GERVONTA DAVIS knocked out Ryan Garcia with a body shot in round seven of their much-publicised April 22 encounter at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The fight showcased boxing at its best and worst. The best in that Davis-Garcia was the most anticipated event so far this year in an era when the fights that fans most want to see rarely happen. But Davis-Garcia also embodied a range of issues that plague boxing and will continue to do for the foreseeable future.
Davis (28-0, 26 KOs) and Garcia (23-0, 19 KOs) went into the fight with unblemished ring records. But as noted by writer Jimmy Tobin, many of their opponents were “sacrifices made for their burgeoning popularity, not tests of ability.” Davis, age 28, had beaten past-their-prime smaller men and fighters who were never world class. Garcia, four years younger than Gervonta, had a comparable resume. There were hints of greatness from both. But that was also true of the young Adrien Broner.
Once upon a time, boxing “superstars” had to earn that designation in the ring. It couldn’t be granted by a publicist’s fiat. And “super-fights” featured fighters who had fought their way to the top by beating other elite fighters. When 24-year-old Ray Leonard fought Roberto Duran in his first “super-fight,” he’d won an Olympic gold medal and beaten the previously undefeated, future Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitez. Duran was 71-1 with victories over Ken Buchanan and Carlos Palomino on his resume.
Neither Davis or Garcia had scored a defining win prior to fighting each other. But through savvy marketing, each had amassed a huge social media following.
Davis, through words and deeds, has propagated a “thug” image. His most recent five fights (all on Showtime PPV) had averaged more than 200,000 buys. That’s an impressive number given the fact that the opponents were Hector Luis Garcia, Rolando Romero, Isaac Cruz, Mario Barrios, and Leo Santa Cruz. Moreover, those fights – contested in Washington DC, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and San Antonio – did well at the gate. Davis-Romero engendered the largest attendance and live gate for a fight in the history of Barclays Center. The celebrities at ringside that night included Naomi Osaka and Madonna.
Thereafter, Corey Erdman wrote, “Davis has turned into a box office draw that, on a single-night basis, rivals some top-level pop music acts. Garcia has tapped into the influencer ecosystem, using his boxing prowess and the requisite fitness the sport requires (along with his good looks) to validate himself and cultivate a following that is both attracted to him and compelled by his career and daily life. Their popularity outpaces their accomplishments, which isn’t a knock on their achievements but an endorsement of their appeal. Davis vs. Garcia will be a success, not just because it’s a good fight but because it’s a collaboration between two celebrities in their own realms.”
As of this writing. Davis has 5.4 million followers on Instagram. Garcia (who has done his best to cultivate a Hispanic-American heartthrob image) has 10.1 million. Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza stated the obvious when he declared, “This is a social media promotion.”
Davis and Garcia had been trash-talking back and forth for more than a year before meeting in the ring. Each man seemed to genuinely want the fight. But there were impediments to making it happen.
First, the fighters were aligned with different promoters and different networks (Davis with Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime; Garcia with Golden Boy and DAZN). But as a practical matter, Golden Boy and DAZN needed the fight to monetize Garcia. So during negotiations, they deferred to PBC and Showtime on most issues.
The financial split between the sides wasn’t announced but it’s believed that Team Davis received the lion’s share of the money. Showtime controlled the entire production. DAZN literally streamed the Showtime feed.
More significantly from a competitive point of view, the contracts called for a 136-pound catchweight. That protected Davis’s 135-pound belt and worked against the naturally bigger Garcia (who had weighed in for his most recent fight at 140 pounds). In addition, a rehydration clause provided that neither fighter could weigh more than 146 pounds at 11am on the day of the fight with a stiff financial penalty to be assessed in the event of a breach. Moreover, Davis had a contractual right to an immediate rematch if he lost whereas Garcia didn’t.
More problematic with regard to making the fight; Davis is troublingly familiar with the criminal justice system.
On February 5, 2020, Gervonta was arraigned in Miami and charged with battery and domestic violence. The charges stemmed from an incident (much viewed on social media) that occurred at a charity basketball game. The legal proceedings were delayed multiple times. Finally, on December 13, 2022, the prosecution dropped the charges. It appears from a December 28, 2022, Instagram post by Davis (since deleted) that he paid $300,000 to the woman (the mother of one of his children) to settle a claim in conjunction with the incident.
On December 27, 2022, Gervonta was arrested again in Florida, this time by the Parkland division of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, after being charged with battery causing bodily harm in an incident that the police classified as domestic violence. He was released from jail the following day on a $1,000 bond and issued a no-contact order with regard to the woman in question.
The woman (apparently the mother of another of Davis’s children) had called 911 twice on December 27, saying in one of the calls, “He’s going to kill me.” The police report contained the allegation that Davis struck the woman on the right side of her head and that the blow caused a cut over her upper lip on the right side of her mouth.
On December 31, 2022, Vanessa Posso (the previously unnamed woman) posted a message on Instagram that read, “These past few days have been hurtful and extremely exhausting for all parties involved. I pride myself on being extremely private; this situation was the last thing I wanted to be made public. The state of our relationship has been in a fragile space and Gervonta and I were both at fault for the argument. While the emotions were running high, I made an unnecessary call to law enforcement in an intense moment while I was frantic. Gervonta did not harm me or our daughter.”
On January 5, 2023, Davis entered a plea of “not guilty” to the charges against him and his counsel filed an affidavit from Posso that read, “I have been listed as the purported victim in the above-styled case against my boyfriend, Gervonta Davis, whom I am aware was arrested on December 27, 2022, for domestic battery by the Parkland Police Department. Without any hesitation or reservation whatsoever, I want to advise the Court and the State Attorney that it is my absolute, complete, and full desire that this criminal prosecution be withdrawn and terminated, and that the Office of the State Attorney dismiss any and all such charges against Gervonta Davis. I am signing this affidavit of non-prosecution of my own free will, knowingly, freely, voluntarily and intelligently. I have not been tricked, coerced or threatened in any way in order to sign this and no promise of any nature has been made in exchange for my execution of this affidavit.”
There was more to come.
On February 16, 2023, Davis pled guilty to charges of (1) leaving the scene of an accident involving bodily injury, (2) failing to notify an owner of property damage, (3) driving on a revoked license, and (4) running a red light. These charges related to a November 2020 hit-and-run accident in Baltimore.
According to court records, Davis was identified by eyewitnesses as the driver of a 2020 Lamborghini which ran a red light and struck a 2004 Toyota at 1:47 AM on November 5, 2020. The Toyota, which was owned by a woman named Jyair Smith, was totalled in the accident.
As reported by Jake Donovan, “The Lamborghini – which was not registered to Davis – was abandoned after its contents were transferred to another vehicle in which Davis and an unidentified female left, according to witnesses and video obtained by investigators. Four people were injured in the incident, though none [of the injuries] were life threatening. All were treated at University of Maryland Shock Trauma. Three of the four victims have since reached civil settlements with Davis, who has yet to do so with Smith.”
Counsel for Davis negotiated a plea deal with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office that called for Davis to receive a one-year suspended sentence with sixty days of home confinement. But Judge Melissa Phinn rejected the agreement as too lenient after Smith told the court that she had “begged” Davis for help after the accident: “I looked him in his eyes. I said I have to get home to my daughter, I’m pregnant. He never once came over to help me. He got his things and left.”
A guilty plea by Davis without a promise from the Court with regard to sentencing followed. That sentencing is now scheduled for May 20.
Given this history, it might be that PBC impresario Al Haymon decided it made sense to monetise Gervonta by making Davis-Garcia now rather than later.
Here, it should be noted that, when a fighter has been indicted for assault, domestic abuse, or another comparable crime, the justification often relied on in allowing him to fight is, “Well, he hasn’t been convicted yet, so he’s still an innocent man.”
This excuse doesn’t hold here.
Davis has pled guilty to a serious criminal offense and has yet to “pay his debt to society.” He wouldn’t be allowed to participate in most high-profile professional sports. But the bar of legality is exceptionally low in boxing. Let’s not forget; boxing sent network-TV cameras into Rahway State Prison to televise fights involving James Scott, who was serving a 28-year sentence after being convicted of armed robbery and murder.
Hall of Fame fighter and ESPN commentator Tim Bradley spoke to Davis’s rap sheet when he declared, “I’m not a fan of Tank [Davis’s nickname]. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a fan of what he does and how he operates outside the ring. I don’t like the guy because of what I hear and what I see. I think he’s a piece of shit; I honestly do. You put your hand on women like that; bro, you’re a piece of shit in my book. You’re not a man.”
The March 8 kick-off press conference in New York for Davis-Garcia was scheduled to begin at 12:30pm. Gervonta didn’t arrive onstage until 2:23. “Just traffic, not prepared, things like that,” he said.
Garcia had his own take on the matter, saying, “It kinda shows his being unprofessional and kind of continues a pattern of his character and his integrity as a person and as a professional.”
Garcia also noted, “You’ve seen megafights that have longer stretches of promotion. This is quite quick. We’re about six weeks out and this is our first press conference. So I feel like it’s rushed, just maybe a little bit on account of his personal issues. I don’t want it to come across like speaking down on him. But the truth is, yeah, that’s probably why.”
In the weeks that followed, there was a lot of hype about this being a “fight to save boxing.” The promotion carried a $84.99 pay-per-view price tag in the United States with a modest discount for DAZN subscribers. Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya predicted that “realistically” the event would engender in the neighbourhood of 2.5 million buys (an absurdly high estimate).
On Monday of fight week, the hype balloon lost some air when the promotion announced that “newly available” tickets for the bout could be purchased online. A check at AXS.com two days before the fight showed that tickets in all price ranges were still available.
Still, there was a nice buzz for the fight. And numbers released after the bout indicated that Davis-Garcia generated approximately $22.8 million in ticket sales (the fifth largest live gate in Nevada boxing history).
Davis proclaimed himself a “legend,” called Garcia’s mental toughness into question, and pledged, “I’ve put a lot of guys to sleep. They gonna have to pick you up. I promise you that.”
Calvin Ford (Gervonta’s trainer) declaimed, “We’re vicious. We ain’t just boxing. We’re gonna put some knuckles on somebody. I don’t train ’em for knockouts. I train ’em for punishment.”
Joe Goossen (who succeeded Garcia’s father and Eddy Reynoso to become Ryan’s third trainer) said of his charge, “He’s got power like nobody I’ve ever seen. And I can tell you, I’ve trained a lotta great punchers.”
Goossen then ventured into silly territory, claiming, “Ryan’s speed is, you know, I mean, you’ve gotta slow the film down when you wanna see some of his short left hooks. I mean, they’re just almost imperceptible, you know, naked eye, unless you slow it down.”
Each fighter called the other “delusional” and promised to break the other’s jaw.
Garcia also offered thoughts like, “When I step in the ring, he’s going to feel something he’s never felt before. I’m going to conquer him. He’s done. It’s nap time for Gervonta . . . Gervonta says he’s going to take me into deep waters. Guess what; I know how to swim. He needs to come up with something better than that . . . This is a fight to show everybody that I’m great. I’m not daring to be great. I know I’m great.”
But at an April 11 media workout, Garcia offered a more measured appraisal. “I feel like people have lost touch with what boxing truly is about,” he said. “We live in a world where people expect you to be perfect and they don’t understand that this is real life. We’re really fighting here.”
Davis weighed in one day before the fight at 135.1 pounds, Garcia at 135.5. On Saturday morning, Gervonta weighed 144.1 and Ryan 144.9. In other words, in days of old, they would have been welterweights.
A sold-out crowd of 20,082 was announced.
Davis was an 11/5 betting favorite. He has one-punch knockout power, is a solid defensive fighter, and makes opponents pay when they miss. Gervonta doesn’t just counterpunch. He counterpunches with power, which leaves ring adversaries wary of throwing heavy artillery at him. His southpaw stance makes the puzzle even more dangerous and difficult to solve.
Garcia has power (particularly in his left hook) and exceptionally fast hands. But his footwork and head movement leave something to be desired.
Also, Davis seems to have more meanness in him than Garcia does. Meanness is important for a fighter. And there were questions regarding toughness. If the going got hard, would both fighters hang tough or would one of them punk out?
It was a good fight but hardly a classic. The stakes and personalities involved gave it drama.
Round one was a cautious feeling-out stanza with little action. Garcia tried to dictate the pace with his jab. Davis, as is his custom early, bided his time. According to CompuBox, Gervonta threw only seven punches and landed one (a jab). Ryan landed three jabs.
Round two began with Garcia fighting more aggressively behind his jab. Davis sought to blunt the attack by moving and holding. Ryan is five inches taller than Gervonta and had a three-inch edge in reach. But those advantages vanished on the inside. Then Garcia got sloppy, and Davis (who threw only six punches in the round, landing three) decked him with a counter left. Ryan rose largely unscathed.
Both men continued to fight cautiously as the fight evolved. In round three and again in round five, they landed only seven punches between them. But Davis looked like a man who was enjoying himself. Garcia didn’t.
The end came suddenly and was unexpected given the flow of the fight up until that point. Midway through round seven, Garcia took a knee as a much-delayed reaction to a body shot and rose at ten-and-a-half (after referee Thomas Taylor had counted him out). Gervonta was ahead by two, three, and four points on the judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage. The two-point spread was the most accurate in the eyes of this writer.
“He caught me with a good shot and I just couldn’t recover and that’s it,” Garcia said afterward. “I couldn’t breathe. I was going to get back up, but I just couldn’t get up.”
“I didn’t think that body shot would end it,” Davis offered. “It was a good shot, for sure [but] I thought he was going to get up.” Then Gervonta added, “I was just a level above him. Everything he was doing in the ring, I was already aware of. I just let him make his mistakes, and I countered off his mistakes. It was fun while it lasted.”
The end was reminiscent of the ninth-round, one-punch, body-shot knockout that Bernard Hopkins scored over Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. That fight had been competitive. But Hopkins, like Davis, was ahead on the scorecards and the action was turning further his way.
Years later, De La Hoya told me, “I got knocked out by Bernard Hopkins. That’s interesting because we’re talking about the whole psychological aspect of where I was in my life at that time. The fight was competitive. I was in the fight. But it was a very unhappy time in my life. I was tired of being who I was. He hit me with a good body shot. I went down. I’ve asked myself a thousand times since then, ‘Could I have gotten up?’ And the answer is ‘yes.’ But I wanted everything to be over. Not the fight; being the Golden Boy, everything. It wasn’t something I consciously thought out when the referee was counting. But those conflicts inside me caused me to stay down. You have to go really deep into the root to understand.”
In the past, Garcia has talked openly about his mental state being fragile at times and acknowledged ambivalence about boxing.
Also, as a reader emailed me in making a prediction before the fight, “When Street fights Sweet, almost always Street wins.”
As for the future, it’s a given that Davis will rise on pound-for-pound lists and deservedly so. He’s a very good fighter. I hope that boxing fans have the opportunity to find out how good. That means making more fights against top opponents. And staying out of jail so he can fight those fights.
Years ago, Paul Magno wrote, “Boxing ain’t a morality play. The sport lends itself to a lot of fairytale nonsense. But at the end of the day, it’s all about skill and will. The biggest louts, woman-beaters, racist pricks, thieves, and thugs have been highly-skilled professional fighters. The only morality play in boxing should be the one between hard-workers and lazy slobs because, ultimately, that’s what determines how high a fighter rises and how long he stays on top.”
“I’m definitely the face of boxing,” Davis told the media after beating Garcia.
How will it look if “the face of boxing” goes to jail?
Thomas Hauser’s email address is email@example.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.