By Keith Idec
Whatever occurs January 14 against Jose Pedraza, Gervonta Davis already has won.
In boxing, the gifted featherweight prospect is known as a brash, unbeaten jewel of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s promotional stable. But in Baltimore, Davis is known as a self-sufficient symbol of hope for the youth of a violence-ravaged city.
The 22-year-old Davis is the first fighter from the city-funded Upton Boxing Center to reach this sport’s championship level. Older prospects once on track to succeed have been imprisoned or murdered before maximizing their talents in boxing rings.
“Coming from Baltimore, a lot of bad things have happened – from Freddie Gray, to the riots and things like that,” Davis told BoxingScene.com. “It’s time to bring some light back to Baltimore. I think me winning this world title, it will put Baltimore on the map and also show the kids that you can bring light to the city.
“You don’t have to be no rapper, no football player, no basketball player, no baseball player, things like that. You can be other things. Whatever you believe in and whatever you focus on, you can be whatever you wanna be. That’s what I’m here for. Right now I’m speaking for the youth, because they don’t have no voice right now.”
Davis knows exactly how many of them feel living in an impoverished community.
Abandoned by his mother, Kenya Brown, and father, Garrin Davis, as they battled drug addiction, Davis survived living in group homes and foster care at ages 6 and 7. His grandmother, Deborah Easter, eventually gained custody of him and his older brother, Demetris Fenwick. An uncle, James Walker, brought Davis, then 7, to Upton Boxing Center after seeing his nephew get into a street fight.
The powerful southpaw nicknamed “Tank” finished his amateur career in 2012 with a 206-15 record and numerous national titles, including the 2012 national Golden Gloves championship at 132 pounds. Davis did just as much to enhance the record of Upton Boxing Center, run by his longtime trainer and father figure, Calvin Ford, within one of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
“They misunderstand the kids in the city,” said Ford, who was the inspiration for the character, Dennis “Cutty” Wise, on “The Wire,” a legendary HBO series. “You’ve gotta give them some resources, something to do. And he’s living proof. He’s my beacon, my hero, to show that anything is possible after all he’s been through. After all the trials and tribulations that he’s been through, he’s still winning.”
A win over Puerto Rico’s Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs) won’t come easily.
The IBF world featherweight champion clearly is best opponent of Davis’ four-year pro career. The only noteworthy name on Davis’ perfect record (16-0, 15 KOs) is Cristobal Cruz (40-20-4, 20 KOs, 1 NC), but the former IBF featherweight champion from Mexico was 38 and well past his prime by the time Davis stopped him in the third round of their October 2015 fight in Orlando, Florida.
“He’s a great fighter,” Davis said of Pedraza. “We can’t take nothing from Pedraza. He’s a world-class fighter. Hopefully, January 14th he’ll be ready to fight.”
Despite Davis’ comparative inexperience, Ford, Mayweather and Al Haymon, who manages Davis, are certain he is prepared for this steep step up in competition. Showtime will televise the Pedraza-Davis fight from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as part of a doubleheader that’ll feature a super middleweight championship unification bout between London’s James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) and Sweden’s Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs) in the main event.
“He’s made for this,” Ford said regarding Davis. “When you see a kid embrace the crowd, they want this. So him being around Floyd, being around [Adrien] Broner, being around the Peterson brothers [Anthony and Lamont], how he came up in boxing, he’s been built for this. I’m just waiting to see the ‘Tank’ that I’ve raised as a fighter show his real true self, take that spot in the stars.”
Motivating Davis to train like a champion wasn’t always easy when he was preparing for fights against overmatched opponents. Facing one of boxing’s best featherweights has made Davis train harder, however, because he knows this isn’t an opportunity he can afford to squander.
“Me fighting for this title – win, lose or draw – this is just the beginning,” Davis said. “Losing is not an option, but this is just the beginning. This is the path I’ve gotta take just to the let the people know that I’m here, that I’m the real deal. I’m not here for no games. I’m not no fake this person, that person. I’m really here to stay. That’s what my main focus is on. And it’s just to show the people that I’m here, to prove to them that I am that one.”
Davis and Mayweather have a more comprehensive plan for his promising career than just winning one world title. Nevertheless, Davis realizes he has accomplished something significant by showing kids who look up to him at Upton Boxing Center that they, too, can beat Baltimore’s brutal streets if they remain focused.
“I’m proud of myself, but I know that this is just the beginning,” Davis said. “Coming from where I was coming from, I didn’t have much. So I was mainly focused on the money, making money, being able to take care of myself. Before I signed with Mayweather Promotions, I was sleeping on a couch and things like that.
“So now I have my own crib, drive my own car, stuff like that. I’m comfortable now, so it’s time to focus on the belt and the great things in the sport. That’s what my main focus is on right now, being great. I want to show the boxing world what I’m made of, that I’m not going anywhere. Just to show them I’m here to stay, that I have what it takes to be at this level.”
Davis doesn’t just want championship success for himself. He hopes to figuratively repay everyone who helped him overcome Baltimore’s pitfalls.
“It would be great,” Davis said. “My city knows what I’ve been through. My family knows what I’ve been through. I’m a survivor from Baltimore’s streets. Everyone I looked up to at Upton Boxing, in the gym, they’re dead or in jail. I’ve overcome a lot of stuff, so me winning a world title and just accomplishing that, period, would mean a lot to me, my city and the youth.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.