DALLAS—Ryan García was met with the toughest test of his career, overcoming the scariest moment of his career to prevail in the first big fight of 2021.
The unbeaten lightweight from Victorville, California was forced to overcome the first knockdown of his career to return the favor tenfold. García scored a one-punch 7th round knockout of former two-time title challenger Luke Campbell, earning the interim WBC lightweight title in the process.
García recovered from a 2nd round knockdown to drop England’s Campbell with a left hook to the body to produce a ten-count at 1:58 of round seven in their DAZN main event Saturday evening at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
García opened the bout working his jab, taking advantage of his height and reach advantages over Campbell who spent the early portion of round one fighting on the defensive. García drew a rise out the partisan, sold-out crowd with every punch thrown, including a chopping right hand which drove Campbell into the ropes.
Campbell looked to get his offense uncorked in round two, only for a right hand to miss the mark. The patience of the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist would pay off mere moments later, riding out a flurry from García to sent the 22-year old to the canvas courtesy of an overhand left. García—down for the first time in his career and fighting beyond the first round for the beat the count but spent the rest of the round fighting behind a high guard while looking to regain his senses and composure.
“I got too excited in the moment,” admitted Garcia. “I felt I could just walk him down, but he ended up cracking me. So, I had to adjust and calm down. I knew that I could beat him.
“I had to show that I was a warrior. I was a little dizzy with the knockdown, but I wasn’t worried. He’s not used to going forward, so I just knew I had to cover up.”
Cheers rained down in round three, the crowd looking to will García back into the lead. The unbeaten lightweight went on the attack, landing with right hands upstairs but with Campbell well aware of the incoming and able to adapt. Campbell reached with a left hand to the body, which was followed by a combination from García though with the Brit never abandoning from the strategy.
Campbell looked to take the lead in round four, throwing in combination but often falling short with his money punch. Garcia connected with a straight right hand to draw a rise from his adoring fans in attendance, replicating the moment later in the round before closing with a left hand and two right hands upstairs.
Garcia landed a right hand early in round five, countered by a left from Campbell. A right hand to the body by Garcia was too close the border for referee Laurence Cole’s liking, drawing a warning from the locally-based official. Garcia nearly paid the price for walking in with his hands low, minimizing a left hand from Campbell by sliding a half-step back, before ending the round strong with a combination which left Campbell retreating to the ropes.
The sequence had the crowd loud and on its feet at the start of round six. Garcia fed off of that energy, launching right hands as Campbell used the exterior of the ring to move out of harm’s way. Both fighters enjoyed success at center ring, Garcia connecting with a straight right before catching a counter left from Campbell. A pawing right hand by Campbell provided just the opening needed by Garcia to go back on the attack before settling down and connecting with a right hand upstairs and a left hook to the body.
Garcia would hit the jackpot moments later, driving home a left hook body shot which caused a delay action before Campbell hit the deck. The southpaw remained down for the full ten count, prompting a massive celebration complete with Garcia’s stablemate and pound-for-pound king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez joining him in the ring.
“My performance definitely showed a lot of people who I really am,” said Garcia, who landed 94-of-293 punches (32%) according to CompuBox, including 77-of-176 power shots (44%).
Campbell was game throughout but was once again left to play the bridesmaid in the end. The 33-year old Brit falls to 20-4 (16KOs) with the defeat, his second straight and now winless since March 2019.
“He’s very heavy handed. Even when I was blocking the shots, I could feel them,” noted Campbell, who had never been stopped in 23 previous starts. That was the hardest shot I was ever hit with.
“I tried and tried to get up, but I couldn’t. I felt him coming on, and I was moving back, and when you move back my body relaxed a little bit and that’s the exact time he hit me.”
García improves to 21-0 (18KOs) with the win, registering his 5th straight knockout under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso. The win puts him in position for a shot at WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney.
The name more so on his mind is fellow budding superstar Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (24-0, 23KOs).
“I want to be a man of my word. I want Gervonta “Tank” Davis next,” insists Garcia. “I am ready. People are worried about that one. I want Tank Davis.
Realistically, there exists an easier path to Las Vegas’ Haney (25-0, 15KOs) as both fight on DAZN and are on relatively the same timetable.
Regardless of who comes next, Saturday night left Garcia feeling like he was able to prove what he has said all along.
“Going into this fight I wanted to show people that you are not what people call you,” insisted Garcia. “You are what you choose to be.
“I chose to be a champion tonight. I didn’t let anything stop me from being a champion tonight. Even when he dropped me, I knew that couldn’t stop me from being champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox