‘I can be the next great fighter’: Gervonta Davis primed to emerge from Floyd Mayweather’s shadow

Jack Rathborn
·5 min read
Gervonta Davis prepares to face Leo Santa Cruz on Saturday (Jayshon Tahliq)
Gervonta Davis prepares to face Leo Santa Cruz on Saturday (Jayshon Tahliq)

Gervonta Davis sinks down onto the stool in the corner of the ring after a gruelling round of pad work, sweat pouring from his brow. His mentor, the legendary Floyd Mayweather Jr, conspicuous while keeping a watchful eye from the other side of the ropes.

As the piercing noise of the bell reverberates around the gym, ‘Tank’ leaps to his feet for more punishment. There’s now a realisation painted across his face that it is his time to emerge from the shadow of his master and seize the limelight in his pay-per-view debut on Saturday.

“I always wanted to be that top pound-for-pound fighter, I can be the next great fighter,” Davis tells The Independent ahead of his fight against Leo Santa Cruz, which will see world titles at lightweight and super featherweight on the line.

“There’s pressure [to fighting on pay-per-view], but it’s good pressure. I always wanted to be a pay-per-view star when I was growing up. I’m excited and grateful to have the chance to show the fans I have great skills.

“It’s about challenging my skills with my work ethic. Going somewhere I can focus just on boxing. That’s why I moved the camp from Baltimore to Vegas.

Gervonta Davis has set up camp at mentor Floyd Mayweather’s gymJayshon Tahliq
Gervonta Davis has set up camp at mentor Floyd Mayweather’s gymJayshon Tahliq

"I was doing great back home, and nobody could beat me then, so imagine how good I can be taking it even more seriously and coming here.”

Even by boxing’s standards, Davis’ story is astonishing. With his father in prison and mother battling drug addiction, he was taken from his home by child protection services at just five years old.

After bouncing between foster homes and shelters, Davis’ grandparents eventually gained custody and, crucially, boxing trainer Calvin Ford entered his life aged seven. Ford was beginning to see the light himself, following a 10-year stint in jail for drug offences.

Preventing Davis from the perils of West Baltimore, made famous by the hit series The Wire, they have forged “an unbreakable bond” together.

“Boxing helped save my life,” Davis insists. “The people I grew up with, they all got killed. I was fighting a lot as a new kid on the block. And one day my uncle saw me fighting and he wanted to challenge me to do something positive, so he took me to the gym.

The Baltimore native has overcome adversity to emerge as one of the sport’s next superstarsJayshon Tahliq
The Baltimore native has overcome adversity to emerge as one of the sport’s next superstarsJayshon Tahliq

"The love I got from the gym I wasn’t getting at home. So once I fell in love with the gym, I went all the time, I’d rush there from school.”

It’s therefore unsurprising to witness the excitement spill out from Davis as he unwinds at the opulent home throughout his camp, including a private basketball court, fire pit and swimming pool.

It continues to feed his hunger to make this lifestyle permanent, yet always conscious of his humble beginning and knowing, as Ford puts it, that he “came from the dirt”.

There is also a palpable respect between Ford and Mayweather. The former five-weight world champion can be seen meticulously tracking Davis’ punch statistics while Ford, now a spright 56, steps inside the eye of the tornado to absorb a barrage of shots on the pads.

Mayweather’s role is as vital as ever now that Tank has been given a taste of the extravagant lifestyle he pioneered for athletes.

“He’s not changed much,” Davis says of Mayweather’s involvement after joining him in Las Vegas. “But he’s more into it, he’s doing a great job here, he swings by the gym, checks on me. He’s way more involved.

The 25-year-old is fighting for two world titles against Leo Santa Cruz on SaturdayJayshon Tahliq
The 25-year-old is fighting for two world titles against Leo Santa Cruz on SaturdayJayshon Tahliq

“I’m on a big stage against a great opponent, he’s there to motivate me and feel more comfortable. He’s not trying to hold my hand, but be there for me while I take the next step.”

Davis has taken the next step as a person too, having matured as a result of his two-year-old daughter Gervanni. Her presence in his life has allowed him to reflect ahead of his prime years, aware of the need to transition from his tenacious instincts towards the silky defence that allowed Mayweather to prosper and emerge almost unblemished from the most brutal of sports.

“Being away from her for a long time, it’s made me sad,” Davis admits. “But I’m doing my job, I’m excited to get the win firstly, then get back to being a great father and give her the life I didn’t have. It’s definitely motivation.

“I definitely need to make the most money I can and if I’m not taking punishment then I can continue, but if I start to take punishment, I don’t want to mess myself up physically. I’d rather be able to take my girl to school, live my life with her.

“If I can stay in the game a long time then I will, but once I start taking punishment, I’ll walk away, it’s a warning to me.

Gervonta Davis hits the pads with trainer Calvin FordJayshon Tahliq
Gervonta Davis hits the pads with trainer Calvin FordJayshon Tahliq

“As I step up there will be more defence, as defence wins championships, going out there and doing what I have to do. It depends on the fighter too, against a stronger opponent I’d have to use more defensive skills.”

Stardom is tantalisingly close for Davis, who is comfortable in the company of superstars, beyond Mayweather, there’s friend and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning MVP in the NFL.

“He tells me to stay focused,” Davis reveals. “We speak often on Instagram and feed off each other, give each other energy. We’re bringing greatness to the city.”

The gritty Santa Cruz, seldom willing to reject the invitation to exchange, brings a style likely to showcase Davis and the crisp, bludgeoning shots he can dish out with either hand.

Victory will propel him towards more mouthwatering fights. No more so than Teofimo Lopez, who sparred Davis during their formative years before upsetting Vasiliy Lomachenko two weeks ago to become the king at 135 pounds.

“He is a few years younger than me and I probably sparred six or more fighters on that day,” Davis recalls. “He was one of them. He was somebody I was able to move around with and I caught him heavy.

“It’s not surprising to me [that he became a world champion]. So if he can stay at 135, we can definitely meet, I want to fight the best and he’s definitely one of them. That’s a fight that excites me.”