Gervonta Davis wore the victory spoils: his typical, bright post-fight smile and a freshly-accurate, pre-printed black t-shirt that read his nickname, “Tank,” and his new record as a pro, “23-0,” in white lettering. But this bout wasn’t as straightforward and clean as the previous 22. The uncommon dark bruises near his eyes afterward told the story, as did the final box score.
In the longest fight of his young pro career, West Baltimore’s own boxing champion added another bulky world title belt to his waist—but not without a test. Davis, who moved up to the 135-pound division for the first time to fight for the WBA Lightweight title, outlasted a defiant 38-year-old former champion Yuriorkis Gamboa—winning with a 12th-round knockout in front of 14,129 spectators Saturday night at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
It was the first time that Davis fought past nine rounds since he turned pro in 2013. Usually his fights have ended with a powerful left-handed punch much earlier. But Gamboa, a veteran opponent, was game to go long despite early injury at Davis’ hand. In a second-round exchange, the Cuban boxer partially ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and went down to the canvas, but he kept fighting. (Apparently, that’s possible to do even with bad Achilles, but doctors don’t recommend it.)
Davis knocked Gamboa, who was 30-2 in his career before the match, down again in the eighth round before landing a late uppercut that ended things for good. Warning: The slow-motion replay of the knockout at the end of this video can be difficult to watch; we wouldn’t wish the head injury on our worst enemy.
In an interview in the ring afterward, Davis, an Upton Boxing Center product with a gold key to the city who is arguably Baltimore’s biggest sports headliner this side of Lamar Jackson, graded his performance as a “C-plus”—an honest assessment. In a press conference after the fight he said he should have hit his opponent in the body more and earlier to weaken him. But he also maintained perspective as he fielded a series of questions about why the fight went as long as it did.
“It was a great experience. I’m only 25 years old. I’m learning each and every day,” Davis said. “Leading into the fight, the media was writing [Gamboa] off. But in my heart, I knew that he was a good fighter. I wasn’t trying to go out there and rush it, and then get caught with a clean shot. Because I knew he had power, he was fast, and he got timing. My thing was go out there, touch him up, and not get hit.”
Davis got hit more than usual, but Gamboa still only connected on just 13 percent of his punches, compared to Davis’ 48-percent performance. Still, it was enough to leave a mark. On social media, Davis later wrote, “Wear my war wounds proudly,” in a caption of a photo of him showing off a black eye.
As has been the case during Davis’ entry and ascent in the highly promotional pro boxing world, a journey born from his hardscrabble Sandtown childhood, the post-fight conversation quickly turned to what’s next, as he enters the prime fighting and money-making days of his career. “2020 will be a big year. I believe I’m the top dog at 135/130 [pounds],” he said, before making a gun analogy that drew a few laughs. “Ain’t no safety on this glock. I’m willing to fight anybody.”
The discussion about his future begins with the fact that pro boxing has a kind of convoluted championship system, with different classifications within four world-recognized boxing organizations. The 5-foot-6 fire-hydrant-like Davis has won three world title belts—the World Boxing Association (WBA) regular lightweight title he won Saturday, and the WBA super featherweight (130-pound) title and the International Boxing Federation super featherweight titles he previously held but gave up with his move up in weight.
Many boxing observers have long pined for a meeting between Davis and 31-year-old, two-time former Olympic gold medalist and undefeated pro, Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko (oh, the politics that would be involved). Lomachenko is considered right now to be the “unified” lightweight world champion at 135 pounds, because he holds belts across several organizations. That matchup would theoretically decide the best lightweight fighter in the world, hands down, clear as crystal in a Drago vs. Apollo style confrontation.
But Davis could also go back down to 130 pounds to fight challengers such as Leo Santa Cruz, who’s publicly called for a matchup with Davis. (That’s how these guys do things and how matchups are sometimes made.) “Line them up,” Davis said.
Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Davis’ representation Mayweather Promotions, says he has eyes next on what would be the young Davis’ first pay-per-view fight, though he couldn’t say where a fight would be or who it would be against. Formal discussions haven’t happened yet.
Davis sold out Royal Farms Arena in July in the first world championship boxing fight in Baltimore in nearly 50 years. He thrilled the hometown crowd with a second-round knockout against Ricardo Nunez. Saturday’s matchup in Atlanta, a city which Davis considers a second home, was also a sellout and drew a peak of 600,000 viewers on Showtime.
“He has star power,” Ellerbe said. “He puts behinds in the seats. And they tune in, because they want to see excitement. That’s what he brings to the table.”
He also brings his local brethren with him. Fellow Upton Boxing product Malik Hawkins fought on Saturday’s undercard, earning the biggest win of his undefeated pro career. He beat previously unbeaten Darwin Price, who injured his right leg in the fifth round and couldn’t continue. Hawkins, a super lightweight (135 to 140 pounds) who we first wrote about back in 2016, is now 18-0 with 11 knockouts in his pro career. (You can watch the entirety of Hawkins’ fight starting here around the 1:08:00 mark.)
Looking at the bigger picture, Davis has put Baltimore boxing back in the discussion for elite-level boxing matches for the first time since Hasim Rahman was on his way to becoming a world heavyweight champion. Gamboa’s trainer, Stacey McKinley, for instance, said after Saturday’s main event that he’d like to “come to Maryland and do something. I got other fighters.”
In any case, Davis might want to stay at his higher, 135-pound weight class. Before Saturday’s fight, he had trouble making weight, as has happened before several fights in his career. During what should have been an uneventful media weigh-in event (except for the promotional face-to-face photos), Davis was 136.2 pounds, but was given two hours by the WBA officials, who obviously wanted the title to be contested, to get under the mandated 135 pounds for lightweights.
We’re not sure exactly what Davis did to lose just over a pound that quick—though we suspect it included a lot of running, workouts and sweating in a hot room—but he eventually made weight before much less fanfare, dropping his pants to make it happen on the scale. Chalk it up as more experience, outside and inside the ring, and another plot point in the story of Tank Davis, Baltimore’s undisputed and still rising boxing star.
“This fight did a lot for Tank’s career,” Ellerbe said. “The train is going to keep on moving.”