When rising star Gervonta "Tank" Davis looked across the landscape of the two divisions in which he holds world titles in hopes of drawing a big name, the options available to him from a political and network scenario were far from enticing.
Davis (24-0, 23 KOs), the 26-year-old knockout machine from Baltimore who holds the WBA junior lightweight title along with the sanctioning body's secondary title at 135 pounds, was fresh off his pay-per-view headlining debut last October. He recorded the knockout of the year with a brutal uppercut that left four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz out cold under the turnbuckle.
Looking to capitalize on his momentum as a growing PPV and box office draw, Davis decided a rash decision of sorts was in order. Despite cutting down in weight to face Santa Cruz at 130 pounds, Davis decided to move up two divisions for his return when he challenges WBA secondary junior welterweight titleholder Mario Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs) on Saturday in the main event of a Showtime PPV (9 p.m. ET) from State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
"This definitely was my decision. It's dare to be great, that's why I am taking this big step," Davis told "Morning Kombat" last month. "There wasn't too many opportunities at that time at 130 or 135. I think I have the best team in boxing and I came to them to let them know I wanted to move up to 140 to be great. You have to push yourself to find out how great you are and that's what I am doing."
Although Davis finds himself as arguably the biggest star of a group of four young fighters in and around the 135-pound weight class (Teofimo Lopez Jr., Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia) who seem poised to take over the sport in the new decade, none were willing to fight him right now on his terms politically.
Thus is the reality of the current state of boxing, where fights between stars of competing promotions and networks typically don't come together like the July 24 heavyweight title PPV trilogy bout pairing Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, which will see ESPN and Fox join forces to produce and promote the event, unless both fighters are on equal terms of stardom.
From Davis' standpoint, he isn't competing with those other young names (who are all 23 or younger) as much as he is waiting for them to raise their game.
"It's whoever [of those three fighters that] lasts at the end and whoever can become the next pay-per-view star. I became that so we are just waiting to see if somebody else can become that and we can have dance partners," Davis said. "I feel as though I'm not competing with nobody. I'm sitting here alone. There is no one I am looking at. If I start to look at them, I forget about myself. My main focus is to keep doing what I'm doing, which is winning and staying focused."
As the face of Mayweather Promotions and one of the key PPV brands competing under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, Davis has been publicly tabbed for greatness at a very young age. From the standpoint of inside the ring, he has largely lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him from both a commercial and critical standpoint, save for a few digressions and close calls on the scale while attempting to make weight.
From a personal standpoint, however, Davis has constantly threatened to soil his own name in the general public by being a regular in the police blotter following multiple high-profile brushes with the law. In addition to being charged with battery in early 2020 after video surfaced of him putting his hands on the mother of his children during a public altercation at a charity basketball game in Miami, Davis was hit with 14 criminal charges in March stemming from a hit-and-run incident that injured four people.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Davis has proven successful, similar to his legendary promoter Floyd Mayweather, at blocking out the outside-the-ring distractions in order to eliminate those inside of it. But unlike Mayweather, who strategically played the villain role as a PPV salesman to the tune of record payouts, there is a big part of Davis who doesn't want to be looked at as a bad guy.
"I would say yes, that in some ways [I do care], because I don't want people to think I'm a monster or something I'm not," Davis said. "We all have haters. If you don't have haters, you aren't doing something right. Floyd always told me that if they are talking about you bad, it doesn't matter because they are talking about you, regardless. That's what I always got from Floyd and understood it. Either way, they will be watching the fight."
What makes Davis so different from a technical wizard like Mayweather is that he has the potential to draw an even wider audience, which includes casual and even non-boxing fans, because of the ferocious style he competes with and the highlight reel of knockouts he has left in his wake. Because of this, Davis has regularly attracted a large group of contemporary celebrities across the worlds of music, acting and entertainment to attend his fights in person and shout him out over social media.
Whether or not Davis will be able to add the much bigger Barrios, a 26-year-old from San Antonio, to that list remains an unknown. "Tank" is looking to use this matchup as a litmus test of sorts to see whether his future at 140 pounds (and, eventually, the big-money weight class of welterweight) is right now as long as his power can carry up with him.
Davis stood across from Barrios and looked up at the fighter he will be giving nearly five inches in height to come Saturday when the two fighters stared each other down last month at the press conference to announce the fight in Atlanta.
"I didn't really get nothing from it, not really. [What I got is that] I've done it before, not at 140, but I've done this before," Davis said. "I'm not into saying how mean he looked or anything like that. It's a job for me and I'm coming here to do my job, which is to put on a great show and that's what I have been wanting to do so I could be atop the [PPV] numbers.
"I'm an exciting fighter. Inside the ring, the [fans] know that they can come to see a great fight, every time. There is never a dull moment where I'm just chilling. I'm always out there trying to hurt the other fighter. It's just like when Floyd was fighting or Mike Tyson was fighting. I'm not saying I'm on that level but I'm saying it was always excitement when they were fighting, no matter who they were fighting. [And when I fight] you just know it's going to be an action-packed fight."