Two-time champion Gervonta Davis has yet to face next-level opposition

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Gervonta Davis celebrates after knocking out Hugo Ruiz in the first round of their WBA super featherweight title fight at StubHub Center on Feb. 9, 2019, in Carson, California. (Getty Images)

Pay attention to the folks at Mayweather Promotions and sometimes it’s hard to determine whether they’re talking about Gervonta Davis, a talented up-and-coming fighter who has yet to face the best in his division, or Floyd Mayweather, the company’s founder who ran the table in a 50-fight pro career and who ranks among the greatest boxers of all time.

The push to anoint Davis as boxing’s next big thing is coming fast and furious, both from Mayweather Promotions and from Showtime, which will broadcast Davis’ defense of his WBA super featherweight title Saturday (9 p.m. ET) in his hometown of Baltimore against Ricardo Nunez.

Count me as a skeptic, at least at this point.

Oh, Davis has both the potential and the personal back story to become a big star.

He showed that potential on Jan. 14, 2017, when he stopped the previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza to win the IBF junior lightweight belt.

Davis was 22 but looked like a poised and confident veteran when he systematically broke Pedraza down and stopped him in seven one-sided rounds.

His story sounds like something out of the fabulous HBO series “The Wire,” in large part because it is. His coach, Calvin Ford, was the role model for the character “Cutty” on the show.

In a 2017 profile of Davis in the New York Times, Ford was blunt as can be in discussing his role in a drug gang in Baltimore during the 1980s.

“If I had to shoot you, I’d shoot you,” Ford told the Times. “If I had to stab you, I’d stab you. If I had to beat you up with my hands, I’d beat you up with my hands.”

Ford turned his life around and has become a successful boxing trainer, with Davis as his primary pupil.

Davis has done nothing to suggest he won’t live up to the billing he’s getting. Since winning the title from Pedraza, he’s gone 4-0 with four knockouts and went less than three rounds in three of them.

Gervonta Davis celebrates with Floyd Mayweather following a victory against Liam Walsh of England in their IBF junior lightweight championship match on May 20, 2017, in London. (Getty Images)

He’s now 21-0 with 20 knockouts, with the only blemish, if you can call it that, a six-round decision over German Meraz on Oct. 8, 2014. The Davis bout was Meraz’s 80th pro fight; Davis entered it with an 8-0 record.

The potential is there. But not only hasn’t he faced anyone since Pedraza who is in the divisional top 10, he had a disturbing performance in his first title defense, against Francisco Fonseca on the undercard of the Mayweather-Conor McGregor show in Las Vegas on Aug. 26, 2017.

It was a showcase for Davis, who missed weight, lost his title on the scale and looked disinterested and not much like a star against Fonseca. That Davis finished Fonseca in the eighth speaks much about his potential. He wasn’t in good shape, he didn’t seem to be into the fight and yet he still won by TKO.

Boxing is a sport that is built on stars and in desperate need of more of them. Mayweather had a rare talent, but he developed it with a work ethic matched by few. He never had the fight that Davis has already had, where he missed weight and looked lost in the bout.

That’s the challenge for Davis, to take the next step: He needs to show development, show passion and not have a repeat of a night like he had against Fonseca. On top of that, he needs to do it against elite competition.

He was supposed to fight Abner Mares last time out, but Mares was injured and had to withdraw from the fight. But he’s not faced the elite in the division, guys like WBC champion Miguel Berchelt, IBF champion Tevin Farmer, WBA champion Andrew Cancio, JoJo Diaz, WBO champion Jamel Herring and others, and that’s going to be critical to his ascension.

Davis insists he’s focused on what he has to do on Saturday and that he won’t be caught up in the hoopla of being the star fighting at home.

But he referred to himself as the cash cow of the division, which is a bit curious given his level of opposition. A cash cow is generally a guy who has won big fights and built a big reputation.

Even as a two-time champion, Davis is still in the developmental stage and is hardly a household name beyond his own home.

“I am the cash cow in the 130-pound division,” Davis said. “I believe it’s a big risk [to fight me], but you get paid a lot if you fight me. So a lot of guys are calling me out. They know it’s a big risk but, they get paid better than taking a small risk and getting low money with someone else.”

Nunez has fought all but one of his fights in his native Panama, and this will be his debut in the U.S. Though he has an impressive record, one gets the sense he’s a sacrificial lamb being led to slaughter.

If Davis believes that, though, it could be dangerous. He’s at least saying the right things.

“I know that he’s been training hard,” Davis said of Nunes. “I’ve seen little clips of him during his sparring sessions. He has great power. I know he’s going to be ready to fight. This is a big task in front of him, but also a big task for me. I’m just pushing for a great fight and to please the fans. I know [Saturday] is going to be an action-packed fight.”

It will certainly be one that says much about Davis’ future, and whether he’s ready to make that leap to the next level. He’s not nearly there, yet, despite a gaudy record. He appears to have the tools to do it, but it’s up to him to do it in the ring against the elite of his class.

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