Gervonta “Tank” Davis made a successful move to 135 pounds on Saturday, at least in terms of getting a win and being largely dominant in doing so, but questions remain about the 25-year-old fighter’s future when he truly steps up the competition, and it’s not just pundits and fans who think so, either.
Davis (23-0, 22 KO) dropped a badly faded and one-legged Yuriorkis Gamboa three times and scored a 12th round stoppage in Atlanta, fighting in front of a pretty packed house that very clearly specifically came to see him. “Tank” is a legitimate young attraction in the sport, even without a true signature win to his credit yet.
But he wouldn’t be the first guy in the sport’s history to run up a record before the going got legitimately tough, and a handful of fighters took to Twitter last night to express legitimate concerns or, simply, talk a little shit.
“Front runner,” said Devin Haney, a fellow young lightweight on the rise, giving his thoughts on the way Davis seemed to gas and slow down as the fight went on, as for once he couldn’t get the opponent out early.
“Davis tired and Gamboa is old,” said another young lightweight, Ryan Garcia.
Ishe Smith isn’t a young lightweight, he’s a 41-year-old former junior middleweight titleholder who has been in the pro boxing game for nearly 20 years. He was never carefully handled, as Davis has frankly been, and everything he got from boxing, he earned.
His comments had a bit more thought and perhaps wisdom in them.
“Tank’s winning every round but not the performance I was expecting,” Smith wrote. “Love the kid, but he needs to make major changes if he wants to last in this game. [The stoppage] should have happened six rounds ago.”
“His power will always be a game-changer,” Smith continued. “The only person that can beat Tank is Tank himself. I’m going to stand by that.”
Smith was referring to, once again, the conditioning issues of Davis, who missed weight initially before stripping down and making it a little while later on Friday. He’s had weight problems before, but this was his first fight at 135. This was supposed to make making weight easier.
WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford also checked in with a quick comment, advising Davis to stay away from Vasiliy Lomachenko and the aforementioned Haney. And veteran Hank Lundy doubted Davis’ ability to be a top fighter at lightweight: “Man take his lil’ ass back to 130, 135 we big boys up here,” the 35-year-old Philly fighter wrote.
In his post-fight interview, Davis flitted between humble and what some might take as worryingly delusional. With some humility, gave himself a C+ grade for the performance, and also blamed nobody but himself for trouble making weight.
But he also said he could still make 130 pounds. If any network pays money for Davis to try and make 130 again, they’re being complete suckers. The man barely made 135 this time.
And while it’s understandable that a fellow fighter — after all, they’re the ones getting in there and trading the shots, not us — would credit Gamboa (30-3, 18 KO) for being a tough veteran and “great opponent,” there could be a problem if Davis really thinks that this version of Gamboa, years past his best years and fighting two weight classes above where he naturally belongs, was truly a test. Davis was a massive favorite and other than the fight going a lot longer than anyone expected, it didn’t go any differently than its critics anticipated. It wound up a somewhat sad mismatch, predictably.
Davis has either avoided or been steered clear of serious opposition ever since he won his first world title back in 2017, when he was legitimately impressive and looked like he was living up to the hype against the very solid Jose Pedraza.
Since then, Davis’ opponents have been Liam Walsh, Francisco Fonseca (Davis missed weight), Jesus Cuellar, Hugo Ruiz, Ricardo Nunez, and now an old Gamboa. Ruiz was a late sub, as the idea was for Davis to fight Abner Mares, which even with Mares a bit past his best was a much better fight on paper.
That’s not a great run, to put it mildly. Granted, Davis is still young, and when you watch him when he’s dialed in, he absolutely passes the eye test. He’s got skills, he puts punches together very nicely, he’s got real pop, and he seems to have some ring IQ, he’s no dummy slugger.
But it’s hard to be sure of what we have just yet if you’re going deeper than just being a fan of his. Nobody’s saying — or at least I’m not saying — that Davis isn’t good, or that he’s only hype. It’s just tough to say you’re certain when he never fights anyone he isn’t at least a -1500 favorite against. The last time anyone at all gave a Davis opponent a chance was when “Tank” fought Liam Walsh, who was unbeaten and Davis went on the road to the UK. Davis blew him out inside three, and the matchmaking hasn’t gotten any tougher. He was even -1250 or so against Mares before that fight was called off.
It’s no secret that political grouping plays a sincere role in boxing. Not only is Davis a PBC fighter, he’s also associated with Mayweather Promotions, a faction of PBC (more or less) who are even more selective about which other promoters they might do business with; Leonard Ellerbe and Bob Arum of Top Rank, for instance, aren’t friendly, even more than Arum and Al Haymon aren’t.
So Davis has moved to 135, where the division is ruled in all reality by Top Rank, who have the top two guys at the weight in Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez. Those two are tentatively scheduled to meet in April, so neither are immediately on the table for Davis, anyway.
The rest of the top names in the division are also mostly outside of PBC. Richard Commey is with Top Rank, Devin Haney and Luke Campbell are with Matchroom, Ryan Garcia is with Golden Boy (and to be fair I don’t think Golden Boy are ready to hurl Garcia, who returns Feb. 14, in with Davis, either).
In-house, the best opponents available for “Tank” are probably Javier Fortuna (35-2-1, 24 KO) and Rances Barthelemy (27-1-1, 14 KO).
Fortuna has been ordered to face Campbell for the currently-vacant WBC title, but Barthelemy could actually be interesting for once in this situation; he’s often dull as dirt to watch from a fan perspective, but he’s a crafty veteran fighter, not shot, much taller and longer than Davis, and has never been stopped. If you want someone who might really test the depth of Davis’ game at 135 pounds, the 33-year-old Cuban might be your guy, and the fight in theory should be easy enough to make.
PBC also have Ladarius Miller (20-1, 6 KO), who is coming off of a controversial split decision win over Jezzrel Corrales in July, part of the Davis-Nunez card in Baltimore. Miller is a decent fighter, a southpaw with some skills but nothing special, seemingly, in his game.
The frustrating thing for fans is that there’s still no absurd rush with Davis if you’re the one handling his career, so a fight with a Ladarius Miller would be a perfectly acceptable next step if your position is to manage Davis properly, even carefully, and not send him in with the wolves immediately for your own entertainment. The truth is, he’s selling tickets and drawing pretty good TV numbers even without top-flight opposition, and at 25, he has a couple more years to truly come into his own.
But will he? That’s the real big question. The weight struggles at both 130 and 135 are not encouraging. Is he going to be dedicated enough between fights to truly compete with the elite of the sport if and when he finally does? As Ishe Smith hinted at, it takes a lot more than skills and power to last in the boxing world. Davis has been called a Floyd Mayweather protégé, but so was Adrien Broner. Mayweather is famous for fanatically staying in or very near fight shape between fights, he never took shortcuts in the gym, and that’s perhaps the main reason he was as good as he was, as long as he was. Broner was infamous for not doing that, and Davis is starting to build that reputation, too.
Only time will tell, and it might take a couple more years to really find out. Eyes are on Gervonta Davis, which is what he and his team want. He’s got the potential to be a top star in boxing. But there’s still more to prove between the bells, questions to be answered that will only truly be answered when he faces someone who isn’t tailor-made for him.