Ryan Garcia, the 2017 prospect of the year, appears to be on the verge of big things in boxing.
Since being recognized as boxing's top prospect, Garcia has moved up in weight from junior lightweight to lightweight and won six more fights in a row -- four by knockout -- while increasing the level of his opposition with strong wins against former world title challenger Jayson Velez, Carlos Morales and Romero Duno, whom he shockingly crushed in one round in his most recent fight in November.
This year, however, is a pivotal one for the 21-year-old from Victorville, California, who aims to continue showing that he is far more than a social media star with 4.8 million followers on Instagram. This is the year many expect Garcia to go from prospect to bona fide contender.
Most prospects of the year have gone on to challenge for world titles within a few years of earning that distinction, or at least stepped up their level of opposition to put themselves into contention within that time frame.
Garcia's year will begin against battle-tested former two-time junior lightweight world title challenger Francisco Fonseca in a 12-rounder on Friday night (DAZN) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) wants nothing more than for those watching that fight to compare his performance against Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs), 25, of Nicaragua, to the performances that former junior lightweight titleholders Tevin Farmer and Gervonta Davis had against Fonseca.
Farmer unanimously outpointed Fonseca (117-111 on all three scorecards) in a December 2018 title defense and Davis, who had been stripped of his belt for being over the 130-pound weight limit the day before the fight, stopped Fonseca in the eighth round on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard in August 2017.
"The fact that Francisco Fonseca has fought Tevin Farmer and Gervonta Davis, I feel that it will show people where I am," Garcia said. "They'll be able to compare the fights. I think that's why this fight is very important. The fans will be using it like a measuring stick. The media can use the fights to compare my skillset with Farmer and Davis against a similar opponent."
Garcia hopes to parlay a strong showing into a title opportunity. He also wants to fight Davis, who now holds a secondary lightweight belt.
"This year I plan to shock the world," Garcia said. "In 2020, I want to set a standard where I'm only fighting the best guys. I definitely want Gervonta Davis for this year. I've been pushing for that fight to get done. That's all I want -- to shock the world. The only way to do it is to do something hard. To beat Gervonta? That would be good."
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, Garcia's promoter, also has big expectations for Garcia on Friday night and in 2020.
"This will be a great night for Ryan Garcia," De La Hoya said. "He's in with a tough opponent. This year will be his coming out party. I think he'll be a world champion by the end of the year. He's getting stronger, faster, and wiser. For Ryan, we want the best for him -- Ryan in a world title fight against a top fighter for 2020."
Friday's co-feature matches former three-division world titlist Jorge Linares (46-5, 28 KOs) against Morales (19-4-4, 8 KOs) in a 12-round lightweight fight. Should Garcia and Linares both win, Golden Boy president Eric Gomez said a fight between them could be next.
That would be yet another step up for Garcia on his rise from top prospect to serious contender and, perhaps, eventually, world champion. He'd be following in the footsteps of many past prospects of the year.
Here's a look at how each of the other fighters recognized as prospect of the year over the past decade have fared:
2019: Vergil Ortiz Jr. (15-0, 15 KOs)
Then: Ortiz, 21, a welterweight from Dallas, was the slam dunk pick for prospect of the year. He is a pure puncher with a strong work ethic and ring smarts, not to mention he works with one of boxing's best trainer in Robert Garcia. He is also getting the job done impressively as he steps up his competition, which he did significantly in 2019 when he faced experienced veteran opponents and became the first to stop each of them -- former title challengers Mauricio Herrera (in three rounds), Antonio Orozco (six rounds) and Brad Solomon (five rounds).
Now: Ortiz is primed for a big 2020, which begins on March 28 when he headlines a Golden Boy Promotions/DAZN card at The Forum in Inglewood, California, against veteran Samuel Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs), whose losses have predominantly come against quality opponents, including Errol Spence Jr., Danny Garcia, Amir Khan and Luis Collazo.
2018: Teofimo Lopez Jr. (15-0, 12 KOs)
Lopez throws on Heisman jersey once again, this time after KO of Commey
Teofimo Lopez Jr. puts on a Joe Burrow jersey after defeating Richard Commey at Madison Square Garden, similar to when Lopez sported a Kyler Murray jersey in his win last December.
Then: New Yorker Lopez, 22, went from representing his parents' home country of Honduras in the 2016 Olympics, to prospect of the year in two years, to winning a lightweight world title on Dec. 14 with a sensational second-round knockout of Richard Commey, the best opponent Lopez has faced thus far in his career. He has scored several eye-catching knockouts, such as his first-round finish against Mason Menard and an extremely violent beatdown of former world title challenger Diego Magdaleno. A showman with charisma, Lopez has shown great power, hand speed and a ferocious fighting style.
Now: As quickly as Lopez was moved and as much potential as he has shown and lived up to, the biggest test is yet to come. He is headed to a fight he has been calling out for, a lightweight title unification fight against unified champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, probably in late May. It looms as one of the most interesting fights of the year.
2016: Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs)
Then: Lubin, 24, of Orlando, Florida, was an excellent amateur who many thought would go on to Olympic success, but he surprisingly signed a professional contract on his 18th birthday in 2013. He was moved quickly up the ranks -- some say too quickly, however. He was 18-0 but still a bit green when he challenged Jermell Charlo for a junior middleweight world title in October 2017. Charlo knocked him out harshly in the first round.
Now: Lubin has been steadily rebuilding and he's looked good since the Charlo loss. He has won four fights in a row, including a third-round knockout of former world titlist Ishe Smith, who had never been stopped before (Smith subsequently retired), and a one-sided 10-round decision against fringe contender Nathaniel Gallimore on Oct. 26. Lubin is due back in the ring in the spring, as he continues to put the Charlo loss behind him. He remains a good bet to win a world title.
2015: Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs)
Then: Spence, 30, of DeSoto, Texas, was tabbed for stardom from when he turned pro following his stint on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. So far he has more than lived up to the hype, unifying two welterweight world titles and emerging as one of boxing's best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, as well as a marketable attraction. He began to step up his opposition in 2015 with a series of good wins, then knocked out former junior welterweight titlist Chris Algieri in 2016 and Leonard Bundu in a title eliminator. That set Spence up for a trip to Kell Brook's hometown of Sheffield, England, to challenge him for a world title. Spence tore Brook apart en route to an 11th-round knockout victory.
Now: Spence has since made four title defenses, knocking out former titlist Lamont Peterson and mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo, followed by a shutout decision of Mikey Garcia (who moved up two weight classes to challenge him) and a split decision over Shawn Porter to unify two belts in a terrific fight in September. Two weeks after the Porter fight, however, Spence was in a terrible car accident. He faces a DUI charge in the incident and is lucky to be alive, but he will be back in action this summer, possibly in a huge unification fight with Manny Pacquiao, or against former titlist Danny Garcia.
2014: Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KOs)
Then: Not all of the top prospects have lived up to their potential. So far, Verdejo is one of them. He was a 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian with an aggressive fighting style and charisma that reminded many of countryman Felix Trinidad, one of the greatest fighters ever from Puerto Rico. Verdejo got off to a great start as Top Rank steadily increased his opposition and he became an attraction in Puerto Rico and New York. But injuries and inactivity combined with an August 2016 motorcycle accident seriously stunted his career. He fought only once in 2017 and, in his first fight of 2018, got stopped by Antonio Lozada in the 10th round of a major upset.
Now: Verdejo rebounded with three wins in a row, including a solid victory over former interim titlist Bryan Vasquez in April. Verdejo has also finally gotten more serious about his training, by linking up with trainer Ismael Salas and moving his camp to Las Vegas. Their first fight together resulted in Verdejo cruising to a 10-round decision over Manuel Rojas on Jan. 18. Top Rank says Verdejo will be back in June as he tries to move closer to a title shot and salvaging a career that once looked headed for stardom.
2013: Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs)
Then: Lomachenko, 31, a southpaw from Ukraine, was one of the most heralded prospects in boxing history following a legendary amateur career in which he went 396-1 -- avenging his only loss twice -- and winning Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. He turned pro in late 2013, and in his second pro fight in early 2014, he lost a split decision to Orlando Salido, who had been stripped of his featherweight belt for missing weight and fouled Lomachenko repeatedly. Lomachenko then won the vacant belt in his third fight in a masterpiece against Gary Russell Jr. Lomachenko continued dominating as he went up in weight, winning world titles at junior lightweight and lightweight. He has set records for fewest fights needed to win a world title (three, tying the record set by Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin, who won a junior welterweight title in 1975), fewest needed to win a title in two divisions (seven) and fewest needed to win a title in three divisions (12). Then he unified lightweight titles in his 13th fight in a lopsided decision over Jose Pedraza.
Now: Lomachenko is widely considered the No. 1 boxer in the world pound-for-pound, including in ESPN's expert poll. In 2019, he defended his lightweight belts by beating a pair of Brits -- former titlist Anthony Crolla by easy fourth-round knockout, and a lopsided decision over Luke Campbell in England, in which he also won a vacant belt that gave him three of the four major straps. But Lomachenko was quickly relieved of one of them when he accepted the WBC's "franchise champion" designation. Nonetheless, the plan is for Lomachenko to have another unification fight next, probably in late May, against titlist Teofimo Lopez Jr. in what will likely be one of the most anticipated fights of 2020.
2012: David Price (25-7, 20 KOs)
Then: The 6-foot-8 Price, 36, of England, won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics and entered the pro ranks with much promise. He had a good amateur background, he was big and powerful and he looked great in a big 2012, in which he steamrolled to the British and Commonwealth titles and scored early knockouts of former title challengers Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton. Then the wheels came off when we all realized that, for all of Price's talent, he simply had no chin whatsoever. He was knocked out in back-to-back fights by former world title challenger Tony Thompson in 2013, got stopped by Erkan Teper for the European title in 2015 and from then on was an opponent for others coming up the ranks.
Now: Though still popular with British fans, Price has been knocked out in all seven of his losses, against a list of fighters that includes Christian Hammer, former secondary titlist Alexander Povetkin, Sergey Kuzmin and, most recently, former title challenger Dereck Chisora, who took him out in four rounds in October. Price is 4-4 in his past eight fights with each loss coming by knockout inside seven rounds. I can admit it -- he is easily my worst prospect of the year pick of the past decade, and it's not close.
2011: Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs)
Then: Russell, 31, a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, and a 2008 U.S. Olympian, came into the pros looking like a seasoned veteran with the fastest hands seen in a ring in some time. As incredibly good as he looked fight in and fight out, though, he was matched against very weak opposition as he racked up 24 pro wins. When he faced Lomachenko for a vacant featherweight world title in 2014, Lomachenko toyed with Russell to win a decision. But that is still Russell's only loss. Two fights later, in 2015, Russell knocked out Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to win a featherweight title. Russell has defended the belt five times, including a decision victory against Joseph Diaz Jr. (who would later win a junior lightweight title), but he only fought once per calendar year from 2015 to 2019.
Now: Three of his five title defenses have come against lesser opponents, but Russell returned to the ring after a nine-month layoff on Feb. 8 and looked good in an entertaining unanimous decision over then-unbeaten mandatory challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar. Russell would probably be favored to defeat any featherweight in the world, but he says his inability to land a top opponent means he might move up in weight, perhaps even two divisions to lightweight, in search of a big fight. He would like to fight junior lightweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz or have a rematch with Lomachenko.
2010: Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs)
Then: Alvarez, 29, was 15 when he turned pro in his native Mexico in 2005 and won dozens of fights before emerging as a prospect. His first wide American exposure came on the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley undercard in 2010 and his first serious win came later that year when he starched former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir in the sixth round to really put himself on the map. Then came a meteoric rise that saw him win a junior middleweight world title, become a major star, lose a decision to Mayweather in a junior middleweight unification fight in a massive pay-per-view event in 2013, and eventually win the middleweight title from Miguel Cotto in another huge fight in 2015. Even more megafights followed, including two bouts with Gennadiy Golovkin, but a positive drug test from Alvarez forced the rematch to be delayed.
Now: After winning a majority decision over GGG in their 2018 rematch, the HBO boxing era ended and Alvarez signed a then-athlete record deal with DAZN -- 11 fights, five years, $365 million -- which he kicked off by moving up to super middleweight and knocking out Rocky Fielding to win a secondary title. Alvarez's next two fights have been huge ones: a decision win in a middleweight title unification bout with Daniel Jacobs in May, followed by a jump up two weight classes to light heavyweight to spectacularly knock out Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round in November to win a title in a fourth division. Alvarez, due to return May 2, remains the biggest star in boxing and is on his way to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.