For as much talent and ferociousness Gervonta Davis has displayed in the ring during his rapid rise in boxing, it’s the serious transgressions away from it that have arguably held him back from being the superstar he and his team believe he can be.
His skills are superb. His appeal is undeniable. And his power is nothing short of stunning. It’s just his focus and decision-making—we’re talking about legal issues and failures to make weight—that has arguably prevented him from being the big deal his mentor was at the same age. But maybe, finally, at age 26, with the stakes only getting higher from here on out, the world titleholder at 130 pounds sounds like he’s started a new chapter.
“I really be into making sure I be at my best,” says Davis. “To be honest, I changed my number and everything.”
Skeptics will scoff at that answer since actions always speak louder than words. But considering the kind of clout and acquaintances he’s accumulated since he started blowing up as a young kid out of Baltimore thanks to those hammers he has for hands, it’s a sign of maturity. Davis is fortunate the out-of-the-ring issues haven’t diminished his considerable appeal, but when you possess the kind of knockout power he’s does, “Tank” (24-0, 23 KOs) will continue to be the A-side as long as he keeps winning and delivering crowd pleasing KOs. His next test comes Saturday (9 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV) at a new weight against Mario Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs). It’s an intriguing fight—for Barrios’s secondary WBA super lightweight belt—that the premium cable network didn’t hesitate to elevate to special status despite Davis’s past issues.
“Personally, I did a lot of stupid things and made a lot of stupid choices in my early 20s, and wouldn’t like all of them to be up for scrutiny in front of a television audience,” says Stephen Espinoza, president, sports and event programming at Showtime. “I do see some changes. I think part of it is becoming a father and realizing the responsibilities that come along with that. Part of that is just realizing what an opportunity he has within the sport and not wanting to squander that. I do see that he’s in a more stable and mature place overall and I hope we’re going to see less and less of the slipups as we go forward.”
Davis, of course, can look right at his mentor—Floyd Mayweather Jr.—as the example of how to navigate the business of boxing when the news turns negative. The two have shared a close personal and professional relationship for years—Davis fights under Mayweather Promotions—and the 2021 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee is always offering his protégé sage advice. Like not relying too heavily on his trademark power to remain undefeated.
“I just tell him to use your boxing skills,” says Mayweather. “You got crazy boxing skills. Use your boxing skills and don’t always depend on your power because you’re not going to knock everybody out. But using your boxing skills, you can break a guy down and then once you break a guy down you don’t gotta worry cause you can hit him with a power shot and he’s gonna go.”
We caught up with Davis last month before Mayweather met Logan Paul in an exhibition match and talked about the unique challenges of facing the much bigger Barrios, his incredible knockout power, and his close relationship with Mayweather.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
To kick things off, this fight’s going down at 140 pounds—the first time you’ll fight at that weight. How are you going to carry that weight into this fight?
We’ve got to see what he brings to the table. I gotta see first so I can’t really say. I know what I can bring. But I gotta see how he’s coming because he’s the bigger fighter. So I don’t want to rush things and just ease my way into the fight.
Talk about the size differential because that’s going to be a big theme of the fight. How challenging will it be facing someone who is so much bigger than you?
I’m going to test him out. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. I definitely sense that I’ll capitalize off of his flaws.
“I just tell him to use your boxing skills. You got crazy boxing skills. Use your boxing skills and don’t always depend on your power because you’re not going to knock everybody out. But using your boxing skills, you can break a guy down and then once you break a guy down you don’t gotta worry cause you can hit him with a power shot and he’s gonna go.” — Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Is 140 pounds as high as you can go at this point?
For right now. When I get a little older we can probably go a little higher.
Do you have aspirations of going up to 147?
Yeah, if down the line if that was the case and my team was for it, our main focus is getting past Mario Barrios.
I ask because we in the media always ask you guys about the next fight after the next fight. I’m curious if you have any definitive plans mapped out because you’re kind of floating between three divisions right now and could pick and choose whatever opponents you wanted.
Not really. I do have a plan, but mainly right now it’s getting prepared for Mario Barrios and being the best I can be. Whatever he brings to the table I gotta be able to overcome it.
In terms of that plan, is it about belts, is it about breaking PPV records, a money record? What does that plan entail if you can give me a hint?
Just be the best I can be. Just be the best Gervonta Davis that I can be and that’s really my game plan.
This fight has been billed as a career defining challenge for you. Tell me why.
Because he’s much bigger and I’m going up two weight classes. I just fought at 130 and now I’m fighting at 140. It’s just a challenge like we all have in life so that’s what I’m doing right now. Just challenging myself. If I say I’m great then I gotta prove it.
Some boxing fans moaned when this fight was announced as a PPV. We’ve talked previously about your desire to be a PPV fighter. Why does this fight deserve to headline a PPV?
But why do they just complain? It’s like when I fought Leo [Santa Cruz], Marrio Barrios is an undefeated champion. What about him? What more do they want?
The knockout you delivered to Leo was sensational. It was the best knockout of 2019. Did you feel a sense of vindication after you delivered the outcome many fans tuned in were hoping for?
When I went in there, it’s like another day. I always treat my fights like I’m going to the gym. I just want to make it feel like it’s another day in the gym. I was actually enjoying the fight when I caught him with that shot. I felt it through my body. And I ain’t feel like I threw the shot hard. But it connected. I can’t explain the feeling. It’s basically the shot when I caught [Jose] Pedraza. It’s not the same shot, but it’s the same feeling.
Talk about the adrenaline rush after knocking out a guy like Santa Cruz.
It’s just joy. You know that leading up to the fight it’s blood, sweat, and tears. You live in the gym. Just being able to put on a great performance like that, it’s like a relief. It wasn’t all for nothing.
You talked about Pedraza, I brought up Leo. Which knockout is your favorite?
To me, I’d say Pedraza, because he was someone that was a champion and that was my first big [fight]…I remember myself about to walk down the aisle and people was cheering and I closed the curtains back. I was just so shocked how many people was there and how many people was cheering for me. It caught me outta nowhere. It’s not just the fight, it’s everything—the building, the crowd, and he was another undefeated champion and that was my first opportunity. Just the whole thing, I can replay it back in my head.
You’ve developed a huge following—every time you fight Twitter’s going crazy, especially after you deliver a knockout. How cool is it to know you have all these notable boxing fans and famous faces rooting for you?
It make me work harder. Everybody love a winner. It just makes me work harder each and every day so I can put on the kind of performance I want to.
You’ve had relationships with a bunch of notable names in music like Drake and Lil Baby. Drake’s even done roadwork with you. I know the pandemic has made things a little different, but anyone roll through training camp?
This camp has actually been closed, or you want to say intimate. It’s been a little closed because we’re preparing to go to war versus a big guy.
What’s Floyd’s advice been heading into this one? Has he offered up anything different, whether it’s about boxing or life?
Sometimes I might come into the gym and Floyd be in the ring sparring and he’ll tell me to come into the ring and watch him.
He’ll show me things, tell me why he would do that while sparring. He’s like a teacher. He talks to me and I watch him. I’m a student in there.
You’ve been around Floyd for a while now. And you’ve picked up a number of things from him. But is it still amazing that you’re learning from him year after year?
A great student is someone who their cup is never full. When you think your cup full that’s when you’re going downhill. You get reminded everyday. He’s probably still learning, because no matter how old he is or how good he is, he can still pick up things, even if it’s not in the ring. We all need to learn every day. That’s why I’m so successful because my cup never full. Always halfway. I’m always willing to learn new things.
Why has the friendship, the partnership, the mentorship worked out so well?
Mainly because I listen. It’s just me going in there and willing to give my all. Growing up, there were a lot of younger guys, from where I’m from, they don’t want to let someone in. Or asking people when they need something because they scared. Once you let someone in and let them guide you in the right direction it can be much smoother for you. I’m cool letting someone in and guiding me the right way.
How much did you struggle letting people in when you were first coming up?
At first I was. I definitely was. That’s just natural from where I’m from. We shy away from people. The young men don’t have no father figure or someone that can actually guide them the right way.
Final question. What do you think about these social media influencers infiltrating boxing?
They doing their thing. What can I say about them? I’m a fighter. I’m not worried about nobody else, I’m good just minding my own and doing what I do and that’s put on a great performance.