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Ryan Garcia and Golden Boy appear to be at a crossroads

Ryan Garcia and his promoters at Golden Boy have been battling on social media, and it looks like more than the average fighter vs promoter dispute.

Ryan Garcia v Jose Lopez Photo by Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Ryan Garcia is a legitimate boxing prospect, but ask many fight fans what springs to mind, and it’ll be his social media presence.

Garcia, at 21, has over 208,000 followers on Twitter, and 3.4 million on Instagram. It’s a new world, and Garcia has built a massive following through social media, with a dedicated fan base that largely might not care much about boxing at all, but does care about him and his career.

This weekend, Garcia was supposed to be in action. He was scheduled to face Avery Sparrow on Saturday night’s DAZN card from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. It was an interesting fight — Garcia has talent, which everyone who isn’t blinded by a visceral hate of popular young people should be able to see, but Sparrow is a trickier, craftier sort of fighter than “King Ry” has faced to date.

Garcia and his promoters at Golden Boy had some pretty public issues earlier this year, but it seemed like it was, at least for now, water under the bridge. A fight was on, Garcia was going to be back in action, and business was getting done again.

But Sparrow was arrested and pulled from the fight on Friday, leaving Garcia without a dance partner for the show. And then everything kind of fell apart.

In an incredibly odd and unusual move, Golden Boy went to the media and said that they’d offered Garcia (18-0, 15 KO) a fight with Romero Duno, another lightweight who was booked on the show. Duno’s opponent Ivan Delgado had actually missed weight by over four pounds, so it wouldn’t even have really been costing someone who deserved it their spot on the card.

Golden Boy said Garcia turned the fight down, claiming he said Duno was “too tough.”

It was also reported, for what it’s worth, that Garcia was offered a fight with 36-year-old veteran Petr Petrov, which would have had to be a 143-pound catchweight bout given the extremely short notice. That also didn’t happen, obviously.

Boxing-wise, there’s plenty of good reason for Garcia and his team to turn down either fight on a day’s notice, without claiming one or the other was “too tough.” Garcia and his team prepared to face Avery Sparrow, who fights nothing like the aggressive Duno or Petrov, who would have been coming in with absolutely nothing to lose. Garcia’s a legitimate prospect and while Duno and Petrov are both limited, neither is a hapless bum, either. A wrong step for Garcia against an opponent he did not prepare to fight at all would be disastrous for a promising career.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Eric Gomez is 100 percent telling the truth here. Even if that were the case, it would seem a strange tactic from a promoter to sell out a rising young star with a lot of marketability like that. There have no doubt been countless times over the many years that prospects have turned down a fight for one reason or another, and probably many times because it was believed the would be opponent was, at the moment, “too tough.”

Even in that situation, the public wouldn’t so aggressively hear about it — a promoter still looking to do business with the prospect in question really never goes to the media and puts this sort of thing out into the world. It is, for all intents and purposes, an attack on Garcia.

For his part, Garcia took to his social media accounts and fired back:

“My promoter acted in a very unprofessional manner (pattern at this point),” he wrote, “saying things that were false about me. I’m a fighter and not afraid to fight anyone!!! My team tried tirelessly to negotiate a fair purse amount to save the show but my promoter has shown little interest in my career. I promise I tried for my fans.”

Garcia made sure to tag the company, Oscar De La Hoya, and Eric Gomez — those three accounts combine for a little over 1.9 million followers on Instagram, or about 56% of Garcia’s following.

One of the recurring themes in the Garcia vs Golden Boy spats of this year has been Garcia making demands, to put it one way — main event slots, what he believes to be a fair purse, etc.

This strikes many boxing diehard fans as greedy or arrogant, it seems. After all, this is a 21-year-old prospect, unproven at the higher levels of boxing, Who is he to make demands at this stage of his career?

Who is a 21-year-old like Garcia to make demands on money or where he fights on the card? He’s a guy who sells tickets, which very few 21-year-old fighters and frankly not that many fighters overall in the United States can in any significant number.

Selling tickets is important. Maybe not nearly as important as it was in the days when there wasn’t TV/streaming service money basically paying the full freight, but it still matters.

There’s a reason Matchroom Boxing are taking the KSI vs Logan Paul carnival show to Staples Center in November: it’s going to sell. And there’s a reason Dereck Chisora has ranted about why his fight should headline on Oct. 26 over the Regis Prograis-Josh Taylor fight: he thinks his fight with Joseph Parker is selling the tickets, not Prograis-Taylor.

Garcia appears to be someone who knows very well that he has legitimate value, that he’s a ticket seller in a sport largely still starved for them, and that his following, if handled properly, means dollars.

And historically, when fighters stand up against promoters and start making demands, you get these rifts. Mega-star, regular star, prospect, doesn’t matter. No promoter in any fighting sport is dying to pay the fighters more than they want to pay them, and when someone takes a real stand, one way or the other, that’s when things blow up.

Devin Haney v Zaur Abdullaev Photo by Anthony Geathers/Getty Images

You also have to imagine Garcia looks at fellow young studs in his weight class, like Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney (above), and sees their careers seemingly going just fine, without these problems, and with headline roles that their promoters are happy to push to the public.

Haney, 20, just headlined DAZN on Friday from Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Lopez, 22, has been aggressively promoted and marketed by Top Rank, and had his first ESPN+ main event on July 19.

If Haney and Lopez can get main event fights on major outlets without big headaches, why shouldn’t Ryan Garcia?

But let’s also be fair here from the possible Golden Boy viewpoint: Haney and Lopez have fought better fighters, and they may not see what Garcia wants as a “fair” price, purse-wise. And, all things being fair again, maybe it’s not.

One major issue, though, is that if absolutely nothing else, Golden Boy are almost surely playing a losing game trying to battle Garcia via social media and even regular media. Even if you think Golden Boy are in the right — even if they are right, I mean, let’s say Garcia and his team are legitimately making crazy demands — it’s probably not a smart move. Garcia’s fan base are not going to turn on him. At best, you start an ugly battle where everyone looks bad. At worst, you lose a one-sided battle where only you look bad.

For what it’s worth, Lance Pugmire of The Athletic reports that Garcia and Golden Boy are going to meet on Monday to discuss his future. It’s a situation you’d think Golden Boy would like to resolve, because prospects with Garcia’s marketability just don’t come along that often.

But if, in theory, they were to want to throw in the towel on this relationship, you’d have to think that Garcia’s popularity means he would have no shortage of promoters willing to potentially buy out his contract and get him in the ring on their shows. In this era of major promoters needing every warm body they can get under contract thanks to these massive content deals everyone has signed, a legitimate hot prospect like Garcia would have huge value.

It also has to be noted here that there have also been reports that Golden Boy and their real prize star, Canelo Alvarez, haven’t seen eye-to-eye in recent months. Canelo and Garcia now share a training team, and obviously Garcia would want to emulate Canelo’s success on the business side of the sport. You can’t discount the idea that there’s been some influence there, whether you think the influence would be a good or bad one.

But despite any reported or rumored problems, Alvarez is slated to fight Nov. 2 against Sergey Kovalev on a Golden Boy card. That deal got done. Canelo is big, big money right now, so Golden Boy and Alvarez worked it out, at least for the next fight. Ryan Garcia isn’t at that level, and there’s far from any guarantee he ever will be.

Still, it’s a sticky situation for both sides. Garcia, at 21 and with his career just really starting to get some real footing, probably doesn’t want to spend time on the shelf in a dispute with his promoters, who could play hardball with him. On the other hand, you have Golden Boy, who surely don’t really want to be at odds with Garcia, since he is a guy who can sell tickets and make money. And apart from that, they also surely don’t want to get thrashed in the media for this if they take the wrong step.

It’s a really intriguing story right now. Promoters and fighters disagree all the time, but the way this has spilled into a full-blown media back-and-forth is unusual. Generally, we hear rumors, we hear this and that, but the promoters and fighters will either deny it on the record or just not say anything on the record at all. This is brewing up to be something entirely different unless cooler heads prevail.

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