During an interview in May, Gervonta Davis was going through the motions when a phrase caught his attention.
Davis is one of boxing’s brightest young prospects in the lightweight division. When it was suggested that he didn’t have the most impressive accomplishment among the group of impressive young 135-pounders that includes Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, and Devin Haney, Davis looked up, picked up his head, and interjected.
“I’m the most prominent [feature] in that group,” Davis told ESPN. “They have their own little group. I’m sitting by myself.”
Despite the conviction in his voice, it’s difficult for Davis, who is undefeated, to make that claim when comparing his career to that of his peers in terms of who he’s fought. If he truly wants to be unrivalled, he must begin taking on larger challenges.
Consider this weekend’s fight against Mario Barrios (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV). Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) is making his debut in the junior welterweight division. Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs) competes in the 140-pound weight class and has a secondary belt.
Yes, it’s an intriguing challenge. Even a knockout victory over an opponent like Barrios will not reveal how the 26-year-old nicknamed “Tank” compares to Garcia, Haney, and Lopez.
Lopez has the most victories in the group. Last year, Lopez defeated pound-for-pound champion Vasiliy Lomachenko to win three of the four major lightweight belts. That victory sparked a trend in which boxing’s four princes of boxing – not the “Four Kings” who thrilled boxing in the 1980s, but a promising group nonetheless – faced tougher opponents.
Last Halloween, Davis knocked out Leo Santa Cruz. Garcia put an end to Luke Campbell’s career in January. Haney defeated Jorge Linares last month.
Davis is taking a step back with Barrios, even though Davis is gaining 10 pounds. However, it corresponds to a career path that has been unpredictable thus far.
Since winning his first title in 2017, over junior lightweight Jose Pedraza, the Baltimore, Maryland native has never been a unified champion. Davis’ belt was stripped later that year after he failed to make weight for a title defence against Francisco Fonseca.
Davis’ entertaining knockout of Santa Cruz highlighted the problem with his career strategy. The fight was for the WBA’s top belt at 130 pounds and his “regular” 135-pound title, exemplifying Davis’s divisional limbo. However, it also reflects Davis’s behaviour since he began boxing at the age of seven.
His professional career is an extension of his amateur approach of lining up the opponent in front of him and looking to be as dominant as possible. It has, to some extent, worked. What Davis lacks in terms of a stacked opponent list, he more than makes up for in star power. Davis, Garcia, Lopez, and Haney are boxing’s four young princes. Davis is arguably the biggest draw in terms of money.
Davis headlines Showtime’s lone PPV out of the network’s nine summer cards.
“He puts butts in seats,” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said at the press conference for the fight in May in Atlanta. “People are drawn to him because of the way he fights. We have a new generation of fans who adore him.”
It’s difficult not to speculate on how much higher that ceiling could be raised if he began confronting, and then defeating, the biggest names of his generation. But, while others strive for greatness and fight for fights that will be remembered for years to come, Davis’ priorities appear to be elsewhere.
When asked if he believes he has to be an undisputed champion or a unified champion, Davis stated that he simply wants to be the best version of himself.
“There isn’t much competition,” Davis told ESPN. “I never pay attention to what the person next to me is doing. What they’re doing doesn’t matter to me. We’re not even on the same side of the road. My focus is on whoever they put in front of me; I need to outperform them.”
It’s the polar opposite of what Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez accomplished in May when they fought for the undisputed junior welterweight title. Each of them defeated other champions to set up the fight, which Taylor won by unanimous decision to claim all four titles. Claressa Shields (twice), Katie Taylor, and Jessica McCaskill have all established themselves as undisputed female champions.
The boxing world is increasingly moving in that direction, with the sport’s most visible stars vying to prove their superiority inside the ring. It’s what Canelo Alvarez and Caleb Plant want at super middleweight in July, and it could be what Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder want at heavyweight by the end of the year.
Davis’s fans are already behind him, but there could be a lot more. Boxing fans everywhere want to see the best battling the best. Even after an impressive victory over Barrios on Saturday night, Davis is difficult to call the best in any weight class.
Only a victory over a competitor of equal calibre will bring him such acclaim. Davis, on the other hand, must want it for himself.