It's incredibly rare in boxing to see a replacement opponent added to the main event of a pay-per-view card actually make the matchup a more compelling and (potentially) competitive one.
That's the biggest storyline entering multi-division champion Gervonta "Tank" Davis' return on Sunday when rising star defends his WBA secondary lightweight title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Isaac Cruz (22-1-1, 15 KOs) stepped into the fight one month out when Davis' original opponent, Rolando Romero, was forced to withdraw from the fight after a flurry of sexual assault allegations. What fans received in the wake of Romero's withdrawal is a far better fight on paper, with Cruz's relentless pressure meeting Davis' shocking power in a fight guaranteed to produce fireworks.
For as crude as Cruz's crouching style might appear to the naked eye at times, the native of Mexico is very effective getting inside on his opponents and unloading a variety of short power shots from multiple angles.
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"I'm very confident in any punch that I throw," Cruz said at Thursday's final press conference. "Like the Mexican saying goes, 'whichever way it goes, it goes.' But I'm very comfortable in my own skin and in my own style. I believe in what I can do on Sunday night."
Cruz, who is unbeaten in his last 18 fights dating back to his lone defeat, an eight-round decision loss to journeyman Luis Miguel Montano in 2016, had no issue making a pair of guarantees as to what Sunday's fight might look like.
"I guarantee a great fight, I guarantee excitement," Cruz said. "It's simple. I've said it before and I'll say it again. [Davis] has never faced anybody that fights like me before. My hunger and my will to win is unparalleled. He's going to feel it on Sunday night."
Although Davis (25-0, 24 KOs) has been respectful of Cruz's resume, he simply doesn't believe that are on the same level as fighters. Davis has won titles at three different weight divisions over his last three fights, with all of them ending by knockout.
In 2020, Davis moved down from lightweight to take on his first world class opponent in multi-division champion Leo Santa Cruz, with their PPV main event at 130 pounds ending in violent fashion as Davis uncorked the knockout of the year with a sixth-round uppercut. Eight months later, Davis made his debut at 140 pounds and stopped previously unbeaten Mario Barrios in a June thriller.
"He can say whatever he wants right now, but it's different when you get hit in the face," Davis said. "He's saying I haven't faced someone like him but he's never faced anyone like me either. He can say what he wants to build up the fight. The opponent change is just a part of boxing. I had to adapt to it just like I'll adapt to what Cruz brings on fight night."
The upgrade didn't necessarily change the betting odds as Davis, who is finally just starting to get pound-for-pound recognition globally, is listed as high as a –1100 favorite. But there's no question Cruz provides a much more dangerous challenge than the extremely raw Romero.
"Gervonta is a very strong fighter. I consider him the best in the division, but he's human and he's not impossible to beat," Cruz said. "My goal will be to bring him down a notch and show who I am as well.
"We are not scared of his speed. We have been training hard to be able to counter his speed. He has a strong uppercut, he throws a variety of punches but we are prepared. Regardless of what previous fighters have done against him, we have prepared to counter anything he can throw our way."
Davis added a second set of eyes during training camp to prepare himself for Cruz as the well-respected Barry Hunter joined his team alongside head trainer Calvin Ford. Both trainers expressed on Thursday the need to be sharp given Cruz's aggression and roughneck style, with Davis adding that he's well aware just how hungry Cruz will be given he has nothing to lose.
Davis' promoter and mentor, Floyd Mayweather, offered plenty of respect for Cruz and his resume, but still believes his man will walk away victorious.
"This is another big fight between two great competitors who are going out there to show the world what they've got. 'Tank' has been on the big stage for a while now, but he's giving another fighter the opportunity to be great," Mayweather said. "Before I was 'T.B.E', someone had to give me the opportunity, just like Cruz is getting.
"Cruz is a tough fighter. When this fight was first made, I didn't know much about Cruz. But when I did my homework, I saw that I've faced guys like him before. You can't overlook any opponent, but especially one like Cruz."
The undercard sees a trio of fights in the leadup to the main event on Sunday night. Sebastian Fundora, the 6-foot-7 super welterweight, is back in a key battle with Sergio Garcia as he continues to build toward a potential title shot. Fundora has won three straight by knockout and enters 17-0-1 to date. Former middleweight title challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko is back in a key battle at 160 pounds when he takes on Carlos Adames.
"I have a lot of motivation for this fight. That and my power is going to help me. Winning this fight is going to keep my career going and put me where I want to get back to," Derevyanchenko said at the final press conference. "I feel strong and I'm excited to face Adames. He's a good fighter who hits hard. But I'm ready for anything he brings. I've fought the best middleweights in the world. I've faced power punchers before, so I'm not worried about his power.
"I've studied Adames and looked at some of his past fights. He's a very strong fighter. I am familiar with him and we've been working during training camp for what he does. I know what I have to do on Sunday night and I'm going to show everyone during the fight."
Below is the full fight card for Saturday night along with a prediction and pick for the main event.
Fight card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Gervonta Davis -1100 vs. Isaac Cruz +700, WBA "regular" lightweight title
- Sebastian Fundora -270 vs. Sergio Garcia +220, super welterweights
- Sergiy Derevyanchenko -400 vs. Carlos Adames +310, middleweights
- Eduardo Ramirez -500 vs. Miguel Marriaga +380, junior lightweights
The more Cruz can get inside, pound Davis to the body and make this as rough a fight as possible, the greater his chances become of pulling the upset. The fact that Davis can often be economical as a counter puncher could open up the door for the voluminous Cruz to outwork him on the scorecards.
That sounds like a great plan on paper. The problem, of course, is Davis' punching power. The native of Baltimore has knocked out 96% of his opponents, with only journeyman Ivan Meraz of Germany having gone the distance against him in a six-round bout in 2014.
Cruz will need to show a next-level chin in order to close the distance on Davis' reach advantage. Cruz often ducks low on his way in, similar to a young Mike Tyson, which leaves him open to Davis' most deadly finishing punch -- the left uppercut.
The best-case scenario would be for Cruz to endure punishment early so that he can tax Davis' gas tank late after slowing him down with body shots. It's a strategy that might have worked against the Davis from four years ago, who often fell victim to the excesses of his growing celebrity, including him losing his 130-pound titles on the scales in 2017.
Davis, who credits giving up drinking with allowing him to achieve an even higher level of fitness and focus, has been too dialed in of late to fall victim. Although Davis still has plenty of legal issues outside the ring, he has become a student of the game inside of it and no longer cuts corners in his preparation.
Expect Cruz to make this fight fun for as long as it lasts, using his aggressiveness to bring out the very best in Davis. That, in the end, will also bring about his demise as the very best of Davis is as scary a fighter as anyone in the sport today.
Pick: Davis via KO9