On 22nd April 2023 Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis fought ‘King’ Ryan Garcia in a boxing match billed as It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada. While Garcia showed some quick hands and unleashed power punches he’s well-known for, Davis’ ring IQ was too much this time round. Davis dropped Garcia in the 2nd round and secured a knockout with a devastating body shot in round 7.
The build up to the fight was exhilarating as boxing fans around the world anticipated the scenarios that could play out among these two superstar athletes. Could Tank handle Garcia’s power? Would Tank eventually figure out Garcia like he did with Rolly Romero? What impact would the rehydration clause have? Both were undefeated in their professional careers and ‘one O had to go’. While Tank Davis came out victorious on the night, the fight was good for boxing. Two fighters in their prime delivered a fight boxing fans wanted to see. In an era of ducking, contractual disagreements and dream fights constantly falling apart, it was refreshing to see Davis and Garcia not only willing to test themselves at the pinnacle of the sport, but also making a dream fight happen.
Although the physical fight ended on the night of 22nd April, the story is far from over, particularly when analysing the shifts in attitudes, opinions and allegiances on social media. A large contingent of boxing fans are calling Ryan Garcia a quitter, expressing their disgust at his inability or even unwillingness to continue the fight after he took a knee in the 7th round. Social media platforms provide us with the ability to view the dishing of punishment without experiencing the pain associated with it, and then allowing us to comment on what we’ve seen. This detachment between viewing punishment and not feeling pain gives some people the impression that getting up from a devastating liver shot is easy. Why did Ryan quit? He could have got up and clinched Tank for a while. He could’ve beaten the count and ran round the ring until he recovered. These comments are lacking considerably in empathy.
It’s easy to watch a fight and gloss over the hard word, commitment and determination professional boxers have to put in to reach an elite level in the sport. It’s easy to call someone else a quitter when the commenter isn’t the one who’s had to go through a brutal training camp and be on the receiving end of that liver shot. A phenomenon of social media is that it renders many people susceptible to this disassociation. The ‘quitter’ tag that Ryan Garcia is being labelled with is reminiscent of similar criticisms thrown at Simone Biles when she withdrew from the Olympics to focus on her mental health. It didn’t at all appear ironic to critics that they were deriding the mental fortitude of one of the most successful Olympians of all time.
Fortunately this social media ‘disassociation’ doesn’t affect everyone, as many people chimed in with their experiences of being hit with a liver shot, and how they completely understand why Garcia couldn’t continue. Others rejected the ‘quitter’ label and directly confronted those criticizing Garcia; If you were on the receiving end of that liver shot, there is absolutely no chance you would’ve gotten up.
Another phenomenon that is augmented on social media is the precariousness of an individual’s reputation. Prior to the bout with Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia was lauded for his power and speed. Though he had been knocked down by Luke Campbell in 2021, he showed grit in weathering the storm and securing a stoppage, ironically by a punch to the liver. Many people predicted a Ryan Garcia victory against Gervonta Davis.
However now that Garcia has lost, many people are attacking his reputation as a legitimate boxer. Critics say he’s a TikTok and Instagram influencer, not a real boxer, and the reason he secured a fight of this magnitude is because of the number of social media followers he has, not because of his boxing skills.
This argument can be contested in several ways. First, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Many professional athletes have a large social media presence. Posting on Instagram or TikTok doesn’t make one any less of an athlete. Second, Garcia was posting TikToks and Instagram Reels before the fight, yet the narrative of him being an influencer and not a boxer is only gaining steam after he lost to Tank.
On social media, opinions are often taken to the extreme, and when it comes to boxing, there’s a certain mentality that says your career is finished if you take a loss. It’ll be easy enough to find people now saying Ryan Garcia’s career is over. However evidence suggests this isn’t the case. When Canelo Alvarez lost to Floyd Mayweather in 2013, Canelo took the loss as a learning opportunity and built himself up to be one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. But now, true to the capricious whims of social media commenters, many people are calling Canelo a hype job after his loss to Dmitry Bivol. On social media, reputations can rise and fall in an instant.
Perhaps among the more pernicious elements of social media phenomena is how, following a loss, attempts are made to ostracize a fighter from their heritage. Ryan Garcia is of Mexican heritage. Prior to the fight many fans viewed him as another special boxer of Mexican descent. However one can now see a trend in which there’s an attempt to disassociate Garcia from that descent. Comments are being posted about his inability to speak Spanish, how he’s supposedly “more American than Mexican”, and how La Raza “would never accept Ryan”.
It’s as if a loss by someone representing a community is interpreted as an attack against that same community. People on social media often forget that it was that very representation that drove the fighter to work so hard in the first place.
In the mercurial world of social media, a win or loss can make or break a fighter’s reputation. Someone who’s on top of the world can quickly find themselves being attacked for an underwhelming performance, even if they put the effort in and tried their best. When Chris Eubank Jr was set to fight Connor Benn in a match where Eubank Jr would be considerably weight drained, many people praised his commitment and how he handled himself once news broke of Benn’s failed drug test. However fast forward several months later when Eubank Jr suffered a knockout loss to Liam Smith; boxing fans en masse turned on him, calling him deluded and overrated.
A loss doesn’t define a fighter. Time and again, fighters who’ve experienced a loss have used it to their advantage, to learn and come back stronger. Social media is an outlet for emotive communication, and in a world as emotionally charged as physical combat, opinions and attitudes can be taken to the extreme. While many people have discarded their support for Ryan Garcia after his loss, other are sticking by him. Both Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia make the sport of boxing more exciting, and given the infuriating corruption and frequent cancellation of dream match-ups, they’ve done boxing a big favour. Garcia says he isn’t done and we can expect more from him in the 140 pound division. Davis is eyeing up a match with the winner of Devin Haney and Vasiliy Lomachenko. If other divisions could take a leaf out of Davis and Garcia’s book, boxing would be in a much better state.