Haney and Garcia have a shared past — and are about to determine their future

Sports

Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are two of the youngest stars in boxing, though they find themselves in decidedly different positions in the sport’s ecosystem.

Haney is unquestionably one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters (rated No. 6 by ESPN). At just 25 years old, he’s already captured the undisputed lightweight championship and successfully defended his 135-pound supremacy with a thrilling victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko last May.

For an encore, Haney debuted at 140 pounds in December with a shutout victory over former champion Regis Prograis. Now, Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) will build his burgeoning star profile with a defense of his junior welterweight title against Garcia on April 20 in Las Vegas.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) cemented himself as one of boxing’s top attractions last April in a super fight with Gervonta Davis.

Garcia was dropped twice and KO’d in Round 7 by a Davis body shot, but the event generated boffo business: reportedly 1.1-million-plus pay-per-view buys and over $22 million at the gate.

The 26-year-old Garcia said he earned $30 million from the fight, boxing’s most lucrative event since the Canelo Alvarez-Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin rematch in 2018.

Afterward, Garcia returned to 140 pounds in December for an eighth-round KO of Oscar Duarte. It came following months of acrimony with promoter Oscar De La Hoya, a Hall of Fame fighter who was the face of boxing for much of the 1990s and 2000s. De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions is the lead promoter of the April 20 event (Devin Haney Promotions is the co-promoter).

De La Hoya told ESPN “things are great” between himself and Garcia. “It was all about communications, and I’m glad he stuck it out and I’m glad that I stuck it out and we were able to communicate and we patch things up.”

Haney-Garcia shapes up as boxing’s first truly marquee event of 2024 following the postponement of Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk to May 18.

What must Garcia do to pull off the upset? What can Haney gain with a win? ESPN caught up with De La Hoya, for his thoughts on the fight.


What’s the backstory between Haney and Garcia?

Haney and Garcia met six times in the amateurs, splitting the series 3-3. The last time they fought was in January 2015, the quarterfinals of the USA Youth National Championships. Haney won that three-round contest via unanimous decision when both were 16.

Nearly 10 years later, they’ll step inside the ring with far more on the line. Haney is a sizable favorite at -600, per ESPN BET, and those odds are no surprise. Haney is an elite boxer with a far more accomplished resume than Garcia.

And with a convincing victory in an entertaining bout, Haney should be able to leverage Garcia’s considerable social media following to make himself a bigger attraction.

“Ryan, he is a tall fighter that has so much speed and power. If he moves forward on you tall, because he has to be tall, and starts off his combinations with the jab, man, it can be very, very dangerous because any punch can knock you out.”

Oscar De La Hoya

“Three and three and the seventh settles the score,” De La Hoya told ESPN. “So I think both guys are going to fight passionately. Both guys are going to exchange and both guys want to prove who’s going to be that racehorse that breaks away from the pack. This is the fight to determine who that horse is going to be.”

Besides their familiarity from the amateurs — De La Hoya says they’ve known each other since age 10 — Haney and Garcia have both been hyping up a matchup in the pros for years. There was first talk of a meeting in 2019, when Haney and Garcia were still cutting their teeth in the paid ranks.

“The storyline that both fighters have created naturally since they were kids is going to take this fight over the top,” De La Hoya said. “… The amateurs, they count, but this is where it truly counts. This is where the world is going to be watching.”


What’s on the line for Haney, and what’s his path to victory?

Haney is expected to win, but assuming he does, the fashion in which he prevails will be paramount.

He’s a highly skilled boxer capable of making foes look foolish, but he’s yet to score a knockout on the elite level. Against Prograis, he appeared to be within striking distance of the finish in Round 6 if he pressed the action.

And while he defeated Lomachenko, the outcome was disputed by many fans. Now, Haney has the platform and experience to put on his best performance yet.

“Devin Haney’s a master boxer that fights straight up, that waits for you, that counters you, that waits for you to make mistakes,” said De La Hoya. “He’s obviously going to do that. But I think that Devin Haney has to initiate more pressure and believe in his abilities.

“When he fights cautious, it kind of works against him a bit because it allows for him to lose some rounds because he’s waiting too much. So if he puts pressure with his style, it can work in his favor.”

A resounding victory inside the distance, one that’s entertaining from bell to bell, would catapult Haney into the stratosphere. We know Haney can use his elite jab, footwork and ring IQ to outbox pretty much anyone out there. But the power might be there, too, at his new weight.

The night he fought Prograis, Haney rehydrated to 160-plus pounds after weighing in at the division limit of 140 pounds the day before, and showed improved pop in scoring a third-round knockdown and having Prograis in serious trouble in Round 6.

Between his social-media following, charisma and boxing ability, Haney has what it takes to one day become the face of boxing.

An upset defeat, of course, would be incredibly damaging. Haney hasn’t even peaked yet and can ill afford a defeat now in a fight where he’s a decided favorite. Especially when you consider Garcia is only one fight removed from a KO loss, Haney must win and win big.


What’s on the line for Garcia, and what’s his path to victory?

For Garcia, it’s another opportunity one year later to prove he indeed is an elite fighter. And he doesn’t even have to come out on top to make that sort of statement.

If Garcia is simply competitive in a decision defeat to Haney, he will have proven a lot of people wrong. If Garcia pulls off the upset? He will no doubt reach another level of stardom and will have effectively erased the lingering effects of the KO loss to “Tank” Davis.

While Garcia rebounded well in December against Duarte, a tough, durable fighter, the win didn’t come easily. Garcia revealed a questionable, ineffective version of the shoulder roll and lost a few rounds. But he once again showed off his vaunted power and incredible speed to deliver the KO.

When Garcia connects, opponents react. Davis was no exception. And if he can use his hand speed — perhaps boxing’s best — to reach Haney’s chin, there’s no doubt he can hurt the champion, too.

“Ryan, he is a tall fighter that has so much speed and power,” noted De La Hoya, Garcia’s longtime promoter. “If he moves forward on you tall, because he has to be tall, and starts off his combinations with the jab, man, it can be very, very dangerous because any punch can knock you out.

“But once he starts crouching, that’s when Devin can possibly time him and that’s where he closes the distance, because Devin is tall and Ryan is short. So Ryan has to be quite tall, but aggressive and believe in his speed and his power.”

He’ll also be better served at 140 pounds. Garcia’s previous two fights were contested at junior welterweight, but he met Davis at a 136-pound catchweight with a 146-pound same-day rehydration clause. Garcia said his power was handicapped because of that.

Following the defeat — Garcia took a knee from a body shot for the finish — the star boxer returned to 140 pounds for the impressive KO of Duarte.

“I strongly feel that Ryan is in a very unique situation because of the popularity that he has, the pressure that he’s under,” said De La Hoya. “Ryan must believe in himself, believe in his people around him and stay focused because he’s very talented and the sky can be the limit, especially if he beats Devin.”

If Garcia does score the upset — and make no mistake it would be deemed as such even if this is a marquee fight between two attractions — he indeed will have a bright future. Perhaps he’ll be able to lean on his three wins over Haney in the amateur days, but that was a long time ago. And right now, it’s Haney who holds the decided edge as the top fighter at 140 and one of the best regardless of weight.

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