People have varying opinions about Ryan Garcia as a fighter and as a person, but one thing everyone can agree on is that he knows how to work a camera. You don’t become a face of fragrance and clothing campaigns without being rather conventionally attractive, and you don’t amass nearly nine million Instagram followers, generally, without having a sense of timing and a knowledge of how to be compelling. 

Before his bout against Javier Fortuna on Saturday night, DAZN cameras were filming Garcia inside his locker room shadowboxing and loosening up. Dressed in a blue satin bomber jacket and Dior trunks designed by Kim Jones, the first ring gear ever produced by the iconic fashion brand, Garcia joyously proclaimed “when he gasses out, I’m on his ass.” Garcia had assumed that the camera was simply filming and that the boom microphone wasn’t sending any audio to the broadcast. His trainer Joe Goossen wasn’t certain, and warned him not to talk about fight tactics on camera.

“There’s no audio, I know that,” he said with a smile, reassuring his coach. Except there was audio, and viewers could hear the exchange overlapping ever so slightly with Seniesa Estrada’s analysis on the broadcast.

Like everything Garcia does, the moment became content. As benign as the proclamation that he would attack an exhausted opponent was, Garcia’s folly in assuming microphones were off became an easy dunk for his detractors. 

It also foreshadowed pretty much what would take place in the fight. 

Garcia was fighting at 140 pounds reportedly due to Fortuna’s inability to make 135. Garcia would later reveal that he will “not fight at 135 anymore” and that he also “hated every second” of making 140, so Fortuna’s request likely wasn’t met with much resistance. The extra five pounds would only exacerbate Garcia’s physical advantages. At 5’10” he was going to tower over Fortuna no matter what, but without having to fully dry out to make 135, he looked monstrous in comparison to the diminutive Fortuna whose professional peak was at 130. 

The matchup itself was a perfectly defensible, decent one for Garcia. That it turned out to be a mismatch is not his fault. If anything it’s a credit to him. Fortuna would have, and has been a dangerous test for most fighters in their weight neighborhood. But Garcia was too big, too fast, and too long for Fortuna to stay out of danger for any amount of time. In the fourth round, Fortuna thought he was safely out of range when Garcia feinted him upstairs with a right hand to bring his hands up and then jumped in with a left hook to the body, the same shot that finished Luke Campbell in their 2021 bout. 

From there, Fortuna was effectively gassed, and Garcia could look to finish the job as he’d unknowingly predicted to the world. In the fifth round, a right hand landed on Fortuna’s forehead that produced a delayed reaction and a second knockdown. Then, the following round, Garcia landed a left hook around Fortuna’s guard that again took a moment to register its effects before Fortuna took a knee, spit his mouthpiece out and nodded to his corner in acknowledgement that he would simply wait for the count of ten to finish. 

Garcia looked like an improved fighter in the bout, carrying himself like a confident, relaxed puncher. In his most recent fight against Emmanuel Tagoe, both he and observers were jointly underwhelmed with his performance, something Garcia attributed to Tagoe’s unwillingness to engage. Fortuna was more willing to engage with Garcia, but also less equipped to make the decision to opt out given his physical shortcomings. 

His performance against Tagoe fueled the type of criticism levied against Garcia and fighters like him over the years. Garcia is the latest in a line of matinee idols that have passed through boxing, fighters whose popularity and fame either extend beyond or mainly exist outside of the traditional boxing fanbase, and expressly utilize their good looks in their marketing. It is another Mexican-American from Southern California, Art Aragon, who is often cited as the first significant example of this phenomenon in boxing. A longtime lightweight contender, Aragon was adored by fans who found him attractive but viciously booed by nearly everyone else. He had romances with Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe and a film career that continued well after his retirement. 

Aragon went on to influence fighters such as Oscar De La Hoya, who would go on to far greater success than Aragon in the ring and financially, but who acknowledged the playbook from which he was operating. Following Aragon’s passing in 2008, De La Hoya dedicated his fight against Steve Forbes to the late Aragon. De La Hoya, of course, now promotes Garcia. 

Garcia is a tempting target for many boxing fans who feel his outside interests—modelling, acting, influencer work—are either a smokescreen for a lack of boxing skills or are working to erode his focus upon them. In addition, his openness about mental health is often scoffed at by a vocal sect of fans who believe such discussion to be a sign of weakness, a liberal buzzword or a hoax entirely.  

In other words, Garcia’s detractors paint him to be a foolish airhead pretty boy who is a construct of the boxing promotional machine. His results in the ring would indicate that at worst, he was one of the six best lightweights in the world before seemingly leaving the division, but the definition of “hype job” has been broadened to include almost everyone in boxing at one point or another. 

As for his wherewithal, his trainer Joe Goossen is effusive in his praise of Garcia as a boxing mind. Fans might see the twenty second clips of Garcia hitting a cobra bag and think his training is limited to what will look cool on Instagram, but Goossen, one of the sport’s most respected trainers, offered tremendous praise for his fighter unprompted at the post-fight press conference on Saturday. 

“When you train Ryan, you don't train Ryan, you train with Ryan, because Ryan has the mentality of a coach. He's as smart as a coach. He sometimes says things and figures things out that I've never heard a fighter figure out before,” said Goossen. “Ryan stands alone in my life as one of the most unique individuals I've ever coached or coached with. He's years beyond his age in terms of his thinking. I think those things have to be said about him, because you can easily overlook stuff like that. He's a unique individual, like nobody I've ever met in this game.”

Garcia’s true capacity in the ring will ultimately be tested in earnest, and to hear him tell it, he’d like for it to be as soon as possible. He explicitly called out Gervonta Davis, albeit for a fight at 140 pounds, following his win over Fortuna. Davis for his part seemed to respond in the affirmative on Twitter, tweeting “see y’all at the end of the year” shortly after the fight. As a contingency plan, Garcia also suggested Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney as possible targets, if a fight against Tank doesn’t materialize next time out. 

“All of these guys are great fighters. I just think I have something in me that can elevate me (to) surpass them. It's just who I am. I am different, in a way. I will beat these guys. I will do everything in my power to beat them and still show love to them,” said Garcia. 

Although it’s a sport with virtually no barriers of entry, boxing’s hardcore fanbase can be resistant to outsiders. Fighters like Garcia who don’t look, behave or talk like most other boxers are met with skepticism, and the new fans they bring in are downplayed or maligned. It’s true that not all of Garcia’s Instagram followers translate to streaming viewers or ticket buyers when he fights, but some of them do, and some of them are people who wouldn’t have otherwise considered watching boxing. In one way or another, they’re engaging with the sport, or at least one participant in it. 

Garcia is certainly blessed with gifts that have enabled him to approach the sport a little differently. But there’s thought put into what he’s doing, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. 

At the press conference, one reporter asked him if he’d considered what the Instagram caption for his knockout victory would be. This time the microphone was in his hand and the camera would be in his control, how he’s best equipped. In that moment, he was already thinking of how to maximize the visibility of what he’d just accomplished. 

“I'm posting tomorrow, it's too late now,” he said. “Strategy, man.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing commentator and writer based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman