Sluggers Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia enter pivotal bout with much yet to prove

Undefeated KO artists Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia both still have much to prove in their boxing careers. (Photo by Sye Williams/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Gervonta Davis is one of boxing’s best ticket-sellers. Ryan Garcia has superbly used his social-media skills to become one of its most popular faces.

They each have the skills that superstars are made of: Power, speed, ring savvy, courage and a charisma that attracts people to them.

They meet in a non-title lightweight bout, at a contracted weight of 136 pounds, in the headliner of a pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena of what should be a fantastic fight.

Both, though, enter the bout with plenty to prove. Garcia is just 24, but he’s 23-0 with 19 knockouts, and he has some of the fastest hands in the business. But for all of his obvious skills — he’s insanely quick and fast-handed, and his left hook carries serious power — he’s still largely unproven.

None of his opponents are on a who’s who list of boxing’s elite fighters. Garcia’s biggest win by far was a seventh-round stoppage of Luke Campbell on Jan. 2, 2021, in what was the final bout of Campbell’s career. Campbell was a good but hardly great fighter and no one would ever have considered him elite.

Davis, 28, is 28-0 with 26 knockouts, and won his first world title on Jan. 14, 2017, when he stopped Jose Pedraza in the seventh round in Brooklyn, New York, to win the IBF super featherweight title. But for as obviously talented as Davis is, he’s been protected along the way.

More than six years later, Pedraza, and perhaps Isaac Cruz, represent Davis’ best opposition. He’s been protected, fighting older fighters on the way out or smaller opponents who have moved up to challenge him. There are no superstars on his list of opponents, no one who was really considered a threat to beat him going into the fight.

Now, that changes for both men. Davis is a little better than a 2-1 favorite at BetMGM, standing at -245 with Garcia at +190. That represents the opinion that while Davis’ opposition has been light, it’s better than Garcia’s.

The good thing about this fight is that the fighters themselves demanded it, and when boxing politics attempted to intervene and prevent it, they stepped up and said no. Garcia insisted he would only fight Davis next and Davis likewise insisted upon fighting Garcia.

“I had a mission, and I had a vision to fight Gervonta Davis, and to bring the fans what they really wanted to see,” Garcia said. “I made it happen. That’s what I’m happy about more than anything in life right now.”

Davis concurred. He, too, wanted the bout and he wouldn’t let his team go in another direction. The significance of it is not lost upon him.

“This means everything,” Davis said. “We are putting everything on the line. Coming from where I come from, this is big. I witnessed Floyd Mayweather and all the top guys fight in Las Vegas. This is the top-level. I’m ready.

“My first goal was to win a belt. I never thought I would be in Las Vegas having a big fight. This is a dream come true. I won’t let my people down.”

Gervonta Davis is 28-0 with 26 KOs but trainer Calvin Ford says he has more skills than he's displayed. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Gervonta Davis is 28-0 with 26 KOs but trainer Calvin Ford says he has more skills than he’s displayed. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Garcia has been supremely confident and openly speaking of knocking Davis out. Trying to knock Davis out comes with a great risk, because it will open Garcia up and Davis’ power is legitimate.

Davis, though, is taking Garcia’s threats in stride. He isn’t putting much stock in his words.

“I think he’s trying to hype himself to get into the fight when he talks about knocking me out in two rounds,” Davis said. “I don’t think he really believes that.”

Garcia clearly believes it and he’s believed it for a while. As long ago as 2018, he spoke of fighting Davis, Devin Haney, now the undisputed lightweight champion; former undisputed champion Teofimo Lopez and others.

It took way longer than it should have but those elite athletes are finally coming together.

For as much hype as Davis has gotten, and for as many titles as he’s won, there remain questions. He’s a slow starter and often falls behind early. Given that he hasn’t faced that elite, in-his-prime opponent who could force him to showcase everything he’s able to do, he’s almost been taken for granted by some.

Davis trainer Calvin Ford said that’s a mistake.

“I’m still looking for that fighter to bring the best out of Tank,” Ford said. “No one has seen the best out of him yet. Coaches that have been around us for years know that people haven’t seen all that he can do.”

One of the reasons Garcia wanted Davis is for that reason, to show what he’s all about. He’s always been the pretty boy and has gotten as much attention for his massive social media following as he has for his boxing skills.

“This is a fight to show everybody that I’m great,” Garcia said. “I’m not daring to be great. I know I’m great. I know when I step in the ring, he’s going to feel something he’s never felt before. I’m going to conquer him. Everything he tries to do, I’ll have an answer for him. Gervonta Davis is not going to beat me. I promise you.

By demanding Davis before some felt he was prepared for it, he was trying to make a statement that is encouraging to hear.