With over 8.7 million Instagram followers and 1.16 million YouTube subscribers, 23-year-old Ryan Garcia is a social media sensation.

As a boxer, he has a skill set to match – some of the fastest hands in the sport and knockout power in both hands.

It’s no surprise, then, that his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, is one of Garcia’s biggest fans. The reasons go beyond the obvious.

Twenty-five years ago, De La Hoya was the Hollywood idol-looking fighter with an unblemished record and the reputation of boxing’s next superstar in the making.

De La Hoya hit it hard, eventually becoming the biggest draw outside of the heavyweight division.

Some are predicting a similar career path for Garcia (21-0, 18 KO), who is set to face Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1, 15 KO) of Ghana in a 12-round bout Saturday night at the Alamodome (DAZN, 8 p.m.).

“There’s already a plan,” said De La Hoya who, like Garcia, is from Los Angeles. “Today, Ryan is the guy who has all this popularity, who moves the needle. Can you imagine what it will be like when he becomes world champion?

The absence of a title is the only hole in Garcia’s CV, just like at the start of De La Hoya’s career.

Garcia has just completed a 15-month layoff, his last fight coming in January 2021 when he overcame a second-round knockdown to beat Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell of Great Britain by TKO in the seventh round in a career best performance.

He was expected to face Javier Fortuna in July 2021 but was forced to pull out to address mental health issues. A fight against Joseph Diaz Jr., scheduled for November 2021, was canceled after Garcia injured his wrist during a practice that required surgery.

“I don’t anticipate ring rust (Saturday),” Garcia said. “I was sharp throughout training camp.”

According to his team, Garcia has knocked out nearly every one of his sparring partners “in probably the best camp I’ve ever had,” he said.

Garcia insists he doesn’t forget 33-year-old Tagoe, who has fought only a handful of recognizable names and has been inactive since November 2020.

Garcia has drawn criticism for his lackluster competition, but he said he’s looking forward to testing himself against the top names in the lightweight division, fighters like George Kambosos, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis.

“The thing is, I’m young,” Garcia said. “Time is on my side. I will have these (big) fights. I have to win them, and I will.

De La Hoya faced similar doubts until his 1997 fight against David Kamau in San Antonio. Thousands of screaming women watched the fight at the Alamodome.

But De La Hoya, then 24, had still not earned the respect of Mexican fight fans who saw him as a pretty boy who refused to fight.

“What’s funny to me is the girls following Ryan now, guess who their mothers are?” De La Hoya reflects. “They were my fans when I was riding.

“Fighters like Ryan will always have something to prove. He may have a pretty face, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He has a lot to prove and he knows it. This kid has what it takes.

Garcia said the therapy helped him on his journey to self-awareness. His mental health issues included suicidal thoughts at one point, he said.

“I’m in a good place now,” he added. “I’m happy. I love boxing and I’m at peace when I’m in the ring.

De La Hoya applauded Garcia’s decision to seek professional help, as well as his recent decision to dump Canelo Alvarez coach Eddy Reynoso and replace him with respected veteran Joe Goossen.

“I was behind the move 1,000 percent,” De La Hoya said. “You’re talking to a guy who’s changed coaches about eight times.”

De La Hoya likes the state of mind Garcia is in at the moment after his absence to heal physically and psychologically.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders and his feet are on the ground,” De La Hoya said. “He knows what he has to do. It will only make him stronger.

Marlen Esparza (11-1, 1 KO) of Houston meets Naoko Fujioka (19-2-1, 7 KO) of Japan for the WBC and WBA flyweight title in the co-main event.

Other fighters expected to appear on the card include Shane Mosley Jr. and San Antonio native Goyo Morales.

WBA super flyweight champion Joshua Franco of San Antonio will serve as a guest analyst on the non-DAZN undercard streaming live on YouTube, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

Twitter: @johnfwhisler