September 28, 2022

Ryan Garcia has become a polarizing figure in boxing, but fans and critics agree on one thing: they want to see the 23-year-old take a step up in his level of competition. To do so, Garcia first needs to get past Javier Fortuna in their lightweight clash on Saturday night at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles (8 p.m., DAZN).

Despite being young, Garcia (22-0, 18 KO) has shown tremendous promise with speed and power to go along with solid size for the 135-pound division. He also has amassed a large following on social media, making him one of boxing’s most visible stars while also offending many traditionalists in a sport that has dragged behind the times for decades as a fighter who “cares more about his social media than boxing.”

Garcia has done everything asked of him in the ring to date, with his lone stumble coming in a bout with Luke Campbell for the interim WBC lightweight title. In that fight, Garcia ate a left hand in the second round that dropped him to the canvas. Garcia was able to quickly get to his feet and got back on track before landing a beautiful left hook to the body in Round 8 that forced Campbell to take two steps backward before taking a knee and accepting a 10-count.

Garcia was set to face Fortuna in July 2021 but withdrew from the bout to address mental-health concerns. He then withdrew from a planned November bout with Joseph Diaz Jr., the man who’d stepped in and defeated Fortuna when Garcia pulled out of the fight. Again, Garcia pulled out of a fight, this time needing surgery to fix a hand injury. He returned to the ring this past February, taking a unanimous decision over a very awkward Emmanuel Tagoe.

While dominating overmatched opponents, Garcia has constantly talked up fights with the other young stars in the talent-loaded lightweight division, including Devin Haney and social media rival Gervonta “Tank” Davis. That level of step-up fight needs to come eventually, but it may not be after the fight with Fortuna.

“I’m not desperate for a 135 bout. I’m desperate to make the biggest fights possible, and to give the fans what they want,” Garcia said after the weigh-ins on Friday. 

“The best fight is me and Tank [Gervonta Davis] — that’s a crazy fight for everyone in the whole world. Everybody is going to be watching. That’s what I’m desperate for. I want to give the fans everything they want. That’s where my heart is positioned at.”

Fortuna (37-3-1, 26 KO) is a solid fighter who has held a secondary title at super featherweight while putting together a solid career that has seen him consistently hovering around the rankings at both 130 and 135 pounds.

After losing to Diaz, Fortuna rebounded with a first-round knockout of lightly-regarded Rafael Hernandez in February.

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Now 32 years old, the fight with Garcia may be Fortuna’s final chance to break through for a run at a world championship. He was set to face Robert Easter Jr. for the IBF lightweight title in January 2018 but missed weight, making him ineligible to win the title where he dropped a split decision. Fortuna was also set to fight for the vacant WBC title — a secondary title to then-WBC “franchise champion” Vasiliy Lomachenko and an opportunity that arose when Haney was named “champion in recess” but later reinstated — in April 2020, only to see that fight scratched in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Losses to Diaz and Garcia across a three-fight span would likely put an end to any hopes of another shot at a title at 135 pounds. For his part, Fortuna has expressed confidence and has promised to go for the knockout.

“There’s been a couple of times in my career where I left it up to the judges and it wasn’t a good thing,” Fortuna said at the final pre-fight press conference. “So it’s either he kills me or I kill him.”

“I have to knock him out,” Fortuna said. “I can’t let it go to the scorecards. Even if I drop him several times, I won’t win the fight on the scorecards anyway.”

The co-feature bout brings the return of Alexis Rocha at welterweight when he takes on Luis Alberto Veron. Rocha boasts a 19-1 mark with 13 knockouts. He’s scored three straight stoppages, including a TKO of Blair Cobbs in March for his biggest win to date. Veron, meanwhile, is 19-4-2 with three losses in his last four outings.

Plus, Lamont Roach is back in a super featherweight contest when he takes on Angel Rodriguez. Roach boasts a 22-1-1 mark with three straight victories. His lone defeat came on the title level against former WBO champion Jamel Herring in November 2019. His most recent victory came over veteran Rene Alvarado in December by decision.

Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the undercard with odds from Caesars Sportsbook before getting to a prediction and pick on the main event below.

Garcia vs. Fortuna card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

Ryan Garcia -1200

Javier Fortuna +750

Junior welterweight

Alexis Rocha -3000

Luis Alberto Veron +1300

Welterweight

Lamont Roach -900

Angel Rodriguez +600

Super featherweight

Ricardo Sandoval -1600

David Jimenez +900

Flyweight

Prediction

Fortuna is a legitimate fighter and a fair enough step for Garcia as he advances toward the fights fans truly want to see. Beating Tagoe, Fortuna and “JoJo” Diaz — assuming that fight follows the Fortuna bout — would not be a bad year overall for Garcia, but 2023 needs to be the year where Garcia faces off with an elite fighter in a division with no shortage of elite talent.

In a way, the previous paragraph is a prediction in itself. Garcia should handle Fortuna and do so with relative ease. Fortuna is small for 135 pounds and he can’t match Garcia’s speed and power, which makes it natural to look ahead to what is next for Garcia.

Fortuna isn’t likely to put on an ugly fight like Tagoe, who never troubled Garcia but made it hard for the young star to show off his best qualities. He will, instead, likely look to try and get inside and mix it up with combination punching. That’s a recipe for disaster against Garcia, who will happily meet him in that space when he’s not using his length to land clean shots, just as Diaz, who is far shorter than Garcia, did routinely against Fortuna.

Love him or hate him, Garcia is a legitimate talent and it’s hard to see how Fortuna keeps up with him. Pick: Garcia via TKO7

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