Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Ryan Garcia's win over Oscar Duarte shows he has even more to prove than Regis Prograis and Devin Haney

Ryan Garcia’s performance in victory over Oscar Duarte was little more than average – he certainly didn’t surpass expectations.

The important thing was that he won – given that he was coming off of his first defeat, in April by Gervonta “Tank” Davis. 

But by recently criticising Shakur Stevenson’s performance, against Edwin de los Santos, he put himself under pressure against a more limited opponent than Stevenson fought that night. In fact, Duarte close to quit – which after saying Garcia quit against Davis meant that, like Garcia, Duarte did himself no favours at all.

Losing his previous fight wouldn’t have helped Garcia. He was also fighting for the first time under his new trainer Derrick James, and while tensions remain high between himself and promoters Golden Boy.

He has a comfortable lifestyle – which he’s earned via his use of social media, so there’s nothing wrong with that – but I’m not convinced that when serious questions are asked of him in the ring he’ll prove as brave as he needs to. It’s a shame if he isn’t – when he got up off of the canvas to stop Luke Campbell he proved so much, but the benefit of hindsight suggests that that experience actually unnerved him. 

Usually when fighters succeed in those circumstances they have more confidence in their ability to enter a firefight and win. But sometimes they can fear returning to those circumstances – like Hector Camacho when he beat Edwin Rosario in 1986. Camacho was talented enough to continue competing at the level he was already established at, but Garcia hasn’t yet won a world title, and he’s already becoming hesitant in the ring – such as against Duarte, which followed him struggling under pressure against Davis.

Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Garcia's win over Duarte shows he has even more to prove than Prograis and Haney
Photo Credit: Golden Boy Promotions

There’s different levels to what’s described as “quitting”. When a fighter’s beaten into submission and can no longer fight back as they want to, because it’s been physically beaten out of them, there’s an element of resignation, but when it’s not beaten out a fighter and they don’t want to take chances to win or risk the fight being beaten out of them, within boxing that’s close to taboo. Quitting seems more acceptable in other combat sports – MMA particularly – but in boxing, if it seems clear a fighter quit, that fighter’s almost permanently stained.

James is a smart trainer, but at this point it’s difficult to tell what influence he’s had on Garcia. Errol Spence is the fighter most closely associated with James, but he’s a completely different fighter to Garcia so we’re still learning about whether Spence’s fighting style is James’ style of fighting, or whether James’ style of training was to not try to reshape Spence. For all of his pedigree, it’s too early to tell how much progress James and Garcia are making together – it takes around a year to start to judge, and after a year there’s no guarantee the fighter will be better. Sometimes they’ll be worse. Either way, the overall influence takes time – and the victory over Duarte came too early to tell.

As with Golden Boy and Oscar De La Hoya, Garcia seems to have a habit of not getting on with those he works with. Some people relish drama, and get bored or struggle to live without it, and I’m starting to think that he’s one of them.

But his profile, and the fact he beat Duarte, means that expectations will grow for him to have a bigger fight. “Rolly” Romero therefore strikes me as the ideal next opponent, because at 140lbs there are some much more dangerous opponents.

Regis Prograis and Devin Haney, who fight this weekend, are among those. Prograis, at 29-1, is being slightly overlooked, but Haney’s seen as having more momentum – particularly after beating Vasyl Lomachenko shortly before Prograis beat Danielito Zorrilla. Both struggled in victory, but where Haney fought the toughest opponent of his career, Prograis fought a dangerous opponent very few knew, so it was inevitable they would be judged differently.

At 25 Haney is also nine years younger than Prograis, who showed deficiencies in how to close the gap against Zorrilla. He’s performed best against fighters he hasn’t had to do that against – which suggests that as good as he is, Haney’s athleticism and ability to change range could make him a difficult opponent. 

But it shouldn’t be overlooked that Haney can’t punch as hard as Zorrilla. Prograis might therefore be more willing to take risks – and given that they’re fighting in San Francisco, where Haney was born, he might need to. I’m not convinced Haney’s as proven a fighter as he’s being spoken of, but it’s perhaps right he’s considered the favourite. If he wins on Saturday – he certainly can – and does so convincingly it’ll prove a lot more. It’s certainly an interesting fight – and one that will answer a lot of questions about both fighters.

Prograis’ more proven than Haney but observers are wondering how much he has left. Haney has to prove that the hype is in line with his perceived potential. Haney has a potential advantage, in so far as this is his second successive fight against a southpaw, even though the approach will need to be different against Lomachenko – a featherweight who was fighting at lightweight and someone he could therefore take more chances against. Prograis is his hardest-punching opponent so he’ll have to respect that; even if Haney’s also big, and physically strong, he needs to remember he’s not as big a puncher as he sometimes likes to think and that it was trading with Jorge Linares that led to him getting hurt. Against Prograis he needs to stay disciplined.

The move to 140lbs should suit Haney, physically – he’ll look a better fighter. It’s at 147lbs, where I also expect him to eventually fight, that he might struggle with the size of his opponents. But again, the opponents at 140lbs are better than at 135lbs and, unlike Garcia, he’s being framed as potentially the best of them all.