Gervonta Davis was going through the movements during an interview in May when a sentence caught his attention.
Davis is one of the young and emerging stars of boxing in the lightweight class. When it was claimed that he wasn’t the best performing among the group of formidable 135-pounder youngsters that included Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, and Devin Haney, Davis stopped looking down, raised his head and threw in.
“I’m the top performer in this group,” Davis told ESPN. “They are in their own little group. I am sitting alone.”
Despite the conviction in his voice, it’s hard for the undefeated Davis to say this when comparing his career to date to that of his peers in terms of who he’s fought against. If he really wants to be unrivaled, he has to face greater challenges.
Take this weekend’s fight against Mario Barrios (Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV), for example. Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) is promoted to the junior welterweight class for the first time. Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs) holds a second belt in the 140-pound weight class.
Sure, it’s an interesting challenge. But even a knockout win against an opponent like Barrios doesn’t show where the 26-year-old nicknamed “Tank” fares against players like Garcia, Haney and Lopez.
Lopez has the best win in the group. Last year Lopez pissed off pound-for-pound star Vasiliy Lomachenko for winning three of the four big belts in the lightweight division. This victory started a trend for boxing’s four boxing princes – not the “four kings” who made boxing in the 1980s a promising group – to take on tougher opponents.
Davis knocked out Leo Santa Cruz last Halloween. Garcia stopped Luke Campbell in January. Haney defeated Jorge Linares last month.
Barrios represents a step backwards for Davis, even as Davis gains 10 pounds in weight. But it’s in line with a previously unpredictable career path.
The Baltimore, Maryland native has never been an uniform champion since winning his first title against junior lightweight Jose Pedraza in 2017. Davis was later stripped of his belt in 2017 when he failed to gain weight for a title defense against Francisco Fonseca.
Even Davis’s entertaining knockout to Santa Cruz illustrated the problem with his career strategy. The fight was for the WBA top belt at 130 and his “regular” 135 pound title, which perfectly exemplifies the limbo of the division in which Davis exists. But it also reflects how Davis has operated since he started boxing when he was seven.
His professional career is an extension of an approach in the amateur ranks: put the opponent in front of you and be as dominant as possible. It worked to a certain extent. What Davis lacks in a stacked résumé of opponents, he makes up for in star power. Among the four young princes of boxing – Davis, Garcia, Lopez, and Haney – Davis is arguably the biggest draw in terms of money pulling.
Of Showtime’s nine summer tickets, Davis is headlining the network’s lone PPV.
“He puts bums in seats,” said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, at the fight’s press conference in Atlanta in May. “People are drawn to the way he fights. This new breed of fans that we have, they love him.”
It’s hard not to wonder how much higher that cap could be raised if he started facing the biggest name of his generation and then defeating them. But while others crave greatness and take the struggles years will remember, Davis’ priorities seem elsewhere.
When asked if he felt he needed to be an undisputed champion or a united champion, Davis said he just wanted to be the best version of himself.
“There’s really no competition,” Davis told ESPN. “I never pay attention to what the next person is doing. I don’t care what they do. We’re not even on the same track. My focus is whoever they bring in front of me, I have to defeat them.” in top performance. “
It’s the opposite of what Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez did in May as they battled for the undisputed junior welterweight title. Each of them beat different champions to create the fight Taylor won by unanimous decision to win all four titles. Claressa Shields (twice), Katie Taylor and Jessica McCaskill are all undisputed champions of women.
The boxing world is moving more and more in this direction, with the most prominent stars in the sport wanting to prove that they are the best in the ring. It’s what Canelo Alvarez and Caleb Plant are looking for in July super middleweight and possibly by the end of the year what Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder want in the heavyweight division.
The fans who already support Davis are behind him, but there could be so much more. Boxing fans across the board want to see the best fight the best. And even with a formidable win over Barrios on Saturday night, it’s hard to call Davis the best in any weight class.
Only a victory over an opponent of the same caliber will earn him this applause. But Davis has to want it for himself too.