A public press event featuring boxer Gervonta Davis was billed as a rally on behalf of the fighter as he prepared for a title defense in July at Royal Farms Arena.
However, it was actually just as much a rally on behalf of the city itself.
"This is huge for Baltimore! This is huge for Baltimore!" Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young boomed to help open the rally at Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore June 19.
Young, who has had to helm the city during a difficult time, was seizing the feel-good moment to exhort the 300 or so people watching -- and anyone else his message might reach -- to support Davis in a rare occurrence, a hometown sports hero performing in his hometown.
"This is going to be a sellout so don't be left out," Young said of the fight.
Davis, 24, the WBA super featherweight champion, is scheduled to fight Panamanian Ricardo Nunez July 27. Davis, who is almost as well known by his nickname, "Tank", is 21-0 with 20 knockouts. Nunez, 25, is 21-2 but this will be his first fight in the United States.
The fight will also be televised live on cable channel Showtime.
Davis story has been told often. He faced tough circumstances growing up in West Baltimore but, as a child, Davis came under the mentorship of boxing coach Calvin Ford of the Upton Boxing Center.
Under Ford's guidance, Davis learned his craft as an amateur then took the plunge into the pro fight game. Now, Davis' career is guided by boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s company, Mayweather Productions.
Davis has often said he wanted to fight in Baltimore. This is that opportunity.
"I want to thank all of Baltimore City for supporting me," Davis said speaking from a stage set up in the middle of the mall. Later, he added, "I'm coming home to Baltimore in front of my people. ... I'm pretty sure this will be a sold-out event."
Enthusiasm for Davis and the city ran high at the rally.
Stephen Espinosa, Showtime Sports president, was effusive in his praise of Davis and evaluated his accomplishments in historic terms. Espinosa reminded the crowd of another Baltimore boxer, Joe Gans, who was the first African-America boxing champion of the 20th century.
"Together, Showtime and Mayweather Promotions have literally done the biggest events that sports has ever seen," Espinosa said. "Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao, Mayweather-[Conor] McGregor. And now we have a new project. Our new project is [Gervonta Davis]."
Davis has made for good television in his previous Showtime appearances.
"Six appearances on Showtime, six KOs. And that's why Showtime loves Gervonta Davis," Espinosa said. "July 27 will be a special night. It'll be historic. It'll be a big night for Baltimore."
"There hasn't been a lot of history lately," Espinosa said after talking about Gans. "But that's about to change on July 27."
Ford, who has been praised for the work he does with city kids, chimed in on the significance of Davis fighting in his city.
"We have a lot [of kids] coming up behind this young man," Ford told the mall crowd regarding Davis. "He opened up the door for all you to do your thing. So on July 27, let's show the world that we can put on a world class show. You all come out and support this young man."
Leonard Ellerbe, a Mayweather Productions executive, said that it was Davis' idea to make the press event an open-to-the-public event.
"This is the first time other than for Floyd Mayweather that we've had a press conference open to the public," Ellerbe said. "Tank picked up the phone, and said, 'I want to bring it to my people. I want all my people to be able to come out to my press conference' … [so] you have to thank your great champion for bringing this to our attention."
Photo Credit: Bill Ordine/PressBox