Ryan Garcia’s credibility is on the line against Devin Haney | Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Devin Haney brings a world title to Saturday’s big fight, but for Ryan Garcia, it’s a matchup with so much more on the line.

Ryan Garcia is a lot of things. He’s a star, however you want to take that, and he’s a draw. Those are the big, important things, and those are what make him the real marketing A-side of next Saturday’s showdown with Devin Haney.

He’s popular, if polarizing, and he’s loud, and he’s frankly a bit of an odd duck, not much like other professional boxers. He’s the real pioneer of making social media relevant for a fighter’s own promotion, which can be a good thing because boxing promoters are often quite bad at promoting boxing.

But marketing A-side or not, at the end of the day he has to get into the ring and beat Devin Haney. That’s going to prove a lot tougher than garnering attention on Instagram and X.

Haney (31-0, 15 KO) is the real deal. He’s not particularly popular on social media platforms and he’s struggled to sell tickets despite his success. He doesn’t blatantly lack charisma — he’s confident enough with a mic in front of him and he’s got a personal flair to the way he carries himself — but he just hasn’t caught on with the wider audience.

That can change in time if he just keeps winning. And Saturday’s fight with Garcia (24-1, 20 KO) is his biggest chance yet to reach that audience, to impress them, and to take — not steal — the spotlight from the bigger star.

Haney is a former undisputed lightweight champion, fully unifying the division by dominating George Kambosos Jr in 2022. And he’s been in tough. In 2023, he made his final appearance at 135 lbs by edging a controversial win over Vasiliy Lomachenko, a fight that to be fair many felt he’d lost, then moved up to 140 to absolutely dominate Regis Prograis and take the WBC title.

Devin Haney vs Ryan Garcia
Photo by Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy/Getty Images

That belt will be on the line Saturday. That’s what Haney is bringing to the table, and it’s the first world title fight for the 25-year-old Garcia, though not his biggest fight. Ryan’s loss to Gervonta “Tank” Davis in 2023 was one of the biggest fights of the year, and this one won’t reach that event in exposure or mainstream notoriety.

If Haney, also 25, has his belt and his “0” on the line, what does Garcia have at stake?

His credibility as a world-class professional boxer.

Hardcore fans are quick to question Garcia’s actual credentials, and with fair reason. His best wins are Luke Campbell, Javier Fortuna, and Oscar Duarte. And while 25 is young, the fact that he hasn’t been managed into even a paper world title in a system that so often favors politics and popularity over legitimacy is a little strange.

Haney has won world titles in two divisions. Or take the case of Shakur Stevenson, who isn’t exactly the most popular fighter in the game, but has won world titles in three divisions at age 26.

Garcia’s actual achievements lag far behind. In the lone fight that wasn’t against an opponent carefully chosen, the lasting impression is that Ryan Garcia got dropped and quit against Tank Davis.

To many, that was his real test, and he failed.

Haney isn’t Davis as an attraction, and they’re very different in the ring. Tank is a damn good boxer and a hard, accurate puncher. Haney is a damn good boxer but doesn’t have a reputation for power. That said, he looked physically strong against Regis Prograis last year, and there’s some thought that at 140, he’s simply in better shape than he was his last couple fights still struggling to make 135.

Garcia has talent. The speed is a natural gift, the power is real. But Haney believes that Garcia simply has not evolved since the two fought one another as children in the amateur ranks, and it’s easy as an outside observe to suspect he’s right, that Garcia has stagnated in his progress and just hasn’t really improved the way he could have.

Even if you believe in his talent, the question is now whether Garcia has the actual drive and passion to ever live up to it. Cycling through name trainers the last few years — Eddy Reynoso, Joe Goossen, Derrick James — also raises at least an orange flag if you’ve seen that happen enough times.

While Haney is consistent and focused and a true professional when it comes to his craft, Garcia is much more of a question mark and wild card. Can he actually be great when it matters, bell-to-bell between the ropes?

That’s what’s on the line for Ryan Garcia on Saturday, more than Haney’s WBC belt. If Ryan can win, he’ll silence the doubters, at least for the time being, and he absolutely is dangerous in the matchup. Haney has been hurt before by smaller guys who don’t have the pop Garcia brings. If he can even admirably compete, that’ll say a lot, too, because Haney is a top-tier fighter.

If he loses the way he did against Tank, though, the clock starts loudly ticking on how long Garcia can be a reliable draw. You don’t always have to win to get attention, but the more you lose, and the more people start thinking you just can’t compete at top level and are masking that with “easy” wins, the harder it gets to keep that big public engaged and willing to pay money to see you fight.

In some ways, it’s a lot easier to become a star quickly than stay one long-term. Ryan Garcia is a star. He achieved that through a years-long assault on social media. Now he has to prove he deserves to stay one, and that only happens with results in the ring.

Read the full article here