In order for Gervonta Davis to step into the boxing ring to take on defending champion Jose Pedraza for the 130-pound junior lightweight IBF title in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jan. 14, a fight Davis won by TKO in the seventh-round, the west Baltimore fighter first had to win another battle. The opponent was a quiet menace: the scale.
Yep, just what you find in millions of bathrooms, where the spinning numbers are a scolding reminder of fast-food lunches.
"I had some good days and some bad ones," Davis said referring to his weight before the Pedraza fight in a news release, "but when I followed the plan, I saw great results."
Davis said he got help from people at Knockout Fitness, a downtown workout center, who "helped with planning and making my meals for camp. Changing my diet for this camp helped a lot, and I learned how to eat better."
That was crucial, because if Davis didn't make the official weight limit for the Pedraza fight, even if he won the bout, he wouldn't earn the championship. The title would have remained vacant.
Instead, Davis came in at 129 pounds and ran his record to 17-0 which, at age 22, made him the youngest current world champion at any boxing weight class. The fight was nationally televised on Showtime.
What those who watched the fight saw was a crisp, highly charged six-plus rounds that featured the muscular, 5-foot-6 Davis, aptly nicknamed "Tank," wear down a taller, experienced veteran who had a longer reach. In the sixth round, Davis buried a left in Pedraza's right side that forced the defending champ into a defensive cover with his right arm. Then, in the seventh round, Pedraza avoided a sweeping left but ducked into a thundering right hook from Davis that sent the Puerto Rican fighter through the lower ropes, ending the fight.
However, not at all visible to fight fans were the six weeks or so of training that went into Davis' preparation for the fight, which didn't go entirely silky smooth.
For his first week of training, Davis worked out in Hagerstown, Md., with trainer Mike Wilbar. Then, Davis returned to his home gym, the Upton Boxing Center in west Baltimore, to train with longtime mentor Calvin Ford. But when Ford had to leave briefly to shepherd some amateur boxers in the Midwest, Davis fell off the nutritional wagon, and with three to four weeks left before weigh-in, he was hovering at about 144 pounds; 14 pounds over the magic number.
"In this training camp, my coach and my team sat me down," Davis said. "They told me I was all over the place, and that's not me. They explained what I was going into and told me everyone makes mistakes, but this is your chance to make things right. I was reminded of all the stuff we have been through, and we came up with a plan to win."
Also key to Davis' preparation was getting him ready for whatever he might face against an experienced champion like Pedraza, who entered the fight 22-0 and had two previous successful title defenses. The likely approach for Pedraza to take was to stay away from Davis, snipe from outside with his jab and look for an opportunity to do some heavy damage. But it didn't have to work out that way (and, in fact, it did not, as Pedraza unwisely decided to slug it out), so the Davis camp had to have several game plans ready.
Ford brought in a string of highly skilled sparring partners, including a couple of former Olympians, all employing different styles to get Davis ready for any look he might see in the ring.
"This training camp was a team effort and was put together with minimal funding," Ford said. "Our sparring partners sacrificed their bodies to help us win this title. We received some great work from Drew Correll, Jerome Featherstone, James Winchester, Skip Crumpler and his team, and from two 2016 Olympians, Richardson Hitchins (Haiti) and Shakur Stevenson (U.S., silver medalist). Everyone did a great job of preparing Tank for Pedraza."
The last two to three weeks of Davis' training saw the young fighter exercise nutritional discipline and work hard in his sparring sessions. And on fight night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, he took the solid coaching of his corner. Yet, it was up to Davis to react to what he was seeing, as Pedraza drifted away from the anticipated jab-and-move style and, in boxing parlance, elected to "fight in a phone booth."
Doing the latter turned out to be a bad idea for Pedraza, and when the defending champ made that mistake, Davis knew how to respond.
"I have always said that Tank has an advanced ring IQ for a boxer. He fights like he belongs on this level," Ford said. "Everyone that knows Tank has witnessed the ability that he possesses. I've been his coach from day one, having competed and traveled with him from the amateurs to the pros. After all the work we've put in together, it was great to win on the big stage."
Davis' next fight may be in another three or four months, and if the Baltimore fighter could have his wish, the fight would be in his hometown. It remains to be seen whether a prospective opponent is willing to walk into the maelstrom of an arena packed with Davis' passionate followers.
As far as a likely opponent is concerned, that's far from certain, but a reasonable candidate is Britain Liam Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs), who holds the Commonwealth super featherweight title, a comparable weight class to Davis.
In the meantime, Davis, who had a difficult childhood in a tough neighborhood, continues to be a role model for city kids facing similar challenges.
"I love my city of Baltimore. My city has been through a lot, but we always make it through the hard times," Davis said. "Winning this title makes me want to work harder for the ones that are coming behind me. I hope I can just inspire people to never give up, keep fighting and doing great things. Keep supporting me, and I'll fight for you."