Punchers are always welcome.
Punchers who take a few to get the job done are even more so.
26-year old two-time Jr. lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KO) is both and has emerged as one of the best ticket sellers in the United States. Davis has sold tickets in his hometown of Baltimore, Texas, California, and returns this weekend to Atlanta, Georgia for his second foray as a pay-per-view headliner.
It’s an excellent foundation, building a star who will only grow brighter, and richer, as he continues to win. Davis’s competition is quickly catching up to his box office development.
Davis was just 22 when he posted an eye-opening knockout of a Jose Pedraza to win his first belt. It remains Pedraza’s only stoppage defeat and, for a bit, was Davis’s best proof of fistic concept. Davis was matched with steady but relatively safe competition until last October when he made his pay-per-view debut against Leo Santa Cruz.
While naturally smaller, Santa Cruz stood out as one of the more accomplished fighters from bantamweight to featherweight in the last decade or so. Santa Cruz had never been stopped and showed up gun slinging against Davis. Santa Cruz won some rounds and made a good show.
Then Santa Cruz was sent to sleep.
The fight delivered for fans and was competitive enough to walk away knowing size alone wasn’t the story. The Santa Cruz victory cemented Davis’s position as one of the biggest young stars in the sport.
Another fan friendly outing this weekend (Saturday, Showtime PPV, 9 PM EST) against 26-year old Jr. welterweight Mario Barrios (26-0, 17 KO) can only further that. The two-division jump on the scale is a calculated gamble on the talent of Davis. While Davis is favored, the size, youth, and power of Barrios carry real risk.
Victory can carry intriguing rewards.
Davis is already one of the central names near his weights. A serious win at Jr. welterweight adds a new realism to Davis as an option for the top fighters in all three divisions from Jr. lightweight to Jr. welterweight. Moving up ten pounds will surely get some to assume Davis is done at Jr. lightweight now but that remains to be seen.
If it is the case, and Davis is merely choosing between lightweight and Jr. welterweight in the immediate future, he will do so at a rare moment where both divisions have lineal kingpins with all the hardware to go with it.
Teofimo Lopez, given the WBC’s current listing of franchise titlists at the top of the fold in their ratings (not initially the case), can be seen as holding all four primary sanctioning body titles at lightweight.
Josh Taylor completed a rare four-belt unification of Jr. welterweight just weeks ago.
Put another way, until proven otherwise, Lopez and Taylor are more than just beltholders right now. They are world champions, singularly, in the most classic sense 2021 can muster. They got there by beating the best available at their weights.
It’s something Davis hasn’t quite done yet. While he is viewed as no worse than 1A at Jr. lightweight with Oscar Valdez (as an example TBRB and ESPN rate Valdez #1; Ring and Boxing News favor Davis), there is still an element of speculation to Davis’s run. His resume is building now. This weekend, he can collect one of the WBA sub-titles at Jr. welterweight (Davis also holds the WBA’s secondary belt at lightweight) and in Barrios he meets a consensus top ten foe in the higher division.
Barrios isn’t proven the way Lopez and Davis are right now.
At 26, time is on Davis’s side but the window to face either Lopez or Taylor for all the trophies possible might not be.
No one could ignore the obvious business dilemma in making either fight. Lopez and Taylor remain with Top Rank while Davis is with Mayweather Promotions and has done his business on Showtime. In house, Top Rank can do serious fights without Davis and Davis has options on Showtime.
Davis could fight anyone from Chris Colbert to Regis Prograis if he wins this weekend.
Taylor can go up the scale and challenge welterweight beltholder Terence Crawford with the added bonus of bragging rights between the two men who have four-belted 140 lbs. Taylor can also stay at Jr. welterweight for a showdown of champions with Lopez. Lopez could always be persuaded to face Vasyl Lomachenko in a rematch. Lomachenko will make his return Saturday on ESPN and it’s probably no accident Lomachenko is facing a Masayoshi Nakatani who gave Lopez issues.
In the US market, given another Davis win this weekend, it might be safe to argue none of those options would be as lucrative for Lopez or Taylor as Davis.
That could create a perfect storm.
Gervonta Davis is already a star but not a star at full brightness yet. Eventually, even the most ardent fans demand to know if their guy is THE guy. Eventually, even the strongest developing draw needs something extra to grow.
Champions of the undisputed variety are something extra. A win over Lopez or Taylor would escalate Davis’s esteem in a way no one else from 130-40 lbs can right now. In either division, those are the current finish lines for Davis to stamp himself the very best.
And champions have always liked the sound of facing the guy who pays the best.
It’s the sort of mutual benefit scenario that could bring sides together and get fans more deeply invested in an area of the scale seemingly ready to burst.
Mario Barrios is more than enough to worry about for Davis for now. It’s not too early for everyone else to wonder about the if’s.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com