Gervonta Davis’ Unconventional Detour to 140

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Unbeaten two-division world champion Gervonta "Tank" Davis risks his KO artist reputation -- and his undefeated record -- when he moves up two divisions to challenge WBA 140-pound world champion Mario Barrios Saturday night on SHOWTIME PPV.

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Rewatch the RD6 KO of Davis vs Santa Cruz

It’s a little hard to fathom how anyone could question the punching power of Gervonta “Tank” Davis. Not after he brutally knocked out Leo Santa Cruz with a crushing left uppercut last October in their 130-pound showdown in San Antonio. 

Davis gained so much leverage on the shot, the punch landed with such concussive force on the tip of Santa Cruz’s chin, that Santa Cruz slowly crumpled to the canvas, no longer in control of his movements at the moment of impact, a victim of one of the most picturesque one-punch knockouts in recent memory. 

But still, despite the finality of the punch, Davis (24-0, 23 knockouts) says he was criticized for picking on a fighter that was coming up in weight — Santa Cruz had campaigned for much of his career at 126 pounds — and that Davis’ ultimate career highlight came at the expense of a smaller fighter. 

“I was getting feedback from the Leo fight, (with people) saying he was too small,” Davis said in a one-on-one Zoom session with PBC earlier this month. “But people don’t realize that I also started at 126.”

The criticism rankled Davis and his team enough for them to go hunting for a physically heftier opponent, someone that would allow Davis, who has knocked out all but one of his opponents, to display his full complement of tools against a naturally bigger man. What they came up with surprised most boxing observers as an unnecessarily risky assignment that presented a multitude of landmines for the much smaller “Tank.”

When Davis takes on undefeated Mario “El Azteca” Barrios for Barrios’ WBA world super lightweight title Saturday night in a SHOWTIME pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the matchup will both serve as a rejoinder to his critics who said he was singling out Santa Cruz for his size and also as an audition for Davis at a new weight class to see if his vaunted punching power translates at 140 pounds. 

In facing Barrios, Davis will also be defying critics who have been clamoring for him to face one of the surging up-and-coming fighters around his weight class. 

At 5-10 with a 71-inch reach, Barrios has fought nine times at super lightweight and is nearly five inches taller with a four-inch reach advantage over Davis, who will be staring up at his opponent on Saturday. Why exactly is he doing this? Davis had a ready-made answer. 

“This is me daring to be great by going up two weight classes to try and be the best that I can be,” said Davis, who will attempt to capture a title in a third weight class against Barrios after securing belts at 130 and 135 pounds. “I don’t really know if my power will be the same, because Barrios is much bigger, so I don’t really know until we get in there. I know I can crack but I won’t know until the actual fight.”

Davis, at just 26, is regarded as one of the sport’s premier lightweight entrants and part of an intriguing group of emerging superstars that also includes Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia and Davin Haney.

Because of the collection of talented and well-known fighters around his weight, the announcement that Davis was jumping up two divisions to face Barrios (26-0, 17 knockouts) instead of hanging around to face one of those above mentioned names struck many as an unusual detour for Davis to make. But it was in keeping with Davis’ desire to go his own way and to establish his career based on his own individual whims, to zig when others want him to zag, instead of conforming to what the public thinks he should do. 

This is me daring to be great by going up two weight classes to try and be the best that I can be. Undefeated Two-Division Champion - Gervonta "Tank" Davis

“That’s how we like to do business, we like to catch people off guard,” Davis said of the move up to 140. “It was good for me and my team. We’re just excited and we’re ready to put on a great performance.”

Because of Davis’ credentials and box-office appeal, his entrance at 140 pounds has caused other more established fighters in the division to take notice. Former super lightweight champion Regis Prograis and Davis exchanged Twitter barbs on the prospect of possibly facing each other, though Davis dismissed the idea of battling the hard-hitting Prograis as a fool’s errand, saying that Prograis was only calling out his name for a payday and to raise his own profile. Prograis detailed his thoughts on possibly stepping into the ring against Davis.   

“I hope (Davis) beats (Barrios) convincingly, because then he’ll have the confidence to go up to 140 and maybe try and fight me,” Prograis said in an interview with the boxing news website, Pro Boxing Fans. “But if (Davis) struggles with Barrios then he’s not going to want to fight me at all.”

Davis said he will defer to his team on if it makes sense to remain at 140 pounds, saying he’s comfortable sliding down to lightweight for a better opportunity. But he rejected the idea of going beyond super lightweight in future fights.

“If my team is for it, I’m all for it, but if they say it’s time to go back down, then I’ll go back down,” Davis said. “I’m comfortable wherever they put me. We have to see how this fight goes.” On the prospect of facing Prograis: “He just wants a check. We call him ‘clout baby.’ There’s nothing he can do. Nothing. There’s no need for me to mention him because of what he brings to the table.”

When it comes to mapping out the rest of his career, Davis said he had total confidence in his promoter, Mayweather Promotions, and his mentor, Floyd Mayweather, who have proved successful at turning Davis into a PPV headliner and a reliable ticket seller. Mayweather has embraced the marketing and publicity aspect of his career like never before, most recently stepping into the ring against a YouTube star and boxing novice, Logan Paul. 

While Mayweather took some criticism for sharing the ring with a boxing newcomer, the event proved financially successful, reportedly garnering over a million PPV buys, further cementing Mayweather as a promotional savant, willing to go against the grain to achieve his goals. Davis has taken notice, perhaps seeing his own journey to 140 pounds as a similarly unorthodox move to achieve boxing stardom and riches.    

“We saw that Floyd still has it inside and outside the ring,” Davis said. “At any given time, he can come back, and he still looks sharp. He’s still an elite fighter. He still has it.”

And on Saturday against Barrios, Davis will see if he has “it” at 140 pounds.

For a closer look at Gervonta “Tank” Davis, check out his fighter page. 

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