The scene was a cross between a hip-hop concert and the Met Gala as Gervonta Davis sauntered toward the boxing ring for his 2019 fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Many of the 14,000 people at State Farm Arena in Atlanta were decked out in expensive fur coats and jewelry. Fans stood with their phones raised to record as Davis emerged from a tunnel, trailed by television cameras and surrounded by an entourage that included the Baby performing his song “Woah.”
Celebrities in attendance included the rapper Lil’ Kim and the former NBA stars Julius Erving and Shaquille O’Neal, all there to see Davis, known as Tank, fight for the World Boxing Association world lightweight championship.
“Anytime that you can bring out everybody from the Migos to Dr. J to the same event, you’ve covered all the bases,” said Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports. “You’ve covered different eras, different demographics, You’ve gotten royalty from both the sports and music genres, and that’s another thing that separates Tank.”
The moment was an indication that Davis, 28, had arrived as one of boxing’s biggest stars, and he rewarded the crowd’s enthusiasm by knocking out Gamboa in the 12th round. Since then, Davis (28-0) has captivated fans and grown the biggest celebrity fan base in the sport by delivering crunching knockouts that go viral on social media. But he has done it with little of the charisma and flamboyance that have characterized most famous boxers, and has made serious personal mistakes.
Davis will be back in the ring in Las Vegas on Saturday against Ryan Garcia (23-0), another quick-punching boxer whose popularity nearly rivals Davis’s. The fight will be contested at a 136-pound catchweight. But even with another victory, Davis will face questions about how he conducts himself outside the boxing ring.
On May 5, he will be sentenced for running a red light in his Lamborghini in November 2020 and crashing into another vehicle, injuring its four occupants, and then leaving the scene. He pleaded guilty to four charges after a judge, citing the victims’ injuries, rejected a plea offer from prosecutors that would have allowed Davis to avoid jail time.
And on May 26, Davis will be arranged on battery charges related to a January incident at his home in Parkland, Fla.
According to a report from the Broward County sheriff’s office, Davis struck a woman on the right side of her head with a “closed hand type slap.” The woman, who is the mother of Davis’s daughter, later posted on Instagram that there had been a heated argument but that no one was hurt. She filed an affidavit on Jan. 24 to have the charges dismissed.
The incident occurred 11 days before Davis’s most recent bout, against Héctor Luis García.
“I need to just make better decisions in the future,” Davis said in a recent interview. He added: “I want to build my team stronger and build that wall in front of me so pretty much nothing can get in between me and my goals and my future.”
Boxing has long been dominated by oversize personalities like Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya, who understood that selling a fight with trash talk and drama was almost as essential as winning it.
Davis is not quite there yet.
“Those were all guys without exception with huge personalities that lit up a room,” Espinoza said, “that can sit down, and they could hold court for hours with reporters.”
He continued, “And that’s not to say that Tank doesn’t light up a room, but one of the intriguing things and paradoxical things about Tank is, you know, he’s a little bit shy. And like so many things in Tank’s background, it doesn’t seem like the perfect blueprint for stardom.”
Davis has often given the impression that he would rather be anywhere other than at news conferences and in interviews; he often gives short responses or does not answer questions at all.
That attitude has seemed to shift in the run-up to Saturday’s fight, as Davis has initiated most of the verbal sparing at news conferences. He said he has become more comfortable in those situations.
“I’ve got to be more open,” Davis said. “That’s what really hurts me. I think I need to open up more and show people the other side of me.”
At 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds, Davis throws powerful punches, knocking out 26 of his 28 opponents. In a sport where popular fighters are sometimes criticized for bouts lacking excitement, Davis almost always delivers it.
After he beat García in a technical knockout, García said Davis hit him so hard that he could not see and did not know where he was. The win drew admiring tweets from the NBA’s Ja Morant and Bradley Bealand the NFL’s Deebo Samuelamong others.
“He has a celebrity fan base unlike any other fighter I’ve seen in the sport,” Espinoza said, “other than potentially Floyd Mayweather.”
Still, Davis, who is the No. 3 ranked fighter at 135 pounds, arguably the most competitive division in boxing, has been criticized for handpicking easy opponents to bolster his record. “I feel as though I get the most hate,” Davis said , adding: “It don’t matter who I fight. If it’s not the person they want me to fight, they bash me, and they just look one-sided. They just keep blaming me for everything.”
But even Davis’s trainer, Calvin Ford, said he was waiting for a fighter to “bring the best out of” Davis. “Coaches that have been around us for years know that people haven’t seen all that he can do,” Ford said .
Mayweather, who was also criticized during his undefeated career for avoiding tough fights, had been a mentor to Davis.
Davis signed with Mayweather’s promotional company when he was 18, and Mayweather routinely positioned Davis as the heir to his throne, increasing the attention Davis got. But Davis and Mayweather’s relationship has become strained in the last year. tweet that “the love was gone” between him and Mayweather.
Davis’s fight against Rolly Romero in May 2022 was his last with Mayweather Promotions, but he said he’s “always got respect” for Mayweather. “He’s someone that helped me help out and got me where I’m at today,” Davis said.
After having a front-row seat to the end of Mayweather’s career, Davis said he learned how valuable it is to be the “whole package” as a boxer and how one’s decisions outside of the ring can translate to higher — or lower — earnings.
So Davis said he welcomed his fast-growing celebrity, even though it might not always look that way.
“I don’t want to just be a great fighter,” Davis said, “I want to be a star. And I think I’m becoming that star that I always wanted to be.”