By George Gigney

THERE are a few different strands that have inadvertently tied together in the media this week, all relating to one thing: boxing’s duty of care (or lack thereof) to its fighters. The most alarming example of this has, once again, come from Ryan Garcia. The 25-year-old continues to raise concern with every post he makes to social media: he has gone from claiming he has been murdered to claims that he was raped by a family member when he was two years old, had proof of aliens and was abducted and forced to watch child pornography as part of some ritual.

Garcia, who in the past has chosen to spend time away from boxing to address mental health issues, is still scheduled to fight Devin Haney on April 20. This week, though, we’ve got reports that the powers that be are finally thinking about stepping in. It was suggested in this column several weeks ago that the least that should happen is a psychiatric evaluation of Garcia to determine whether he is mentally healthy enough to fight and, according to Garcia himself, the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) is planning to do just that.

As the governing body responsible for Haney-Garcia, the NYSAC has made plans for what Garcia refers to as a “mental evaluation.” He isn’t happy about it.

“I’m gonna sue the NYC commission and I’m saying this why?” he began in a series of videos posted to social media. “They’re trying to challenge me for a mental evaluation. I said, ‘OK, what is your premises [sic] for the mental evaluation?’ ‘Well, your tweets and posts.’ I said, ‘Is it not my U.S. constitutional right to have free speech?’ So, because I’m tweeting what I’m tweeting, that’s premises [sic] for a mental evaluation? That’s curious.

“Now you’re trying to mess with my constitutional rights. Now I’m going to sue you. I’m going to sue for defamation of character actually.”

The NYSAC has given no word on whether or not it intends to try and assess Garcia’s mental health. But it surely has to – there is no way that everything we’ve seen from Garcia in recent weeks is just an act to try and promote the Haney fight, as some have suggested. He’s very clearly going through something and somebody needs to step in and provide the support he needs.

WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman told talkSPORT that his organisation is in dialogue with the NYSAC about Garcia, as the WBC ‘world’ super-lightweight title is set to be on the line for the Haney bout. He said that the WBC are “addressing” the situation – though didn’t specify how – and also said that he feels Garcia will be fit to fight on April 20. How he’s come to that conclusion is anyone’s guess, but it’s perhaps unwise for us to look to the WBC for a sensible resolution on this one.

Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia

The question now is whether the NYSAC will actually step in and take the necessary precautions and, if it does, what the outcome will look like. If a mental health assessment takes place and deems Garcia is not fit to fight, the NYSAC will have to pull the fight – but the organisers of the bout could just seek to stage it somewhere else.

And those involved in staging the fight have made no comment about Garcia’s erratic behaviour. In fact, DAZN, the streaming service broadcasting the fight on pay-per-view, continues to publish articles online in service of promoting the contest. The most recent one at the time of writing focused on comments Garcia made to FightHype about being able to knock a prime Floyd Mayweather out in one round.

When a fighter – particularly one of Garcia’s stature – has a physical issue before a fight, they’re sent to a medical professional to get it checked out. If the issue is so bad that it would be unsafe for the boxer to go through with the fight, it is either postponed or cancelled altogether. Why is it not the same for mental health issues? Someone – literally any responsible adult – around Garcia should be noticing his behaviour and pushing for an evaluation from a professional.

But this is a sport that is allowing Mike Tyson, at what will be the age of 58 by the time the event happens, to step back into the ring with a man 30 years his junior. It doesn’t matter that the man he’ll be facing is a former Disney star who rose to prominence making a fool of himself on YouTube, Tyson should not be boxing in any capacity at his age.

In a piece for The Conversation, Stephen Hughes, a senior lecturer in medicine at Anglia Ruskin University went into detail about some of the health risks posed to Tyson. The most prominent Hughes highlights is a subdural haematoma, a tearing of veins on the brain that can cause neurological disability and even death.

According to Hughes, even just the process of training vigorously for the bout could be dangerous for Tyson’s heart at his age. What makes things potentially worse for Tyson are his recorded history of alcohol and cocaine abuse, two risk factors that Hughes highlights increase the risk of these damages to both his brain and heart.

But hey, what do the experts know?

Lastly, it was Carl Froch who proposed a potential solution to boxing’s inability to properly look after its fighters. Speaking to media at a lunch hosted by the Boxing Writers’ Club, Froch spoke about his concerns about Saudi Arabia’s increased involvement in the sport, and noted how some of the hundreds of millions of pounds the country appears to be pumping into the sport could go to governing bodies like the British Boxing Board of Control to help them in their efforts to protect the welfare of active and retired fighters.

It’s a smart and compassionate argument that will ultimately fall on deaf ears.

Carl Froch (GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

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