Sunday, May 28, 2023  |



Fight Picks: Gervonta Davis-Leo Santa Cruz

Fighters Network

On Saturday, rising star Gervonta Davis will face battle-hardened Leo Santa Cruz for the WBA junior lightweight title at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The eagerly anticipated showdown will be televised on Showtime Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

Davis was a decorated amateur, who turned professional at 18. He learnt his trade and sailed under the radar until the big punching southpaw demolished previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza in seven rounds to claim the IBF 130-pound title in eye-opening fashion. The Floyd Mayweather Jr. prodigy made one successful defense before he missed weight, forfeiting the title.

The Baltimore native doubled-down and won the WBA 130-pound title taking apart Jesus Cuellar in three rounds. Davis’ star continued to rise when he blitzed former WBC 122-pound titleholder Hugo Ruiz and Ricardo Nunez. Last time out, Davis looked less than his best but still stopped former unified featherweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa in the 12th round.

Santa Cruz also turned professional as a teenager. He won the IBF 118-pound title outboxing Vusi Malinga over 12 rounds. The talented Mexican made three defenses before moving to 122, where he quickly won the WBC 122-pound strap, stopping Victor Terrazas in three rounds. After four title defenses, Santa Cruz moved to featherweight where he became a three-weight titlist by edging Abner Mares. He lost for the only time against Carl Frampton, but in a direct rematch regained the WBA title. He subsequently beat Mares in a rematch and has claimed the vacant WBA 130-pound title last time out against Miguel Flores by unanimous decision.

Davis (23-0, 22 knockouts) is bigger, stronger and fresher than Santa Cruz. How will the wily Mexican deal with that? Can Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) get through the opening onslaught to use his greater work rate in the second half of the fight to mug Davis? Santa Cruz has always had a sturdy chin; how will he hold up against Davis’ impressive power? If Davis has had a less than stellar camp, might he find the activity of Santa Cruz troubling?

Online gambling group William Hill lists Davis as a 2/7 (-350) favorite, while Santa Cruz is priced at 5/2 (+250); the draw is 20/1 (+2000).

Here’s how the experts see it:


Most experts believe Leo Santa Cruz has a chance against Gervonta Davis if he takes him into the later rounds.


“I see a lot of people completely writing off Santa Cruz in this fight, which surprises me. Despite coming up in weight, the Mexican technician is taller and rangier, plus he has a huge advantage in championship experience. His only loss was to Carl Frampton by majority decision and Santa Cruz displayed his versatility and ring craft in the return, which he won on points. Davis can blow hot and cold. His handspeed and power are serious threats to any fighter at the lower weights, but his volume tends to drop as a bout progresses and Santa Cruz will know that. I think Davis has a fight on his hands and while he may get the win, I think he’ll have to earn it. A debatable decision is what I foresee, and I would not be shocked if Santa Cruz pulls this off.”


“The old adage, ‘A good big un will always beats a good little un’ springs to mind. Santa Cruz has had just one fight at 130 and will face Davis for titles at 130 and 135. Davis is bursting at the seams at 130, so has the parachute of the dual titles. Santa Cruz will be undersized and outgunned here. The only advantage the proud Mexican has is experience. He will need all that knowledge and then some. I don’t think Santa Cruz will be able to stop Davis marching forward and will get pushed back, eventually stopping Santa Cruz, who will go out on his shield, in around nine-rounds.”


“This prediction, of course, is heavily dependent on whether Davis makes at least one of the mandated weights in a healthy and strong manner, which certainly wasn’t the case when he faced Yuriorkis Gamboa in his most recent fight. The strain of making 135 before that fight clearly had a negative effect on Davis’ ability to go all out and it allowed Gamboa enough breathing room to continue fighting despite suffering a ruptured Achilles. Conversely, we know what we’re going to see from Santa Cruz: High work rate, terrific stamina and, in recent fights, an effective jab. I do think, however, that Santa Cruz won’t be big enough to absorb the best of Davis’ thunder over the length of a 12-round fight, so that’s why I’m guessing that the fight will end inside the distance. But if the Davis that fought Gamboa shows up again, Santa Cruz has the conditioning and hustle to score a points victory. The question surrounding Davis’ conditioning is what makes this a fascinating contest, but I believe that the best version of Davis will show up here and will perform accordingly.”


“To my eyes, Gervonta Davis is too big, too fast, too strong, and too young for Leo Santa Cruz. Pick any of those poisons at the highest level and it can mean a loss, and to have all four go against Leo Santa Cruz is almost an assured stoppage win for Davis. Santa Cruz made his bones coming forward and throwing an awesome volume of punches that overwhelmed opponents. Davis will negate that with his bulk, and if need be, his lateral movement, so Santa Cruz will not be able to throw as many punches going backwards. I admire Santa Cruz and his passion, but at age 32, Davis is the wrong type of challenger who brings too many intangibles to the table against a slowing Santa Cruz, who was never that quick to begin with. I see a mid-to-late round stoppage victory with either the referee or corner stepping in to halt a one-sided affair.”


“I see this match up in a similar light to the (Errol) Spence-(Mikey) Garcia bout from last March. Tank’s management is using the Leo Santa Cruz name to further build their brand. Size matters. Although Santa Cruz is slightly taller and longer than Davis, more than half of his fights were under 122-pounds, and he has fought at 130-pounds just once. As long as Davis makes weight safely, I like him to control the action. Santa Cruz has heart, experience and knows how to survive. I see a distance fight, and a unanimous decision win for Tank.”


“Before he collides with Santa Cruz, first Gervonta must tangle with his faithful rival, the scale. Is it not OK to furnish a pick before the weigh-in? No? OK, here goes. Santa Cruz isn’t old, but he isn’t young. That Tank hand speed and power is going to be bothersome. But his ring savvy, and chin solidity will hold up. So, we likely get a Tank decision win, by a margin of three points.”


“Davis’ power is head-rocking real. But there are still questions about his advertised potential. He’s been called boxing’s next big star. We’re still waiting. Leo Santa Cruz is a chance to prove that the talk is more than just another load of fake news. Given Davis’ struggles to make weight and other misadventures, it’s hazardous to say he’ll finally deliver. But the guess here is that he’s aware that fans and media are impatient. He knows he needs a big win. Enter Santa Cruz, an opportunity if there ever was one. Santa Cruz, ex-featherweight and bantamweight great, is smaller. His reflexes are not what they were. But name recognition is the last thing to fade. Davis is coming down to 130 pounds, from 135, to add a known name to his resume. But it’s tricky, especially if Davis, 25, weakens himself in a battle to make weight. A weary Davis late figures to be a scorecard loser in the end. But Santa Cruz, 32, doesn’t seem to have the ever-ready energy he once had. A younger, stronger Davis promises to hurt him with body shots early, leaving him tired and vulnerable to the head shots that will finish him for the first time ever midway through the bout.”


Will Tank Davis make 130 pounds for his PPV showdown with Leo Santa Cruz? If he does, will it hurt or help his chances vs. the veteran?


“A fight with a lot of questions to be answered. Questions like: Will Davis make the 130-pound weight limit? If he does, how much will that affect him? If he doesn’t, how much will that be a big advantage for him? Leo, who is a very busy fighter, is now fighting a bigger, stronger, faster and younger fighter. How does he win regardless of weight? Heart and balls, is that enough? I don’t think so. Styles makes fights and this is a bad style for Leo. I see Davis winning by ninth-round TKO; his corner stops the fight.”


“I think it’s a good matchup. Both fighters bring a lot of strength and skill to the division and I think it’s a fight fans will want to see. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been wanting great matchups with some of the top fighters in the game. This is one of them. Well for Tank, it is patience. He has to wait for Leo to come in and make mistakes. It is obvious that Leo is going to try to box. So, Tank needs to wait for him to come in, get desperate, and go back to the old Leo—the aggressor. That’s when Tank can just counterpunch all day. He can look for openings and that sweet uppercut that he has, as well as look to the inside hook to land. On the Leo side, it’s almost like he has to fight the perfect fight. He can’t get too excited. He has to jab his way in to touch Tank everywhere—head, body, shoulders—just get Tank out of rhythm with that jab. When you see an out-of-balance and stationary Tank, that’s when you let your hands go and make points, punish him to the body and turn him all night. It’s going to be a fun Halloween night; we will have to watch to see.”


“It would take a brave man to bet on a Santa Cruz victory. Davis really is the real deal, with an impressive 22 KOs in 23 fights. Santa Cruz is similar to Jose Pedraza, whom Davis dispatched with relative ease. I see this going the same way. Davis inside eight rounds.”


“I think that Davis is the better fighter in this one and I think the weight is going to hurt Santa Cruz, since Davis is the naturally bigger guy. Santa Cruz is going to be right in front of Davis, which is the perfect fight for Davis. I think Davis is a very special fighter that needs to keep his head on. If he does, he can go very far. Davis by late stoppage.”


“With Floyd Mayweather involved in his camp, Tank Davis will make weight and be in great shape. Tank is younger, faster, and stronger. Santa Cruz has the experience and his high-volume punching will make the fight interesting at times. Tank Davis mid-to-late round stoppage.”


“I enjoyed Teofimo Lopez’s recent suggestion that Gervonta Davis should pick on someone his own size. That’s at odds with the height and reach advantages Leo Santa Cruz will enjoy over Davis, but given Tank’s flirtation with 135-pounds, you know what he means. Theoretically, Leo Santa Cruz is made for the faster, sharper, harder-hitting Davis, who has knocked out all, bar one of his opponents, and often spectacularly. He’s a special talent, albeit one we see rarely enough. Santa Cruz showed in the Frampton rematch he’s no one-trick pony, but at 32 he could be there for Davis. Can Tank become the first to halt Santa Cruz? It’s a bold call, but I think he might.”


“The toughest fight of Gervonta’s career thus far, but I think he will rise to the occasion with speed and power and come through with a tough, but clear decision.”


“I think this is something of a breakout fight for Gervonta Davis, whereby he confirms his status among the elite. Up until now, he’s always been considered a rising star. I think he will rise to the occasion and set up some great fights in 2021. Gervonta Davis to win by KO.”


“This is going to be an interesting fight as I think it all depends what type of fight Santa Cruz brings on the night. We know Santa Cruz can be a pressure fighter, but he can also be patient like in his second fight with Frampton. I think if he brings it to Davis, it will be a tough night for Santa Cruz, as Davis is the bigger guy and he throws a lot of his punches with bad intentions. But if he’s patient, then Davis will have to work his way in carefully. Either way, I believe Davis wins by late-stoppage, as he has age and weight on his side. I think he is improving, while Santa Cruz may be on the slide, having had one too many hard battles.”


“This is probably going to be Davis’ toughest fight. Santa Cruz has the engine to push Davis for 12 rounds, where he has never been before with his sole distance fight in October 2014, which was only a six-rounder. Santa Cruz will be busy out-punching Davis at least three punches to one, but will he withstand the heavy hands of Davis, who can knock you out in round one or round 12? Leo has to try and stay really close to Davis and put out volumes of punches, while being careful. He might wear Davis down later in the fight. Short straight rights and left hooks will work for him against the southpaw Davis. Davis has a good right jab and he needs to keep Santa Cruz on the end of it so he can throw his lefts to the body or head. I think Santa Cruz will get caught inside by Davis’ left to the head and I think he will realize the step up to another division was just too far. Around the seventh, I think Davis will get the knockout. If it goes longer, Santa Cruz may be able to go the distance and only then will he have a chance of winning on points. But my prediction is Davis in seven.”


“I know Leo well because I started him, I managed him when he was with Golden Boy and won bantamweight title. To me, Tank is one of the best fighters in the world. He’s too fast and he hits too hard, and if he’s in shape, and I think he will be, you can’t get hit too much by him. I look for him to stop Leo late in the fight.”


“Leo Santa Cruz is a very, very nice guy. Once you meet him, it’s hard not to like him and worst to go against him. He’s a very hard worker, dedicated and went beyond expectations. But in this fight against Davis, it’s a bit too much. Davis is a young tiger in his prime and bigger. If Davis is to become a star, he wins by stoppage. He’s too strong and the referee stops the fight in the late rounds.”

Final Tally: Davis 18-0, with one undecided.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright



Latest Issue Cover