Ryan Garcia has resumed training after a sabbatical to address his mental health, and his return fight is already being planned.
That comeback bout could come this fall against Joseph Diaz Jr., multiple sources told ESPN. It will be a clash of Mexican Americans from Southern California. The fight, if finalized, could land at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the event would undoubtedly be a major draw. The potential matchup is in the discussion stages.
"I'm going to take him to a place he's never been before, physically and mentally," Diaz (32-1-1, 15 KOs) told ESPN. "Ryan Garcia, I feel like he's a very talented fighter but he's never been in the ring with the guys I've been in the ring with: some warriors trying to take your head off, not guys I'm going to put on a highlight reel.
"If this fight doesn't get made, it's not on my end -- it's on theirs."
Both fighters are promoted by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, a company based in Los Angeles. Garcia boasts nearly 9 million followers on Instagram and is a proven box-office draw, having attracted sizable crowds in Southern California and Texas. The Garcia fight, in particular, would perform well commercially given Diaz's fan-friendly fighting style and his penchant for antagonizing opponents.
Garcia, ESPN's No. 4 lightweight boxer, was scheduled to fight Javier Fortuna on July 9 but withdrew so he could focus on his mental health. The 22-year-old has been open about his experiences with anxiety and depression.
When Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs) pulled out, Diaz immediately lobbied to step in and fight Fortuna, then one of ESPN's top-10 lightweights. Diaz, a former champion at 130 pounds, moved up to 135 for the opportunity and turned in a career-best performance with a unanimous decision victory.
The 2012 Olympian looked stronger and more fit at 135 pounds after struggling to make the 130-pound limit. The 28-year-old was stripped of the title ahead of his February defense vs. Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov; Diaz weighed 133.5 pounds for that matchup.
His other title challenge came at 126 pounds against Gary Russell Jr., in 2018. Russell remains ESPN's top featherweight. Diaz entered ESPN's 135-pound rankings at No. 7 with the Fortuna win.
"He's been fighting guys a lot smaller than him and I feel like with me, he'll have the height advantage, but as far as physical body strength, I might be even stronger," said Diaz, who at 5-foot-6 is 4 inches shorter. "If not, we'll both be the same. He's going to feel my power in there."
A fight between Garcia and Diaz would be the most high-profile of each boxer's career. Garcia, long one of boxing's best prospects with his blend of incredible hand speed and powerful left hook, broke through with a knockout of Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell in January.
But Garcia has never faced a former champion; never faced a fighter the caliber of Diaz, a southpaw brimming with confidence following his own best victory.
Diaz applies nonstop pressure and has shown tremendous guts, fighting through a nasty gash over his left eye to topple Tevin Farmer for the title in January 2020. Diaz, too, suffered a cut over that left eye this month, but again, the wound didn't seem to affect him.
The cut required three stitches so he won't be available to fight until October.
"I think I'll stop Ryan in the later rounds," Diaz predicted. "My pressure and body shots will be too much for him. He'll be feeling my shots and trying to hold and hug but I think my overwhelmingness will be one of the keys to victory.
"Whatever Ryan Garcia wants to bring to the table -- if he thinks he wants to knock me out or does that pull hook that he does -- it's not going to work. ... Whatever he tries to do inside that ring, I'll be ready."