One Left Hook From Ryan Garcia Changed Everything

Is it an exaggeration to say that a left hook 40 seconds into Round 1 of Ryan Garcia-Devin Haney changed the previously all-but-destined outcome of the fight – a Haney win?

Besides that left hook, Garcia didn’t have many moments in the first five rounds. All three judges gave “KingRy” the first round and Haney the next four. Haney even staggered an off-balance Garcia with a hard left hand in the third. After five, many of us were thinking Garcia was teetering on the brink of collapse. Some had even predicted a disqualification when Garcia, who had shown alarming signs of mental collapse in a bizarre promotion, finally hit his breaking point. 

Instead, Garcia threw almost two dozen unanswered punches to open the sixth, grabbing that round on two scorecards. Then he commenced a brutal beating of Haney in the seventh, dropping and nearly stopping him right there, before additional knockdowns in the 10th and 11th sealed an eventual majority decision win.

What kept Garcia going after those first five rounds?

I believe it was the knowledge from Round 1 that he could hit and hurt Haney. Garcia is as synonymous with his left hook as Shakur Stevenson is with overusing Twitter. It was no secret what punch he was going to try to hurt Haney with. Haney, being the smart boxer he is, was supposed to take away that left hook with few issues, especially given it was so clearly Garcia’s favorite weapon.

Instead, Haney got caught almost immediately. Garcia, who knew he hadn’t prepared as hard as Haney had, suddenly had cold, hard proof that he could hurt this guy – and badly. Maybe even more importantly: he learned that Haney wasn’t guarding the left hook with as much discipline as everyone expected. Without that evidence, I doubt that Garcia throws a barrage of almost two dozen unanswered punches to open the sixth, or comes on so strong down the stretch. Simultaneously, Haney received an early, unwelcome reminder of his vulnerable chin. 

During that stretch of early rounds, Garcia didn’t have much going for him. But it was that moment 40 seconds in, when he wobbled Haney with a left hook, that gave him hope. If a boxer lands a punch once, it’s an automatic signal that they can do it again. Sure enough, in the seventh, Garcia landed the left hook again, this time putting Haney down. And again in the 10th. And again in the 11th. Just like that, Garcia ran away with the fight.

Garcia has been on the receiving end of a moment like this, too. When he fought Gervonta “Tank” Davis almost a year ago, Garcia scored with some hard shots in the second round, forcing Davis to hold to stop the barrage. When Garcia thought he had his man hurt, he launched a series of Hail Mary left hooks – one, two, three. Davis picked up on the pattern, ducked under the third and floored Garcia with a perfect counter left hand.

That blow, landing just when Garcia thought he was in charge, shattered his confidence. In that fight, he spent the third, fourth and fifth rounds boxing tentatively and allowing Davis, who immediately had ironclad confidence that he was the puncher to fear, to dictate the terms of the fight. When Garcia finally did open back up, Davis landed the body shot that kept Garcia down for the count.

Important caveat: Whereas Garcia blew past the 140-pound weight limit for the Haney fight and came into the ring looking like a middleweight, Tank forced him to squeeze down to a 136-pound catchweight and didn’t let him rehydrate over 146. Garcia also went into the fight with a rib injury. Still, Garcia’s problem in that fight wasn’t that he landed his left hook on Davis and couldn’t hurt him; it was that he never found a home for his favorite punch. In fact, Garcia looked toothless for much of the Davis fight compared to the raw aggression he showed against Haney.

Along with the fact that Davis packs much more power than Haney, I think that second-round knockdown made a huge difference. If not for it, or for Garcia rocking Haney early in their fight, maybe the results for Davis-Garcia and Garcia-Haney are quite different. At the least, the events within would have unfolded very differently.

Now Garcia’s left hook has altered the boxing landscape and rendered pre-existing perceptions obsolete. Imagine telling your friends a week ago that after this fight, Garcia would have the world at his feet, with the drawing power to fight practically anyone he wants at whatever catchweight he desires, and Haney would be in weight-class purgatory. (He had trouble squeezing down to 140, but his chin now seems certain to crack against the likes of Jaron “Boots” Ennis at 147.) If Haney had won the decision most of us expected, he would be one step further on what previously looked like an inexorable path to stardom, while Garcia’s second loss would relegate him to Big-Name B-side status for good.

Garcia now knows that he can beat the crap out of Haney, as well as take his punches, without too many issues. If they fight again, Haney is going to have to fight twelve perfect rounds to avoid a repeat. But with his own confidence impacted by the three knockdowns and eventual loss, will he be able to put the pieces back together? In any case, Garcia will have the leverage to dictate terms for a rematch, and you can bet he won’t want to fight at 140 (or even 143.2) ever again.

Yet another ripple effect of Garcia’s left-hook fusillade: very few people are talking about the fact that this was a close fight. Have you ever seen a tight distance fight as high-profile as this with less controversy over the scoring? Garcia pummeling Haney down the stretch obscured the fact that he lost most of the rounds in which he didn’t knock Haney down. Mike Coppinger and Dan Rafael, two of boxing’s highest-profile writers, both scored the fight for Haney – and were immediately ridiculed on Twitter. Coppinger is even backtracking, admitting that he probably got the scoring of the sixth and 12th rounds wrong. Chris Mannix had the fight a draw, as did one of the three official judges.

Even crazier than all that: Bill and Devin Haney themselves have yet to make a peep about the scoring.

But because of the damage that left hook inflicted on Haney, we aren’t talking about a close fight. I’ve spent a truly alarming amount of time reading and listening to Haney-Garcia recaps, and besides on Morning Kombat’s Monday morning show, I have not heard a single mention of Robin Taylor’s questionable 115-109 card for Garcia. Taylor gave Garcia every round after the fifth – meaning Garcia would have won on her card with no knockdowns. The fight ended with Garcia so emphatically in charge that no one can put much momentum behind a case that Haney had a case for a draw, much less a narrow win, even if they can ground their argument in facts. People will just reply with a GIF of Haney crashing to the canvas from one of Garcia’s perfect lefts. 

Haney can rebuild and Garcia may yet find a way to sink himself, but it will take months at minimum to reverse the impact of this 36-minute fight – which all started with that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it left hook just after the opening bell.

One punch really can change everything.