AS WELL as move his professional record to 23-0 (19), Ryan Garcia tonight (July 16) in Los Angeles did something all too common in boxing, and never more so than in 2022.

Moments after applying the finishing touches to a sixth-round stoppage win over Javier Fortuna, Garcia took to the microphone and proceeded to play a game of “And Here’s What You Could Have Won!” for the fans both in attendance and at home. In other words, having beaten yet another contender nowhere near good enough to share a ring with him, Garcia then cruelly teased the prospect of bigger and better fights, just as he has done all too often in the past.

Specifically, this time he mentioned remaining at 140 pounds, the weight at which he defeated Fortuna, to fight Gervonta Davis, a man now settled at 135 pounds.

“If he says, ‘See you in December,’ let’s get it on,” Garcia said. “I feel like I’m very transparent in the way I talk. I call him out not because I’m thirsty. I call him out because that’s genuinely what I want to do. We’ll figure it out with the team and we’ll make it happen. I know everybody wants this fight to happen and I’ll put in my whole heart to make this fight.”

For now, Garcia makes do with taking fights few people are calling for, yet are apparently deemed important for his development.

His latest opponent, Fortuna, 10 years Garcia’s senior at 33, was considered by some – namely DAZN – to be the toughest test of Garcia’s pro career to date, but that probably says more about Garcia’s pro career to date than it does Fortuna’s danger as opponent number 23. That’s not to say Fortuna is bad, just that he tends to fall short whenever he steps up in class. Moreover, while the southpaw from the Dominican Republic is a former WBA super-featherweight belt-holder, that title triumph came all the way back in 2015 and was at super-featherweight.

Certainly, based on their respective efforts against Garcia, there is still an argument to be made that Luke Campbell remains Garcia’s toughest test so far. Indeed, that win for Garcia felt like a breakout moment back in January 2021, being as it was a performance that showed both his raw talent and also his fighting heart. (Garcia was dropped, remember, in the second round.) It was meant to be the launchpad to bigger and better things, an upward trajectory from that day forward.

Yet, alas, through no real fault of his own (an ongoing global pandemic and his own mental health issues hardly helped), Garcia has since that night in January 2021 fought just twice against opponents he was heavily favoured to beat. Again, not bad fights, nor bad opponents. But when all the talk is of Garcia fighting other opponents, considerably more interesting ones, the sight of him toying with relatively inferior opponents could become somewhat infuriating after a while.

Tonight, for instance, Javier Fortuna landed just 14 punches in the first three rounds, with Garcia’s speed – of both hand and foot – clearly too much for him. He was then predictably crumpled by a Garcia left hook to the body in the fourth, at which point it became clear that, more than just speed, Fortuna had no answer for Garcia’s size and strength, either.

To his credit, he got up at the count of eight – just – and spat his gum shield out to secure additional time, but the look on Fortuna’s face as he returned to his stool was not one of a man prepared to be Ryan Garcia’s “toughest test”.

In fact, not only did he appear a little soft and sluggish at the weight, he now had the look of a man in survival mode. He moved, he kept out of harm’s way, with both hands by his sides, and he offered only the illusion of being interested in attacking, doing so usually when out of range.

Garcia, on the other hand, was all business. He followed Fortuna when he started to move and he remained composed throughout Fortuna’s period of posturing. His jab was both quick and stiff and Fortuna, for all his movement, couldn’t escape it. Worse for him, whenever he found himself stuck on the ropes, Garcia would use this as an invitation to unload, which led to a number of slashing left hooks and scything right crosses ripping through his opponent’s guard, connecting to both head and body.

Never afraid to trade, much of Garcia’s success came when standing in front of Fortuna and baiting him. This was never truer than in the fifth round when, having backed Fortuna up, Garcia started exchanging with him, trusting his quicker hands, and duly got there first with a vicious hook. Beautifully timed, the shot put Fortuna down for the second time in the fight.

This time he got to his feet quicker. Yet, rather than this being a sign of him not being as hurt as before, it was quite the opposite. The speed with which he this time rose, in fact, would indicate precisely how hurt Fortuna had been by the left hook he had eaten. It was a move, this standing up, he made on instinct, with no thought given to it.

Bravely, Fortuna did have one final go in the fifth, even unsettling Garcia with a hook thrown from the southpaw stance, but it was ultimately all in vain and Garcia, as confident as he was quick, wouldn’t let up, constantly numbing Fortuna with ramrod right crosses thrown like jabs.

This particular punch would cut through Fortuna’s guard in the sixth and was followed immediately by a hook, the combination of which was enough to see Fortuna collapse to the canvas for a third time. On this occasion, with his gum shield again spat out, Fortuna, 37-4-1 (26), remained on his knee for the duration of the referee’s count.

All in all, it was an impressive win for Garcia, both on paper and in reality, and it pocketed him a reported $2 million. However, anybody watching the Californian’s destruction of Fortuna tonight would have come away knowing no more about Garcia than they did going in, making it a learning fight for Garcia and Garcia only.

The fights of interest are still elsewhere. They are the fights Garcia mentions in order to trend on social media but has so far yet to commit to actually taking. They are fights against the likes of Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney and even Teofimo Lopez, whom he also declared an interest in fighting should Davis decline. They are fights considered to be step-ups, but ones surely manageable for a 23-year-old with 23 pro fights to his name.

This, make no mistake, is not a 23-year-old Fernando Vargas stepping up to fight Félix “Tito” Trinidad in December 2000. Far from it. Instead, should Garcia eventually fight Davis, or Haney, or Lopez, he would be fighting someone whose level of experience is not too dissimilar to his own; a fighter almost as unproven as him. Because, let’s face it, each of these twentysomething men are just prospects whose elevation to “champion” or “superstar” status has been facilitated by both the vast amount of “world titles” on offer and the rise of social media. They are superstars because they tell you they are superstars, not because of anything they have done so far in the ring.

Lopez dethroning Vasyl Lomachenko was noteworthy, of course it was, which, in turn, makes Haney dethroning George Kambosos (Lopez’s conqueror) noteworthy as a result, but these men are still not to be confused with pound-for-pound superstars or even long-reigning world champions. They are, for the most part, talented young fighters whose successes have been brief and fleeting and, whether noteworthy or not, rarely warrant the esteem in which they hold themselves.

Unlike in previous generations, when the contender’s fear had everything to do with being damaged or exposed by an established champion, the fear with this current crop of lightweights and super-lightweights seems to be more akin to a fear of silence, or good old irrelevance. After all, for as long as they avoid each other, they can tell you and their social media followers how great they are. And today, when words often speak louder than actions, that’s preferable to the risk required to prove greatness in the ring.