Floyd Mayweather Jr protégé Gervonta Davis faces Britain’s Liam Walsh in London on Saturday in the first defence of his IBF super-featherweight belt.
With great expectations on Davis to one day fill his promoter’s shoes and become boxing’s biggest star, ESPN takes a look at the highly rated American’s journey so far.
A childhood “worse” than The Wire
Boxing was Davis’ refuge from the menacing, mean streets of Baltimore which threatened to claim him in his youth.
Davis’ parents were reportedly ‘drug addicts’ and disappeared when he was aged six, leaving him and his brothers to be bounced from care home to care home.
“When I was a young kid my mother and father were on drugs,” said Davis to the Daily Telegraph in March.
“My mother used to leave me and my brother in the house by ourselves. The authorities came and got us. It took a year or two to get us back with my grandmother.”
As a 15-year-old, Davis had to run for his life from a car spraying bullets in the neighbourhood and it was not the only shooting he witnessed growing up.
“When it comes to Baltimore I want to say that it’s actually a lot worse than what you see in The Wire,” said Davis.
“The other people I started off [boxing] with are either dead or in jail.”
The mean streets still haunt him
Davis is now earning good money but enters the ring on Saturday haunted by another death.
Davis’ friend and fellow boxer Montell ‘Telly’ Bridgett, from Upton, was gunned down on March 15.
Other boxers Davis has known from his gym to have been killed include Ronald ‘Rock’ Gibbs and Quaadir Gurley.
Baltimore’s murder rate is soaring and Davis hopes he can help some escape danger.
“Now that he [Bridgett] died and I was so close to him, I want to put my hands on a lot of fighters that’s in the city, trying to do something,” Davis told the Baltimore Sun.
Rapid rise, exciting style
Southpaw Davis turned professional in 2013 after winning the 2012 Golden Gloves and finishing with a 206-15 amateur record.
The 22-year-old registered seven first-round knockout wins on his way to challenging for his first world title in only his 17th fight in January.
In a dominant display beyond his years, Davis ended the unbeaten record of Jose Pedraza in the seventh round thanks to his ferocious fighting style which combines speed, power and unrelenting aggression.
Davis dazzled with short hooks from the first round against Pedraza and was toying with his opponent by the fourth round until finishing it with a vicious right in the seventh.
As promoter, Mayweather is a big influence on Davis’ career, but Davis does not fight like the former pound-for-pound No. 1 who used to carefully and skilfully pick apart opponents. Davis deals with opponents in an aggressive, fan-friendly style.
They call him Tank, or Mini Mike Tyson
Davis has battered 16 from 17 opponents in stoppage wins and — along with his squat 5ft 6in– you would think that is how he got his nickname.
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But Davis was first called ‘Tank’ due to his apparent large head. He has also been referred to as ‘Mini Mike Tyson’ due to his build and aggression. Both Davis and Tyson won world titles early in their twenties.
Also like Tyson, who ruled as world heavyweight champion in the 1980s and 1990s, Davis has an uncompromising way of talking about opponents.
“When I’m in there I have no love for the other opponent, I’m here to kill,” Davis said before his bout with Jose Pedraza.
“If I can kill you, I would kill you. I don’t wish death upon anyone but this is what I am here to do.”
Future of the sport?
“My main goal is to become the star of the sport,” said Davis.
“There are a lot of belts I want to win. When I’m in the ring my main focus is just to get the job done. I’ve got the belt but I want more in the sport. I’m here to break records, to be that next star and take over boxing.”
But Davis faces competition from the likes of Errol Spence — another unbeaten American — who comes to England on May 27 to try and win the IBF version of the world welterweight title from Britain’s Kell Brook.
The biggest threat to Davis’ ambition to become boxing’s biggest draw, just like his promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr once was, lies in wait elsewhere in the super-featherweight division.
Davis is exciting, but so too is Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs), whose career is moving as fast as he fights. The 29-year-old turned professional after two Olympic gold medals and in his third fight won a world title.
Intriguingly, the Ukrainian fights in the same 130-pound weight class as Davis, and if the American is to become the star of the sport he will have to get past Lomachenko — who is ranked at No. 3 in the latest ESPN pound-for-pound rankings.
However, matching Davis with Lomachenko is a risk too far for Mayweather for the foreseeable future.
Floyd’s on the case
“Floyd has been very hands on with Gerovonta in his camp and final preparations,” said Leonard Ellerbe — who is Davis’ advisor, just as he was Mayweather’s during his career.
“These are the sort of things that are an advantage, there are certain things that you can go over and do, that make a difference in a tough fight.
“All Mayweather Promotions fighters are inspired. It’s a great thing to have a future Hall of Fame fighter to be hands on with guys in the gym.”
Hardest test yet in first defence
Ellerbe compares Saturday’s first defence against Britain’s Liam Walsh — thousands of miles away from Davis’ home in Baltimore — as similar to when Mayweather beat Arturo Gatti in front of his home fans in Atlantic City in 2005.
“This is the biggest fight of Gervonta’s career, it’s a different sort of challenge,” said Ellerbe.
“In 2005, when we went to Atlantic City to fight Arturo Gatti, it was two totally different fighters, but a similar situation.
“Even though he has only had 17 fights, Gervonta has had a ton of amateur experience. His career is progressing very well and he’s constantly learning.
“These are the kind of fights you need to become a complete fighter. To be able to travel, go over to foreign soil, in front of his [Walsh’s] fans, and be able to put on a spectacular performance. It prepares him for the next step.”