A few years ago, as Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez, and Gervonta Davis were making noise as undefeated 135 pound contenders, I somewhat rashly and publicly dubbed them the “Four Princes.” It was deliberately evocative and provocative, bestowed in the hope that this talented quartet would cross each other’s paths with the frequency of Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler, whose multiple, classic encounters earned them the sobriquet of the “Four Kings.”

Important caveat #1: This was not at all meant to suggest that I thought this quartet was as great as those all-time greats or even necessarily had the potential to become so. It was more a case of having four, genuinely talented, boxers of similar age in the same weight class and the hope that they would mix and match and give us a series of classic encounters that this generation could look back on with the same kind of fondness that my generation recalls that series between four all-time greats.

But, within short order, it looked like I had whiffed on the whole notion. Lopez lost, shockingly, to George Kambosos – although, to be fair, he did so while in the kind of medical condition that should have seen him in the hospital rather than a boxing ring. Maybe it was just a small hiccup; perhaps Shakur Stevenson could take his place. But then Stevenson laid an egg against Edwin De Los Santos in one of the worst fights in recent years, and meanwhile Lopez began to alternate exciting outings with damp squibs, such as the borefest against Jamaine Ortiz. Then Davis created a legal morass for himself, and suddenly the window seemed to be closing. 

Leonard had just turned 24 years old when he first faced Duran; by the time he was 25, he had fought Duran again and went on to beat Hearns. Lopez and Stevenson are both already 26 and Davis 29, and prior to Saturday night the whole group had between them engaged in precisely one encounter against their putative rivals: Davis’ seventh round stoppage of Garcia last year.

That, though, was a huge event: alongside Terence Crawford’s demolition of Errol Spence, one of the biggest fights in the US in 2023. It was a sign of the drawing power that this group of boxers has, and it was an entertaining clash, too. Against that, although Garcia had some moments, it was a fairly one-sided affair and the manner of the stoppage suggested a capitulation on the part of “KingRy.” Hardly the stuff of which legendary rivalries are made.

It is to Garcia’s credit that within a year he had saddled up to face Haney. Had he lost, he would have been 0-2 against the others and at best the Wilfred Benitez of the group. (If that comparison offends you, given that Benitez is himself deservedly a Hall-of-Famer, then he’d have been the Peter Lawford of this particular Rat Pack. Kids: ask your parents. Or your grandparents.)

Through six rounds of Saturday night’s action at the Barclays Center, it appeared to this observer as if that was just what was on the cards. As against Davis, Garcia had had his moments – notably a left hook that rattled Haney in the first round – but his strategy seemed to be to spend 30 seconds each round, normally the first 30, trying to land a power shot and then retreating and dancing around the ring and literally turning his back, more or less. 

Even after what turned out to be a pivotal seventh round, when Garcia dropped Haney and had him hanging on desperately, it still felt as if that might be the case. Garcia lost his focus and hit Haney on the break, prompting an over-officious Harvey Dock to call time, give Haney a few extra seconds to recover, and take a potentially vital point from Garcia. And over the next couple of rounds, while Haney still seemed affected by the general carnage of the seventh, he appeared to be getting back into his groove.

Garcia’s explosive final few rounds put the seal on the victory, and in the process breathed new life into the Four Princes.

Apart from the fact that it was an exciting fight, apart from the fact that Garcia secured a thrilling victory, it created a genuine rivalry – we’re now all but certain to see a rematch – and left others seeking a piece of the action. Stevenson, for one, wasted no time offering his congratulations on social media and making it clear he wanted some of that smoke.

Garcia’s win was important not just for his career but for the group rivalry. Because any would-be Four (or Five) Kings redux needs a Sugar Ray Leonard – and that’s who Garcia now is.

Important caveat #2: I am not saying Garcia is Ray Leonard. I am not saying he is, or ever will be, remotely as great. But Leonard was the star around whom the other kings were forced to orbit; he was the good-looking, popular, Madison Avenue favorite whom the others wanted to fight. Importantly, he wanted to fight them, too (even if he toyed with Hagler, waited for him to get old, and retired and un-retired a couple of times before finally facing him). Garcia is the 2024 equivalent, with 11 million Instagram followers and, importantly, a clear willingness to get in the ring with the others.

(There is one other unfortunate parallel. Behind the scenes, Leonard’s life devolved into one of alleged spousal abuse and drug and alcohol use. Garcia’s win should not cause a whitewashing of the very real concerns about his mental health. The fact that he won does not mean the last couple of months were an act; yes, he could have been executing, to Andy Kaufmanesque perfection, an homage to Muhammad Ali’s pre-fight histrionics before he beat Sonny Liston, but more likely is that Garcia needs supportive people around him who care about him as a human more than a “cash cow” – perhaps now more than ever.)

It remains to be seen where this all goes from here. My Four Princes enthusiasm may yet prove unfounded or may not shake out as I imagined: Lopez may have missed his opportunity, Davis may continue to swim in an entirely different pool. Maybe Stevenson does wind up as the other member of the group. But Garcia’s win breathes new life into the prospect of a group of skilled boxers doing what boxing fans like boxers to do: facing each other, with plenty at stake, and giving us memorable fights in the process.

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