Gervonta Davis doesn’t need you to lie for him. If you tweet about the Baltimore fighter like you are paid by the compliment, you’re probably lying. If you suggest everyone should look at him impartially (impartiality being what makes sports so fun!), you’re probably lying. Do as you wish, but know that Gervonta Davis doesn’t need you to lie for him.
Davis won a title (albeit “Regular”) in his third division this past Saturday, butchering a determined and inspired Mario Barrios in eleven rounds at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Barrios suffered the gamut of Davis’s considerable offensive talents—sent thrice to the canvas, and by three different punches, and kept there at last by a breathtaking uppercut to the stomach. It was Barrios’s second defense of his title, which is about as long a reign as a fighter like Barrios is likely to have. He earned that belt honestly and defended it with pride, but the Davis brain trust selected him for reasons that became obvious the longer he shared the ring with a vastly superior fighter. Barrios would fare just as miserably against junior-welterweight kingpin Josh Taylor and no better against the two men The Tartan Tornado beat to ascend to the throne. Taylor’s grip on the division was slackened not at all by a title that he doesn’t own changing hands. Suggesting otherwise is lying. Davis doesn’t need that.
Davis–Barrios was not Broner–Maidana either, and prefight suggestions that Barrios represented the kind of gross miscalculation that humiliated Broner are yet one more example of what Davis does not need. Broner was a physically imposing and potentially dominant fighter at lightweight, and he confirmed as much by proving to be anything but as he moved up. Davis, meanwhile, is one of the more powerful and explosive fighters in whatever division he fights in. To his considerable credit, Davis knows it, and he fights accordingly.
Therein lies much of his charm. Some fighters compile gaudy records, earn frightening reputations without the pathology that separates destroyers from fighters merely schooled in destruction. Deontay Wilder is a ferocious puncher, but there is something about his assaults that hints at an insecurity mirroring his bombast. Gennadiy Golovkin understands how to deconstruct the human body tactically, but he does so with the passion of an operator working a switchboard. Not Davis. Davis takes the business of hurting people more than seriously—he takes it personally.
That does not augment the quality of his opposition, nor does it elevate his ceiling; the sight of Davis struggling to put away an aged and injured Gamboa is one difficult to forget. But his intentions give a hint, as the Barrios fight did, of how Davis will respond to sterner resistance. Those twenty-four knockouts in twenty-five fights are there because Davis has been matched as you’d expect for a young fighter with his drawing power, one whose most intriguing opponents operate in parallel dimensions. But those knockouts are also there because Davis is trying to send your skull into the stands. Such is his grasp of the performative element in prizefighting. There is much to be said for such murderous simplicity. Davis does that talking with his fists.
He is without a signature win, however. Gamboa and Leo Santa Cruz were sacrifices made for his burgeoning popularity, not tests of his ability. His ideal opponents are as obvious as the obstructions to getting them in the ring are. To cite reasons why Davis isn’t fighting them might make you knowledgeable, but all of those reasons are, in the end, what Davis does not need. This generation of fighters is in danger of being remembered for who they didn’t fight. Rationalize that indictment as patronizingly as you choose, glaring omissions lead only to hypothetical victories and, provided you actually like boxing, disappointment.
Regardless of who Davis is fighting, that snarling disposition helps explain why he is so popular. The impulse might be to suggest Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s mentorship has made Davis a draw. Mayweather is a master of self-promotion, having created an entire generation of Mayweather fans who left the sport when he did, who return to it when he does. But the contrivance that made the “Pretty Boy” “Money” is missing from Davis. There is little performance to him beyond the one fixed between the bookending bells of ritualized violence.
Authentically unpolished, Davis can be boorish in his interactions on social media, but even then, there is a playfulness about him, as though he thinks the entire online experience is beneath him, or that at least the actors he interacts with are. And what are the reasons he should feel otherwise, exactly? How is a man who renders people unconscious for a living—that most intimate and binding spectacle in sports—supposed to regard an online community? If “Tank” tells you to go fuck yourself, maybe you should.
The aggression underlying those throwaway interactions has manifested in ways void of humor; his legal issues, issues laid bare for anyone interested, attest to that. In 2017, Davis was arrested for assault after punching a friend; in 2018 he was arrested for his involvement in street fighting. In 2020, Davis was charged with simple battery and domestic violence after footage surfaced of him putting his hands around the neck of the mother of his child and forcing her from her seat at a celebrity basketball game. In March of this year, Davis was indicted on fourteen counts for his involvement in a hit-and-run in November 2020. But if these are reasons to turn away from Davis you might as well turn away from boxing, a sport sustained by men misshapen by crisis. This does not excuse Davis’s behavior, but sanctimony over boxer behavior has always been a hollow gesture. Who can recall without laughing the boycott of Floyd Mayweather Jr. that lasted only long enough to not impact at all the highest-grossing fight of all time and ended as soon as the 100-foot soapbox the fight provided was removed? Davis has some violent and destructive tendencies—to deny as much is dishonest. So too is any harping on the matter when it discourages you not one bit from enjoying the way he employs them for your entertainment.
Friedrich Nietzsche said that in heaven “all the interesting people are missing.” Boxing is no heaven, and Davis is part of what makes it interesting. There is no reason to lie about why.