One undisputed masterpiece has already emerged from the sleepy streets of Victorville, where clean air and picturesque sunsets are framed by spectacular mountain vistas.

Back in 1940, screenwriters Herman J. Mankiewicz and John Houseman wrote the first two drafts of the cinematic classic ‘Citizen Kane’ in the Southern Californian high desert city, while residing in splendid seclusion on the vast North Verde Ranch.

Six-and-a-half decades later, the seven-year-old Ryan Garcia began his pugilistic journey in somewhat more cramped and less salubrious surroundings, namely a small garage in Victorville’s sprawling suburbs, fuelled by dreams of fistic – as opposed to cinematic – immortality.

“I’ve trained hard,” Garcia said earlier this month. “Since I was seven years old training with my dad in my garage, I’ve never taken a break.”

Father Henry is no longer the main man in Garcia’s corner – that role has now passed to Mexican master trainer Eddy Reynoso – but the young Garcia’s immense belief in his own abilities and destiny has not wavered since those early days.

“I don’t look strong,” the lean and clean-cut Garcia has admitted. “I’m not the guy who’s looking mean, angry. But there’s something inside me that has this fire, this belief.

“There’s this energy inside me that when I throw a shot it comes all out. It only comes out when I’m throwing punches.”

Remarkably, considering he has never fought in professional world class, let alone for a world title, Garcia is – among certain demographics – the most famous and marketable pugilist in the world. He has over 7.8 million followers on Instagram and nearly half a million on Twitter, while videos on his YouTube channel regularly clock up in excess of two million views.

Garcia has gained a vast following across social platforms, but can he fight?
Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.

A recent anecdote told to Boxing Social by Joe Markowski, the EVP of DAZN, the streaming service with the broadcast rights to Garcia’s fights, further reinforces the vast potential and appeal of the 22-year-old social media sensation.

“I recently saw a great Instagram post that I think Ryan or Golden Boy had reposted,” Markowski said. “A middle-aged dad who is a massive boxing fan in Texas, a Mexican-American guy, had screenshotted a conversation with his daughter who is 12.

“His daughter had said to him: ‘Ryan’s fighting in Dallas on January 2. Can we go?’  The dad’s reaction was: ‘How did you know about this?’ Her reply was along the lines of: ‘Come on, dad, I follow Ryan on Instagram he’s gorgeous.’

“That’s a nice microcosm of Ryan’s stardom and potential.”

But can Garcia fight?

That is the million-dollar or – dare I say it – the billion-dollar question.

Markowski is a believer.

“[Garcia] has a dual mindset of boxing as his core business but he’s also a content creator, a model and a brand. But what I think is most impressive about him is he’s not been distracted by that.

“He is training with Canelo [Alvarez] in one of the best if not the best training camps in the world for technical boxing expertise. He’s very committed and hasn’t been distracted.”

If Markowski’s hunch is correct then boxing has unearthed a talent who could potentially transform the future of the sport by unlocking a hitherto largely untapped mass market of American teenage fans who do not traditionally gravitate towards pugilism.

That prospect is what makes Garcia – and his next fight – such an intriguing proposition. For his bout on Saturday night against Britain’s Luke Campbell will go a long way towards revealing whether Garcia is a phoney or – as his paymasters and promoters believe – the genuine pugilistic article.

The collective faith of Markowski, DAZN, promoter Oscar De La Hoya and Garcia himself certainly faces a stern test in this lightweight clash which sees Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs) take a quantum leap up in class against the experienced and seasoned Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs).

It’s a fight that was originally scheduled for early December, only for Campbell to be incapacitated by a positive Covid-19 test, a development that necessitated moving the event to the early days of 2021.

The interim WBC ‘world’ title which is up for grabs at the American Airlines Center in Dallas is the only aspect of this fight which isn’t genuine or legitimate. Placing that insubstantial and gaudy trinket to one side, this is a genuinely competitive contest between men currently ranked fifth and sixth in the 135lbs division by Boxing Social.

It is also a fight that provides a classic – almost stereotypical – series of contrasts in style and personality.

Garcia’s brash, pretty-boy image, cultivated and promoted by social media, has turned him – in the estimation of the complex algorithm developed by data specialists Nielsen – into the 12th most marketable active athlete in the world (only two other boxers featured in the company’s recently unveiled top 50 – Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury).

Since turning pro aged just 17 in 2016, Garcia has assembled a highlight reel of impressive knockout victories and he is keen to add Campbell to this roll call, having stated – with typical bombast: “I cannot wait to punish Luke Campbell. I want to break his eye. I want to break his bones. I want to break everything off of him.”

But here’s the rub – among Garcia’s 20 victories and 17 knockout victims thus far there are precisely zero opponents of real note.

The man in the opposite corner might have been genetically engineered as a deliberate counterpoint to Garcia: straight talking and no-nonsense, Campbell was a gold medallist at bantamweight (56kgs, or 123.5 lbs) in the 2012 London Olympics, and is a boxer whose decency and low-key nature have unfortunately but inevitably resulted in a far lower public profile than his talents and achievements warrant. (The sort of low profile that means a writer can write around 600 words of a fight preview before even mentioning him …)

The 33-year-old from Hull has fought at a consistently good level throughout his pro career, acquitting himself well in unsuccessful world title challenges against the classy skills of Jorge Linares and the extravagant talents of Vasiliy Lomachenko. In both fights Campbell was floored but fought back admirably, going the distance on each occasion before losing decisions on the scorecards.

A two-time world title challenger, Campbell is battle-tested at the highest level.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

This is a vital fight in determining the immediate and long-term career trajectories of both men. The consequences for the loser will be dire and possibly terminal, while for the victor a ‘full’ WBC title shot against Devin Haney beckons (although only the obtuse or awkward would venture that Haney is the legitimate champion at 135lbs – that honour clearly belonging to Teofimo Lopez).

Should Garcia lose on his first incursion into world class, he will face a long route back to respectability in the eyes of the traditional boxing media, who view his Instagram-induced fame as deeply suspicious.

“What’s at stake for Ryan Garcia is his whole career in the ring,” promoter Oscar De La Hoya has admitted. “I’m sure he’s thinking: ‘I have to win this fight. I have to prove [myself] to the boxing community. I have to prove to the naysayers. I have to prove to my tightest critics.’ There’s a lot of pressure on him.”

However, there is also considerable pressure on Campbell. Having already come up short in two world title tilts, a third is unlikely to be granted should he lose to Garcia. At 33, he is running out of time should he wish to join James DeGale, Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams as British gold medal winning Olympians who have also annexed world titles in professional boxing.

Despite Garcia’s paucity of high level experience, Campbell is adamant he is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m a world level fighter and I’m expecting a world class opponent,” he told Boxing Social magazine last month. “That’s all I think about. My mentality is nothing like: ‘This is a step up for him, blah, blah, blah.’ I’ve just got to be smart in there and don’t be careless.”

Shane McGuigan, Campbell’s trainer, has been more open in expressing doubts about Garcia’s calibre.

McGuigan outlined the compelling central mystery underlying this match-up when recently speaking to Boxing Social.

“Listen, he’s a talented kid,” the 32-year-old said of Garcia. “He’s got fast hands, he’s got good timing to go with the speed and we know how devastating his punching power can be… but he’s been boxing at such a low level.

“He has been boxing nobody – guys who are blown-up featherweights have walked into him and he’s been taking them out.

“There’s not one guy that Ryan Garcia has knocked out that Luke Campbell wouldn’t knock out. If you put Ryan Garcia in against even a durable, Yvan Mendy type [Mendy beat and floored Campbell in 2016, a loss the Briton avenged in 2018] do you think he would knock him out? I don’t think so.

“Luke has been boxing guys that are former world champions and he’s been picking them off and winning. Garcia has boxed nobody. He looks the part for sure but we don’t know how good he is.”

McGuigan makes some sound points, and it is certainly surprising how wide and firm a favourite Garcia is with odds-makers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yes, Garcia does have some amateur pedigree (a reported 215-15 unpaid record, almost entirely assembled at junior levels), and his hand speed, power, jab and left hook certainly look like formidable weapons.

However, the eye test can only tell us so much. If it’s substance we are looking for, then revisiting the fight in which Garcia was made to work the hardest for victory – namely his September 2018 majority points victory against Carlos Morales, should set alarm bells ringing for KingRy’s fans and supporters.

That night Garcia ultimately secured an unconvincing majority decision victory, but he was troubled on several occasions by Morales in the later rounds. By the end of the 10-round contest – the longest fight Garcia has ever been involved in – he looked a weary and almost spent force, which does not augur well ahead of a potentially tough 12-round engagement against a proven world level performer such as Campbell.

In the aftermath of the Morales performance, Garcia replaced his father as head trainer with Reynoso. The Mexican strategist appears to have smoothed out some of the rough edges of Garcia’s sometimes over-eager style and occasionally awkward defensive stiffness, but what impact can he realistically have from the corner if Garcia finds himself under serious fire and in trouble against Campbell?

Like Canelo Alvarez (left), Garcia is trained by the astute Eddy Reynoso.
Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.

This question can be added to the many imponderables that exist about Garcia: how – for example – will he react when hit flush by a world-class opponent? How will he deal with Campbell’s southpaw stance? (Of Garcia’s 16 opponents whose stance is listed by Boxrec, just one – Noe Martinez Raygoza – was a leftie). And, above all else, how will Garcia’s stamina hold up if the fight goes the full 12 rounds?

Save a shock early blowout if Garcia is caught cold, a late stoppage would appear to be Campbell’s likeliest route to victory, with few expecting the judges to grant the Englishman any favours on the scorecards.

However, I can also envisage a scenario in which Campbell dominates Garcia with his jab, avoids his hard counters and uses his know-how and ring savvy to box his way to a clear and convincing decision victory.

As for Garcia, it is vital that he displays patience and does not waste his shots. Campbell is durable and hard to deter. In each of his three defeats he hit the canvas but neither Mendy, Linares or Lomachenko could keep him there.

If Garcia hurts him, the Mexican-American must resist the temptation to wildly or rashly seek a stoppage, as this could lead to him punching himself out.

Predicting the outcome of a fight such as this – where one fighter has virtually no reliable or discernible form line – is fraught with peril.

At the end of the day my final pick comes down to nothing more than instinct.

My hunch is that despite his overblown rhetoric and dismissal of Campbell (sample quote: “What experience does he have? Every time he stepped up, he lost. He even lost to a guy we never heard of”), Garcia is aware of the threat he faces in this fight and – more to the point – so is Reynoso.

All the betting value in this fight is with the established performer in Campbell. One bookmaker was offering a tempting 40-1 for the Brit to win in rounds 10-12 – surely over generous odds for a fight which feels to me like a coin-toss of a contest.

But I think that Garcia possesses skills and attributes which could well justify the hype and social media noise in the years to come.

As such I believe he can deter Campbell early on with big shots before knocking him down in the mid to later rounds and hanging on through some potentially grim moments for a points win.

Sometimes a hunch is all we have to go on – and that’s what makes this first big fight of 2021 such an enticing and potentially unpredictable proposition.

Main image: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.