As cars whizzed by, Gervonta "Tank" Davis climbed out of the luxury van and stood atop a concrete barrier off Interstate 95 to get a closer look at a brand-new billboard bearing his image.
"Baltimore's Own," reads the sign in oversized block lettering alongside his name, "World Champion Boxer" and the logo of Under Armour, which announced Wednesday that it has signed the undefeated fighter to an endorsement deal.
Davis smiled broadly when he saw it. The International Boxing Federation champion is 18-0 with 17 knockouts and has now taken out Michael Phelps — not in the ring, but on a pair of local billboards that long featured pictures of the Olympic swimming champion.
The billboards were welcoming presents — call them sign bonuses — from Under Armour, which did not disclose terms of the sponsorship contract.
"Our I-95 billboards are our hometown heroes," said Adrienne Lofton, the Baltimore-based apparel and footwear company's senior vice president for global brand management. "We look for the next best talent all over the world. So being a young athlete from Baltimore, we knew about him."
Before Phelps, the billboards depicted now-retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The signs are located on northbound I-95 between the Caton Avenue and Russell Street exits, and near Keith Avenue on the southbound side.
Davis, 22, the super-featherweight champion, grew up in Upton and has former boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. as his promoter and mentor. Davis is the first Baltimore fighter to win a world title since Hasim Rahman upset Lennox Lewis for the undisputed heavyweight crown in 2001.
Gazing at the northbound billboard, Davis said he couldn't help but think of boxers he trained with who didn't live to share his success. The list includes Ronald Gibbs, who was fatally stabbed in 2011; Angelo Ward, who was shot to death in 2012; and Montell Pridgett, who was shot and killed earlier this year.
"I definitely think of them before I fight," Davis said. "Just not having them around me anymore does hurt me. It does keep me motivated to work harder, drive me when I'm feeling down. I feel that I have people watching over me."
Davis joins other Under Armour-signed boxers, including heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua of Great Britain and middleweight and light middleweight champion Canelo Álvarez of Mexico.
Under Armour, which sells most of its products in North America, is looking to increase its global reach, and boxing is an international sport.
"It takes the toughest and most determined athletes in the world, and that guy in that package is a beast," Lofton said of Davis, who is 5-foot-6 and fights at 130 pounds.
Davis defended his title in London Saturday with a third-round technical knockout of previously unbeaten Liam Walsh.
"He embodies this brand with the hard work and the dedication," Lofton said.