We are in a transition period in boxing, still, as the dust settles following the exit of Floyd Mayweather Jr. from active participant status. Now, I believe that dust cloud will swirl again if and when Mayweather decides to dust off the gloves and come back for his 50th win. Until then, however, more transition time.
The sport is like most entities, in that it functions best when there is an obvious hierarchy in place. People like structure. People like to know who the boss is. Mayweather was the boss, the top-of-the-heap guy, without argument. Today, that slot is still open. No one has grabbed it and make no mistake: That slot, that lead dog designation, is most fully appropriated when someone grabs it. Floyd did, with his sublime skills and his smart moves in staying relevant, keeping his name in the news.
Who, then, though, to fill that lead dog slot? Some fans and experts tab WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko, IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight beltholder Andre Ward, THE RING Magazine/WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford, IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin and former four-division champion Roman Gonzalez as the man, pound-for-pound, but no, none of those folks have elevated themselves with a combo of skills, personality and/or majestic performances against a rival for the ages to be “The Man.”
I expect that to stay static for a spell, so, in the meantime, I’m making do by seeing what young guns will step up and join that short list, and maybe leapfrog one or two of those folks, most of whom are not spring chickens, as athletes.
This weekend my focus turns to Gervonta Davis. He is 22 years old, calls Baltimore home and boasts a 17-0 (with 16 knockouts) record. He mugged Jose Pedraza in January at Barclays Center and snatched the IBF 130-pound belt. Rewind and recall, many folks saw that as a 50/50 fight and said that if, he wins this step-up fight, only then will they give Davis full credit. He got full credit because Davis whupped Pedraza bad – in a good way. Davis is a guy who hasn’t embraced the “Skills pay the bills” mindset some folks latch onto, which, at times, is an explanation for a fighting style that doesn’t offer much risk-taking, in the name of a ferocious offense. And frankly, it is a style that is a better call for a fighter neurologically down the line but it leaves many fight fans cold because – let’s face it – people want to see KOs. They want to see one man looking to remove the head of the other and send it into the front row. They want to see obvious desire on display and they don’t want to see fights’ outcomes decided by corrupted or inept judges. It looks like Davis is that guy. Recall how he finished Pedraza, with a cold and ruthless efficiency. He planted his feet, stayed in the pocket, coolly sought openings and then teed off.
See the video? See the stands? See the people standing? The man promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr. gave the people – meaning anyone not in the Pedraza camp – what they wanted. A filthy right hook, thrown to make the other man crumple to the floor.
We turn our eyes to Saturday, where, in England, and on Showtime, we will watch and see if Davis, yet another guy, by the way, who was saved by the sport because he was on a path to flame out on the mean Maryland streets, can continue the trend. His opponent is one Liam Walsh, with a glittery record smartly built (21-0, 14 KOs), power is decent but probably not enough to keep Davis out of his face. Walsh is 31, a semi-late bloomer to be getting to this level. His best win is over Andrey Klimov, now 34, who lost to Pedraza, then Walsh and Alejandro Luna, in his last three. He’s at or near the end of his line. Walsh backers will say the guy has good hand speed, puts combos together smartly, mixes up placement well, drops a sneaky left hook to the body and is admirably aggressive. Noted, but Davis is already on another tier and I expect that to be painfully apparent early on in London, at the Copper Box Arena. I expect, on Sunday morning, the real possibility that among Crawford, WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr, Andre Dirrell, Rances Barthelemy and David Benavidez, of all the on-TV favorites on Saturday evening, Davis could be the guy who will have the most buzz vibrating off of him.
Showtime Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza seemed to back this up, “Gervonta Davis is one of the brightest young stars in boxing. At just 22 years of age, he has all the attributes – power, skill, speed, athleticism, amateur experience, charisma – to be a significant force in boxing for years to come. With his dedicated Baltimore boxing team and the support of Floyd Mayweather and Mayweather Promotions, Gervonta is taking on a big challenge this Saturday by going overseas for his first world title defense. In doing so, he joins a litany of fighters seeking out their toughest challengers – the best fighting the best – which has become both the hallmark of Showtime Championship Boxing and the engine behind the current reinvigoration that the sport of boxing is enjoying.”
The lefty Davis is nicknamed “Tank” and his highlight reel shows he lives up to that when he gets in tight, after advancing hard and fast. His feet are true assets, as he gets into advantageous position, stays calm and balanced and then rips launches with destructive intent. His hand speed and ability to gauge distance is such that I think Walsh will find himself getting tagged with stuff he didn’t think could land on him. Early.
Bottom line, my point is this: Boxing is easier to sell when you have guys like Davis doing their thing. And by “their thing,” I mean knocking people down and out. Ours is not a subtle society. Knockouts have been and, I dare say, always will be the easiest path to attaining buzz, relevance, respect, fame and fortune within our Sweet Science sphere. It is actually the Sweet and Savage Science, I offer, and Gervonta Davis gets it and understands that savage sells.
Ours is not a subtle society and that’s why our media has not-so-subtle writers like Michael Woods, whose vernacular is so spectacular, he can’t be stopped or contained here at RingTV.com. That’s why he also keeps busy with his own site, NYFights.com and talks his head off on his podcast, “TalkBOX.”
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