Apart from being terrific fighters, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia are likely the two most social media and marketing savvy boxers in the world today. One could even make the argument that as sole practitioners without a league or team construct to aid them in their marketing efforts, their breaking into the mainstream consciousness is even more impressive than when athletes in one of the four major sports in the United States manage to do it.
Modern day boxers wage two separate, very difficult battles with regards to their marketing. One is the siloing of boxing as a niche sport that the mainstream sports press regards as less important than many others on a daily basis, a full pendulum shift from where the sport stood in past decades. It's difficult to get the attention of fans not already deeply devoted to the sport when the signals are simply not being transmitted to them. The other hurdle exists within the boxing landscape itself, where despite the sport's movement away from basic cable, there is more boxing broadcast than at any point in human history by a wide margin. Fans can literally watch hundreds of individual fighters compete on a weekly basis, so getting fans to become personally invested in a singular figure is challenging when the menu is so extraordinarily expansive.
Detractors of both Davis and Garcia like to suggest that their respective popularity is merely a mirage, and that particularly in the case of Garcia, his dedication to social media is proof that he is disinterested in seeking out difficult opponents because his popularity will persist regardless. However, with the recent announcement that terms have been agreed upon for a 2023 bout to be aired on Showtime and DAZN PPV, it’s clear that both realize that the opposite is true at this point in their careers. As two people with an understanding of the online sphere and the economy of popularity know, in 2022, nobody gets anywhere alone. Collaboration is key.
Davis and Garcia’s respective popularity has similarities in terms of reaching audiences outside of boxing’s typical core audience. However, they have borrowed from different, well-established frameworks to make that happen. Davis has turned into a box office draw that on a single-night basis rivals some top-level pop music acts, not coincidentally backed by Al Haymon, who outside of his boxing successes, just so happens to be one of the most important music promoters of the last few decades. Garcia has tapped into the influencer ecosystem, using his boxing prowess and the requisite fitness the sport requires (along with his good looks) to validate himself and cultivate a following that is both attracted to him and compelled by his career and daily life.
In both of the borrowed frameworks that have helped forge Davis and Garcia’s respective popularity, collaborating with other contemporary popular figures is crucial to heightening the status of a given figure. In music, features and duets on individual songs help merge audiences and sometimes create new fans. In terms of live performances, festivals and combo tours have long enabled acts to make more money than they otherwise would have alone, and have helped expand their audiences to levels that would have been unattainable without cross-pollination. Haymon famously promoted Budweiser Superfest, which over the years combined R&B, hip-hop, funk and blues performers onto one bill, and played a role in mainstreaming hip-hop as acts like Kurtis Blow would open for popular R&B acts in the 1980s. All of these acts were, and could have remained, popular in their own niche markets, but they were further legitimized and platformed by working together.
In Garcia’s newfangled world of influencers, the term “collab” is buzzword thrown around to essentially describe working with anyone in any capacity. However, it’s crucial to the development of any individual trying to garner internet popularity. TikTok as a platform is almost explicitly built for collaboration, allowing users to offer up songs for use in videos, videos for use in other videos, and so on. A common route to popularity these days for performers on TikTok is to phish for collaborations, gaming the system to increase a song or a dance’s virality. Garcia has even experimented with this tactic, inviting users to try to flurry in combination as fast as him. In compiling his millions of followers on social media he now has, Garcia has produced content with a host of A-list influencers. As a result, he’s now viewed as important enough to be courted by Dior, Gatorade, GMC and more.
This is the lens that Davis and Garcia view their profession through, so it stands to reason that in addition to being ambitious prizefighters with belief in their own abilities against any viable opponent, they also understand the value of one another. Both fighters specifically requested one another, and held firm until their respective teams came to an agreement to make it happen.
In addition, the two fighters also likely sensed a tonal shift in certain circles within the die-hard boxing community when it came to them and their competition. While both Davis and Garcia’s opposition has been defensible to this point, they had both reached a point where their opposition had to improve in order to keep their publicity positive. Davis in particular doubled down by taking a “tune up” fight against Hector Garcia, a fight that is the polar opposite of what he’s been accused of taking in the past. Disparagers of Davis have suggested that he only trafficked in fights that were low risk, high reward, with the rewards being financial. In Garcia, it would be difficult to argue that he is anything other than a high risk, low-reward opponent, with the reward simply being maintaining the status quo of a fight against Ryan Garcia next.
As a boxing match, Davis vs. Garcia is a battle of two top-five lightweights. They are not the most accomplished or decorated lightweights, sitting behind Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko in that category. Their popularity outpaces their accomplishments, which isn’t a knock on their achievements, but an endorsement of their appeal. In facing one another, they will create a rarity in boxing, a fight that will break into the mainstream consciousness on more than just the merit of the fight itself. Davis vs. Garcia will be a success not just because it’s a good fight, but because it’s a collaboration between two celebrities in their own realms. Essentially, it’s what it would look like if the most popular YouTube boxers were also world class fighters. It’s a fight that hardcore fans can be excited about and atypical fans can be too, for both the same or different reasons.
Davis and Garcia needed one another, and in recognizing that gave us what the sport needed as well.