelo Alvarez, who has become a workout partner and pal.
Garcia walked over to Campbell, sitting uncomfortably on a stool, and said, “I’d never been down before! You taught me something tonight.”
Then Garcia grabbed something called the WBC “interim” lightweight championship belt. The 6,000 fans who were permitted into the building sang his praises, reminding us that Garcia is far more of a sensation than the traditional media realize.
This time, Tik Tok stands for a countdown toward a sensational age in the lightweight division, with the obvious stipulation that all these actually want to fight as well as talk.
Garcia called out Gervonta Davis, whose last win was a scary knockout of Leo Santa Cruz. Garcia saw WBA champ Devin Haney in the crowd and challenged him, too. Looming over all of them is Teofimo Lopez, who owns the other three lightweight belts, but is the only one who fights for Top Rank. The man whom Lopez beat is Vasyl Lomachenko who, a year ago, was solidly in the top five, pound-for-pound.
If the promoters can hunker down at Camp David or Versailles or somewhere long enough to hammer out a game plan, they can take all this charismatic talent re-route the direction of the sport in 2021. Lopez and Davis are 23, Haney and Garcia 22. Together they are 86-0 with 69 knockouts.
But of that group, Garcia is the one who has seen the jaws of defeat and used his fists to close them.
Don’t even think about questioning Campbell’s dossier. He went 12 rounds with Lomachenko and was a 2-time Olympic gold medalist. A phone booth outside his gym in Hull is painted gold as a reminder. He had never been stopped before Saturday. But Garcia was so resilient that only one judge gave Campbell a round beyond the 10-8 second.
“Yo, I got dropped,” Garcia said, smiling. “That was crazy. It was a good shot. I wanted to back him down and crack him, but he cracked me. I got a little too excited in the moment.
“I was a little dizzy, I ain’t gonna lie. But it wasn’t that bad. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’m naturally a counter-puncher, but today I showed I could be aggressive, really take it to somebody.”
“He did so well to get up from that shot,” Campbell said. “I knew it was a beauty. But all credit to him. He showed real heart.”
Campbell would get no more chances to test it.
“He was very worried about the hook,” Garcia said. “I’ve had that since I was born. I changed direction real quick on that shot. I told everybody I’d get him with a body shot, but that’s only because God told me so.”
Garcia then walked down the corridor to his locker room and greeted fans who were standing behind steel barriers. “I showed you I was a real Mexican today, right?” he asked.
What he really calls himself is the Future Of Boxing. Saturday was the day he became foreseeable.
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