RISING lightweight star Ryan Garcia had just scored the biggest win of his career. It was January 2, 2021, in Dallas, and he had rallied from a hard second-round knockdown to take control and knock out Luke Campbell with a hellacious left hook to the body in the seventh round.
Fighting for the first time in 11 months, mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic, Garcia was ecstatic over the victory. He celebrated wildly in the ring as stablemate and pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez cheered him on at ringside.
But for Garcia, who has not boxed since that electrifying KO, the joy did not last long. Something was not quite right. He was struggling with his inner thoughts and feelings, had moments that left him crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason and he thought about killing himself. His issues were bad enough that he withdrew from his next fight, announcing that he was doing so in order to deal with mental health issues.
“I’ll explain it to you the best I can,” Garcia told Boxing News. “I am comfortable talking about it because I’m way better now. After the Campbell fight I was on cloud nine. I was so excited to get back in the ring and do my thing. And then there was just a shift in my mind and I just couldn’t quite understand it, and it was quite weird. It was just that I started feeling more depressed and I kept feeling more like I was so lost, just lost in myself and in my mind.
“I thought I was going to be OK because I’ve struggled with anxiety. I’ve talked about struggling with anxiety. So, I was like, OK, I’m just gonna brush it off. It’s probably just whatever. I don’t know what it is. And then it just kept getting worse and worse.”
The 23-year-old Garcia, 21-0 (18), of Victorville, California, is doing well now. He is managing his mental health and rehabilitating a right wrist and hand he hurt in training that necessitated surgery in October and forced him to pull out of a November fight with Joseph Diaz Jnr. But Garcia is excited to return to the ring – the date pencilled in is April 2 – and he hopes to face a top opponent. His wish is to square off with Isaac Cruz, who gave Garcia’s dream opponent, Gervonta “Tank” Davis, all he could handle in a disputed decision loss on December 5.
But there was no guarantee that Garcia would find his way back to where is now, happy, motivated and talking about fighting again given the dark aftermath of the victory over Campbell.
Guadalupe Valencia, Garcia’s attorney and confidant, who also works with fighters such two-division belt-holder Jessie Vargas and heavyweight up-and-comer Frank Sanchez, noticed that Garcia’s enjoyment of the Campbell victory was particularly short-lived, but it took time for him to realize that it was related to the mental health issues Garcia would soon announce to the world that he was dealing with.
“After the fight with Luke Campbell he seemed to enjoy the victory just a little bit but not enough and so, in retrospect, now that I look back upon it to look for signs I realise that he didn’t seem to enjoy it and it probably was a result of these things he was going through,” Valencia said.
Despite signs that all was not right, Garcia signed in mid-April to take on veteran contender Javier Fortuna in a [WBC] mandated interim title fight that was scheduled for July 9.
“I was like I’m gonna get myself together and I’ll be able to fight,” Garcia said. “But my mind just kept on being so confused. I can’t explain it. It was like torment. It was so horrible I couldn’t even think straight. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.”
Later in April, just two weeks after Garcia had taken the fight with Fortuna, he posted to his social media that he was withdrawing.
“At this time it is important to manage my health and wellbeing,” Garcia wrote. “I have decided to take some time off to focus on becoming a stronger version of myself. I hope to be back soon and am looking forward to stepping back into the ring when I am my healthiest self.”
While Golden Boy Promotions and DAZN would go forward with the July 9 date with Diaz Jnr replacing Garcia and outpointing Fortuna for the interim belt that Garcia was stripped of, Garcia was dealing with his issues in therapy sessions not knowing when, or if, he would be able to return to the ring.
“When this was all happening and we had to cancel the fight nobody knew what was going to happen,” Valencia said. “My thought was we’re going to get through this. I also remember Tyson Fury, what he went through, and just being in the boxing world I know that a lot of fighters go through a lot of stuff and they make it back, and I just felt like Ryan’s strong, he’s got a good network around him, he’s gonna come back. It’s just a matter of being patient.”
It had all come to a head in late April, just two weeks after Garcia had signed for the fight and he had returned to training camp at Alvarez’s gym in San Diego to work with Eddy Reynoso, the star trainer he and Alvarez share.
“When I got to the gym I just burst out crying for no reason in front of everybody and I ran out of the gym. That was the moment,” Garcia said of when he knew he had to pull out of the fight with Fortuna.
It was embarrassing, Garcia said.
“Canelo, everybody, was there and I was trying to work out and I just couldn’t hold it in,” Garcia said. “I just burst. I just got out of the gym. I said, ‘I gotta go, guys.’ I was just crying and walking with my lawyer, Lupe, outside and I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me, man? I just don’t get this.’ I was walking with him for like an hour and I just couldn’t get myself together. I didn’t know what was going on. My body just felt off, everything felt off. It was not just mental. It was like physical. I just felt like I couldn’t do anything.
“I was doing my strength and conditioning and I just burst out crying. Everybody said, ‘You look off. What’s wrong with you, your demeanour?’ I usually come in the gym and I’m all happy and excited and laughing. Like I said, I just wasn’t myself. I told my people I’m gonna cancel this fight over this.”
Valencia remembers that day well and that long walk and talk with Garcia.
“We went to the gym and Canelo was there, Eddy was there. Everyone was there and Ryan started working out. If you saw him working out everything looked completely normal,” Valencia said. “Everyone was happy to see him because they hadn’t seen him in a bit. And then he cut the workout short and he walked outside, so I walked outside with him and he was having his breakdown.”
At that point, Valencia and Garcia took their walk to discuss what might be wrong.
“He just expressed to me that he didn’t know what was wrong with him and why he was feeling this way,” Valencia recalled. “He just didn’t feel normal and he didn’t feel like himself and he didn’t know why. We just walked and talked and I tried to reassure him that this is not something that’s happening only to him and that it happens to a lot of people. We discussed that we need to get him professional help and we did that. Lucky for me, my wife is a therapist and she’s been in that field for a long time, so I’ve heard a lot about it through my wife because that’s her field. So, I know that a lot of people have completely normal lives but sometimes something is happening inside that makes their lives different.
“I know this happens to people and the important part was to discuss with him that we need to get professional help because neither me or anyone else who was not a professional can help him get through this, so we just need to get him professional help and it starts with him wanting to do it.”
Valencia said Garcia readily accepted that he needed to see a professional.
“Ryan’s a smart kid. He’s young, but he’s very smart and he immediately knew that, yes, we have to get professional help,” Valencia said. “And so that was the beginning of the discussion about that and then we got him professional help and it’s been amazing. From that moment to where we are today, it’s like day and night. If you sat down with Ryan right now and talked to him you’d never know he went through that.
“Ryan has a great support network around him. His family’s very supportive. He’s got me. His parents are very supportive. The people around him completely understood and we got him the help he needed. For me, the most important part is wanting and getting the professional help because I think with mental health the biggest problem is people try to fight it off too much and not accept it and not want to get help because they feel somehow getting help is a negative thing and there’s a stigma to it.”
Garcia soon found himself in therapy working though his problems, which he said he now has under control.
“I went to therapy for a couple of months, extensive care and just, you know, talked about a lot of my issues,” Garcia said. “It did help me a lot. It helped me a lot and then I kind of just went into this mode where I accepted it. I stopped fighting against the current and just went with it and let myself recover. It’s kind of like, OK, you’re gonna die and you accept you’re gonna die. OK, I’m not gonna worry what’s really going on with me or I’m not going to try to find the bottom of it. It is what it is, and I’m gonna let it be what it’s gonna be. And I kind of just let it flow through me and over time it kept getting smaller and smaller and one day I was like – I don’t know what happened – but I felt like everything lifted off me and I felt kind of good. I kept going on with my life and before you know it, man, I started feeling better. It was a pretty good thing for me.”
But there were some very low moments, Garcia admitted. He said he thought about committing suicide.
“I had that in my mind,” Garcia said. “At one point the medicine they prescribed me, I was gonna take it all one day. I was really going through it.”
Garcia eventually turned the corner.
“He’s in such a good place now,” Valencia said. “I think he’s learned a lot about himself. He’s gone to therapy and he accepts that and he’s able to talk about it. I think it’s great for his career moving forward.”
Garcia sounds good and said he is happy and enjoying fatherhood. He has two daughters, ages three and one.
“I’m learning every day,” he said about fatherhood. “They don’t have no guides on that, but I’m loving it.”
Garcia is also training again, although he still can’t use his right hand full blast yet, and longs to get back into the ring.
“I plan to fight multiple times [in 2022] and we’re looking to get the ball rolling again,” Garcia said. “I had a great victory [last] January. I’m here to just forget all the things I went through and just be an inspiration for everyone that might be going through what I was going through in that year and come back with a bang.”