With more than 8.7 million followers on Instagram and 1.16 million YouTube subscribers, 23-year-old Ryan Garcia is a social media sensation.
As a boxer, he has a skill set to match — some of the fastest hands in the sport and knockout power in either hand.
It is no surprise, then, that his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, is one of Garcia’s biggest fans. The reasons go beyond the obvious.
Twenty-five years ago, De La Hoya was the fighter with the Hollywood heartthrob looks, the unblemished record and the reputation as boxing’s next superstar in the making.
De La Hoya hit it big, eventually becoming the biggest draw outside the heavyweight division.
Some are predicting a similar career path for Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs), who is scheduled to take on Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1, 15 KOs) of Ghana in a 12-round bout Saturday night at the Alamodome (DAZN, 8 p.m.).
“There’s a blueprint laid out already,” said De La Hoya who, like Garcia, is a Los Angeles native. “Today, Ryan is the guy who has all this popularity, who moves the needle. Can you imagine what it’ll be like when he becomes a world champion?”
The absence of a title is the only hole in Garcia’s resume, just as it was early in De La Hoya’s career.
Garcia’s coming off a 15-month layoff, his last fight coming in January 2021 when he overcame a second-round knockdown to beat Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell of Great Britain by seventh-round TKO in a career-best performance.
He was scheduled to take on Javier Fortuna in July 2021 but was forced to withdraw to address mental health issues. A bout against Joseph Diaz Jr., set for November 2021 was canceled after Garcia suffered a wrist injury during training that required surgery.
“I don’t anticipate any ring rust (on Saturday),” Garcia said. “I was sharp throughout training camp.”
According to his team, Garcia knocked out nearly every one of his sparring partners “in probably the best camp I’ve ever had,” he said.
Garcia insists he’s not overlooking Tagoe, 33, who has fought only a handful of recognizable names and has been idle since November 2020.
Garcia has drawn criticism for his mediocre competition, but said he’s looking forward to testing himself against the top names of the lightweight division, fighters like George Kambosos, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis.
“The thing is, I’m young,” Garcia said. “Time is on my side. I’ll get those (big) fights. I’ve got to win them, and I will.”
De La Hoya faced similar doubts as late as his 1997 bout against David Kamau in San Antonio. Thousands of screaming women attended the fight in the Alamodome.
But De La Hoya, then 24, still had not earned the respect of Mexican fight fans who viewed him as a pretty boy who refused to brawl.
“What’s funny to me is the girls who follow Ryan now, guess who their moms are?” De La Hoya mused. “They were my fans when I was coming up.
“Fighters like Ryan are always going to have something to prove. He may have a pretty face but he has a chip on his shoulder. He has a lot to prove and he knows it. This kid has what it takes.”
Garcia said therapy helped him in his road to self-awareness. His mental health issues included thoughts of suicide at one point, he said.
“I’m in a good place now,” he added. “I’m happy. I love boxing and I’m at peace when I’m in the ring.”
De La Hoya applauded Garcia’s decision to seek professional help, and also of his recent decision to jettison Canelo Alvarez’s trainer Eddy Reynoso and replace him with respected veteran Joe Goossen.
“I was behind the move 1000 percent,” De La Hoya said of the switch. “You’re talking to a guy who changed trainers about eight times.”
De La Hoya likes the frame of mind Garcia is in right now after his time away to heal physically and psychologically.
“He has a good head on his shoulders and his feet are on the ground,” De La Hoya said. “He knows what he has to do. This will only make him stronger.”
Marlen Esparza (11-1, 1 KO) of Houston meets Naoko Fujioka (19-2-1, 7 KOs) of Japan for the WBC and WBA flyweight title in the co-main event.
Other fighters scheduled to appear on the card include Shane Mosley Jr. and San Antonio native Goyo Morales.
WBA super flyweight champion Joshua Franco of San Antonio will serve as guest analyst on the non-DAZN undercard streamed live on YouTube, beginning at 3:30 p.m.