Opinions vary on whether and to what degree Ryan Garcia’s mental health is compromised heading into Saturday night’s fight against Devin Haney. Some feel he’s putting the “act” in “acting out” and take him and promoter Oscar De La Hoya at their words when they say it’s all designed to hype the fight. Some feel he’s in a full-blown mental health crisis and should not be stepping into the ring this weekend. Others fall at various points in between.

If it is an act designed to juice sales, my sense is that it has backfired. The odds have widened in Haney’s favor compared to where they were when the fight was first announced, and there’s a certain segment of the boxing audience that isn’t comfortable watching — never mind paying to watch — a fighter struggling with serious issues take punches.

Boxing writer Dan Rafael described ticket sales in his Substack newsletter Thursday as “very soft.” Almost assuredly, the fight would be generating more money if Garcia had spent the last two months convincing people it would be more competitive than they originally thought, not less competitive.

And there’s a side effect to all of this, a place it hurts Haney besides his wallet. Garcia’s behavior, whether it’s reality or fiction, has decimated the credit Haney will get when he beats him.

When Gervonta “Tank” Davis stopped Garcia on a body shot a year ago, he was rewarded with “new face of boxing” talk. If Haney does the same to a possibly mentally ill fighter, he’ll be rewarded with an asterisk.

It could potentially have been the crowning moment of Haney’s career to this point — a clear win over a talented, popular rival in his physical prime. But he’s been robbed of that possibility. It’s almost a no-win situation.

I mean, when boxing fans are counting down the greatest triumphs of Lennox Lewis’ Hall of Fame career, does “KO 5 Oliver McCall” ever get a mention?

Let’s consider the possible outcomes here. If Haney does what Haney typically does, which is box his way in what Jim Lampley called a “limited-risk” style to a lopsided points win — his last eight fights have all gone the 12-round distance — there will surely be criticism because he couldn’t knock a compromised fighter out.

If Haney quickly and convincingly blows Garcia out, he will get virtually no credit for it, as Garcia will have been made to look unfit to fight.

About the only scenario that sees Haney win and receive praise for it is if Garcia looks spectacular for several rounds, thus convincing everyone that he is operating at full strength, and then Haney overcomes him, ideally by knockout. There will still be an asterisk under those conditions, but it’s in a small font, at least.

Under the other scenarios, the “*” is many point sizes bigger than the “W.”

Sadly, boxing fans can find a way to put at least a small asterisk on any victory. If a fighter lost, he is by definition beatable, and therefore, it’s always possible to pretzel-twist yourself into asking if the boxer who whupped him is really all that great.

Even the two greatest displays of sustained dominance over elite, pound-for-pound-level fighters that I’ve ever witnessed have managed to attract asterisks from contrarian and/or impossible-to-please fight fans. I’m referring to Bernard Hopkins KO 12 Felix Trinidad on Sept. 29, 2001, and Terence Crawford KO 9 Errol Spence on July 29, 2023.

Those were two true masterpieces from a pair of pugilistic Picassos. And some fight fans still found ways to raise their noses and their shoulders and set about pointing out the flaws.

Trinidad? Come on, Oscar showed everyone the blueprint. Any fighter with one left foot and one right foot could follow that. Plus, he was a 154-pounder two fights earlier. And the 9/11 interruption threw off his training. Also, his whole career was built on improper hand wrapping, and he didn’t have that advantage against Hopkins.

Spence? Completely weight drained, never fully recovered from his car accident, couldn’t knock out little Mikey Garcia, and was disadvantaged by not getting to have Eminem walk him to the ring.

Is there some validity to some of the cynicism? Absolutely. But if Trinidad was such a washed fraud, why was he a clear favorite with only a handful of experts picking Hopkins to win? And if Spence was such an easy mark, why were the odds virtually even for the entire buildup and why was almost nobody predicting a one-sided fight?

And again, Trinidad was too small to win, while Spence was too big to win. You can’t have it both ways. But people will try to because … well, because if someone lost a fight, there had to be a better reason that “the other guy is a legit boxing genius.”

There truly is no victory in boxing history someone can’t poke a hole in. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson? Tyson didn’t take him seriously and had a rubber glove for an Enswell. Sugar Ray Leonard over Tommy Hearns? Eh, Hearns proved to be kinda chinny. Roberto Duran over Leonard? Ray fought the wrong fight. Joe Frazier over Muhammad Ali? “The Greatest” was still shaking off the exile rust. Max Schmeling over Joe Louis? Sure, Louis would become great, but he wasn’t a finished product yet.

There can never just be a unanimous agreement that the losing fighter was elite and brought something resembling his A-game and the fighter that beat him deserves full credit. Contrarianism mixed with revisionist history is a potent combo. Before you know it, you’re telling the world Anthony Fauci invented AIDS.

And this all bodes poorly for Devin Haney. If people will slap an asterisk on a victory over an actual great fighter who is at worst mildly diminished, then Haney is screwed.

Garcia is a talented boxer, blessed with speed and explosiveness, with credible skills developed over a long amateur career (that saw him top Haney three times in six tries). But he’s no Trinidad or even Spence.

And the question marks surrounding the state in which Garcia is entering this particular fight are either extremely deleterious or are phony and speak to a whole different set of emotional shortcomings.

Frankly, it’s probably warranted to put an asterisk on a Haney win. That’s not Haney’s fault, of course. But it’s the reality. Garcia has been the bigger story in the buildup to the fight, and there’s a good chance he’ll still be the primary topic of conversation after it’s over. Haney has a very narrow path to a win that earns him credit, praise, and attention.

He should either be very empathetic toward what Garcia is going through, or deeply pissed off at him. Or maybe both.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at [email protected].



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