THAT one of the recurring themes of the Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia fight week not only resonated but is likely to continue to do so over the coming months and potentially years is the most effective demonstration of what, on Saturday night in Las Vegas, is at stake.
There is little question that broadcasters Showtime and promoters PBC had ensured that both Leonard Ellerbe and Oscar De La Hoya, among others, were on message, but when both spoke of the winner of the 136lbs catchweight fight becoming the “new face of the sport”, for once they both did so knowing that they could be right.
Consistently flanked, and at other times surrounded, by the marketing material that portrayed the baby-faced Garcia as the butter-wouldn’t-melt boy next-door and Davis as the menacing outlaw, two of the boxing industry’s more influential figures of the modern era were again on opposing sides of a divide that this time both will recognise the value of.
There has been a void at the very top of the sport since Floyd Mayweather Jnr, as masterful at promoting himself as he once was fighting, retired. In 2023 Oleksandr Usyk and Terence Crawford are both at their peaks and widely recognised as the world’s finest active fighters, but a Ukrainian with a limited grasp of English and a 35-year-old still awaiting his defining fight are almost certain never to transcend boxing in the way that Davis, at least, already has.
De La Hoya himself, on account of the handsome features once not unlike Garcia’s and the willingness to consistently fight the very best, was, before Mayweather, for some time the “face of boxing”. That he lost to Mayweather in 2007 in the first super-fight Mayweather was ever involved in was what ensured Mayweather succeeded him; that he lost to Manny Pacquiao in his final fight in 2008 was what allowed Pacquiao, a Filipino, to in a commercial context also thrive.
The considerable roles of De La Hoya and Mayweather in nurturing Garcia and “Tank” Davis regardless make comparisons with De La Hoya-Mayweather inevitable, but where De La Hoya, to use a cliché, handed the baton to Mayweather in the ring that night in May 2007 at the MGM Grand, in retiring undefeated Mayweather prompted a disqualification and therefore an inquest instead of a seamless change of hands.
Mayweather, after all, remains so effective a symbol for not only modern-day boxing but modern-day America. A too-often insular and unquestionably influential superpower, the US not only remains the centre of the fight universe – even at a time when Saudi Arabia appears tempted to invest as much as it can to convince others of its ability to displace them – it continues to require an American fighter at the top of the sport to remain convinced it is spinning on its axis.
It is why before Mayweather and De La Hoya there was Mike Tyson, whose marketability was so perversely enhanced following his release from prison having served three years for rape. It is also why Mayweather – having been sentenced to serve three months for domestic violence against the mother of three of his four children – had his sentenced postponed by a Las Vegas judge to allow him to fight Miguel Cotto after successfully arguing that his fights boost Vegas’ economy by more than $100m.
On May 5 Davis will be sentenced having pleaded guilty to four counts stemming from a hit-and-run crash in November 2020 that left four people, including a pregnant woman, injured. Before his split with Mayweather last year he had inherited much of Mayweather’s following, and he has retained it because, unlike his former promoter he is brooding in the ring in a similar way to once was Tyson, and because not unlike Tyson there exists an element of voyeurism at the chaotic personal life that has included an arrest for a domestic violence charge of battery causing bodily harm.
In that context it is almost impressive that the 28-year-old Davis remains so focused. At Tuesday’s grand arrivals – to which he was typically late – at the MGM Grand he strolled in wearing a hat, shorts and trainers with the relaxed demeanour of a tourist making their way to the beach from the breakfast buffet. While Wednesday’s public workouts for the undercard fighters were unfolding, the appearances promised from those in the main event were honoured by Garcia and ignored by Davis amid suggestions he was simply elsewhere in the MGM. Even at Thursday’s final press conference, he forwent the interviews promised to writers after a heated exchange with Garcia prompted by him demanding they bet their purse on victory by, like “Money” Mayweather, literally flashing wads of cash.
His bravado and confidence – and it is sincere, not contrived – shows not only an ability to compartmentalise the jail time likely hanging over him but the total conviction of an individual truly born to fight and convinced he is on the cusp of winning what could prove his defining night.
At times it almost seemed cruel that Garcia, 24, by Thursday looked to be struggling to make weight. He had moved to super lightweight because of his struggles to make the lightweight limit, and after two fights there, having agreed to fight Davis at 136lbs he was left walking slowly, his cheeks looked hollow, and he was licking his lips to resist enduring a dry mouth.
Only 48 hours earlier he had looked considerably more hydrated, when at his grand arrival he was even flanked by AJ Latimer, the 12-year-old fan suffering with leukaemia and undergoing chemotherapy, who for a period joined him on stage. In clutching his hands and almost bouncing on his toes Garcia had looked nervous, but it should not be discounted that he has spoken of suffering with anxiety nor that he is a fighter, and therefore someone less comfortable addressing an audience from a stage than he is under the unforgivably bright lights of the ring.
His tracksuit exposed not only his chest but a sizeable crucifix, and then, as on Wednesday and Thursday, he spoke of his faith and sense of spirituality – potentially like an individual whose confidence of victory is tied to his understanding of his faith.
Such natural rivalries are not only a rarity but ultimately a broadcaster’s and promoter’s dream. There is a reason Tyson is already in Sin City to watch how it is settled, and why Mark Walhberg and P Diddy are among those expected to be sat nearby.
When they weighed in on Friday Davis was 135.1lbs and Garcia 135.5lbs. Davis shoved Garcia, and was shoved in return, when they faced off in the sunshine outside of the T-Mobile Arena, where on Saturday – in a way even Saul “Canelo” Alvarez never quite has been in the years since Mayweather bowed out at the same venue – one could genuinely emerge as boxing’s new face.