From the moment the fight was announced, Ryan Garcia vs. Luke Campbell was going to boil down to one major talking point: whether or not Garcia is ready to step up and prove he's the real deal as an elite boxer and not just a social media star.
But the interim WBC lightweight title that's on the line on Saturday in Dallas isn't just going to be handed to Garcia. For Campbell, who has suffered losses in both of his previous world title fights, against Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares, it's one more chance to prove he can step up to the task and not fade in the spotlight of a big moment.
And there's no doubt about it -- the first major boxing card of 2021 is a big moment. We've seen this type of fight before -- the young phenom against a guy with enough experience to challenge him and give him trouble. And it might be only Garcia's second headlining fight, but there are many reasons to believe he's up to the task and prove he has the skills to back it all up.
In his most recent fight, his first main event, 22-year-old Garcia took less than two minutes to land a highlight-reel knockout against Francisco Fonseca back in February.
In the boxing world, we talk about experience, how being the veteran and fighting all of those rounds is a big deal. In some cases, it is. But not this one. Garcia is younger. He's bigger. He's stronger. He's faster. He has exceptional timing.
We've seen Campbell, and it seems pretty safe to say we know who and what he is as a fighter. He has wilted in the spotlight. We saw it against Linares, when he fought tough through the middle rounds but couldn't finish strong and lost that split decision. We saw it when he fought against Lomachenko, flashing some nice punches early but not being able to stretch that through the whole fight.
It just seems somewhere along the way he loses focus and concentration.
Campbell, stylistically, is not the type of fighter who should give Garcia problems, at all. Campbell is a technical boxer who does his best work when he's digging down to the body and being a little more aggressive. But he doesn't stay with that. He can't sustain the type of pressure needed to beat the timing of Garcia.
I think Garcia will face some difficult challenges moving forward, even though he's shown that he is a great fighter, and he's only getting better. I don't think Campbell is the guy who can exploit the flaws Garcia currently shows, but there are a few. He fights with his chin straight up in the air. A lot of times Garcia locks his knees, and he stands straight up. He doesn't take pressure all too well.
The reason I'm so confident about what Garcia can do comes from how I break down fights. I'm looking at five criteria, and while it's not an exact science, I think it's a pretty good way to sketch out how a fight will play out most of the time.
No. 1: Which fighter is smarter -- who knows when to fight, and when not to fight?
I have to go with Garcia on this. He knows when he has to box, when to fight, when to smother, when to tie up. He's smart in there. He's undefeated for a reason. Campbell might flash some of these skills, especially when he's going down to the body, but he doesn't pace himself well.
No. 2: Who can handle making adjustments as the fight goes on?
Admittedly, we haven't seen much of Garcia having to adjust, because he catches guys early. He has superior timing. He knocks guys out. I've seen Campbell getting knocked down against a smaller guy, with Lomachenko. He went down against Linares, who is not known as a big power puncher. Garcia has punching power and speed, and I think that projects to him finding the spots he has to and making the right decisions and adjustments when they have to be made.
No. 3: Who has better concentration, conditioning and stamina?
Garcia, no question. He went the distance only once, in a 10-round fight, and this will be his third 12-round fight. The first two didn't get out of the first round. Campbell, on the other hand, fades in the second half of fights. That's his M.O., especially in the big moments. He doesn't seem to have the conditioning and concentration to go 12 hard rounds.
No. 4: Who is readily prepared? Who lives the sport?
I have to go with Garcia again. I could be wrong about Campbell, underestimating how much he lives and dies with boxing. But I can tell you this: Garcia is always in shape. I saw him in San Diego not too long ago. He looked trim, he looked ready and looked focused. Even as someone who has a bigger frame than a lot of other guys in the division, it looks like he won't have much of a struggle making weight. He's always preparing himself, always in the gym. He lives and breathes the sport.
No. 5: Who has the better trainer?
Nothing against Shane McGuigan and the work he does with Campbell, but Eddy Reynoso is a great trainer. He has Canelo Alvarez, which tells you a lot about his reputation and what he thinks of Garcia to be working with him as well. Think about Garcia's heart. Think about Garcia's skills. The timing he has on his shots. That left hook he possesses, which guys don't see coming. He has all of the tools needed to win this fight, and Reynoso is sharpening them all.
Prediction: Garcia has more to prove. This is Garcia's moment. Garcia should win this fight, and I won't be surprised if he catches Campbell and knocks him out. I think it would be the midway point of the fight, Round 6 or 7. He's going to catch Campbell, he's going to hurt him, and he's going to finish him.
By the numbers
Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research
5-0, 4 KOs: Garcia's record since moving up from junior lightweight to lightweight.
2:58: Total fight time for Garcia in his past two fights, a pair of first-round KOs against Francisco Fonseca and Romero Duno.
7.8 million: Total Instagram followers for @kingryan. Among boxers, that puts Garcia in the top four, behind three of the biggest names in the sport: Floyd Mayweather (24.4 million), Mike Tyson (14.3 million) and Anthony Joshua (11.9 million). Garcia recently passed Canelo Alvarez (7.5 million).
0: Number of times Campbell has been knocked out. He's been knocked down four times in his career and dropped three decision losses, but Campbell has never been KO'd.
33.5: Average number of jabs per round thrown by Campbell, seventh most among all active boxers, according to CompuBox data.
Twin title defenses for the Alvarados
Only two sets of siblings currently hold world titles. Most could name the Charlo twins -- IBF, WBA and WBC junior middleweight world titleholder Jermell and WBC middleweight world titlist Jermall -- but most would struggle to name the other pair.
It's another set of twins, but it's understandable if you aren't yet familiar with Felix and Rene Alvarado, who hail from Nicaragua. Felix (35-2, 30 KOs) is the IBF junior flyweight (108 pounds) world titlist and is on a 17-fight win streak that dates back to his two pro losses, which came in back-to-back title challenges. Despite them being twins, Rene (32-8, 21 KOs) fights at junior lightweight (130 pounds) -- a staggering 22-pound difference. Rene shocked the boxing world with a dominant victory in a rematch against Andrew Cancio in November 2019, scoring a Round 7 KO when the referee stopped the fight because of a cut over Cancio's left eye from a legal punch in the third round.
Rene's eight-fight win streak, including winning the WBA "regular" junior lightweight title, is all the more impressive considering Rene lost six fights in a 10-fight stretch from 2014 through 2017, although most came against strong competition, including his first fight against Cancio and a decision loss to Yuriorkis Gamboa.
On the Garcia-Campbell undercard, both fighters put their titles on the line. Felix defends against DeeJay Kriel (16-1-1, 8 KOs), who has been unbeaten in 17 fights (almost exclusively in his native South Africa) since losing his pro debut. Rene squares off with Roger Gutierrez (24-3-1, 20 KOs) in a rematch of a 2017 fight won by Rene.
Title fight: Ryan Garcia vs. Luke Campbell, 12 rounds, for the vacant WBC interim lightweight title
Title fight: Rene Alvarado vs. Roger Gutierrez, 12 rounds, for Alvarado's WBA "regular" junior lightweight title
Title fight: Felix Alvarado vs. DeeJay Kriel, 12 rounds, for Alvarado's IBF junior flyweight title
Raul Curiel vs. Ramses Agaton, 10 rounds, welterweights
Franchon Crews-Dezurn vs. Ashleigh Curry, eight rounds, super middleweights
Alex Rincon vs. Sergio Lucio Gonzalez, six rounds, junior middleweights
Sean Garcia vs. Rene Marquez, four rounds, lightweights
Asa Stevens vs. Francisco Bonilla, four rounds, bantamweights
Tristan Kalkreuth vs. Jorge Armando Martinez, four rounds, cruiserweights
Tim Fiorvanti contributed in this report.