Gervonta Davis is a champion now, the king of the International Boxing Federation's super-featherweight division, and that means he must fight or else lose his crown. Even if Davis is, as he claimed this month, "on a whole different level" than the challenger, rules and contracts compel him to step into the ring every so often. There are mandatory challenges to face.
This is the tenuous control the West Baltimore native asserted when he defeated Jose Pedraza in January, knocking out the unbeaten champion for the 16th knockout in Davis' 17 career fights, all victories. If he is to be the "future of boxing," as former star fighter, current promoter and occasional trainer Floyd Mayweather Jr. called Davis after that showcase fight in Brooklyn, N.Y., he must not look past fights like Saturday's.
"Getting the world title is a step closer to where I want to be," Davis, 22, said during a conference call last week ahead of his London bout against No. 1-ranked challenger Liam Walsh. "Having a belt is cool, but I'm trying to do more in the sport. I want to be the next star of boxing. I want to do more in the sport. This is just one more step to me."
Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs), 31, is a native of Rochdale, England, a town less than 250 miles from Copper Box Arena, the site of Saturday's fight and an unusually far-removed locale for a champion to make his first title defense. But Davis spoke of the travel as if it were nothing more than fan service.
This fight, he said, is "just giving the fans what they want to see." It is "the right business move." Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, went so far as to dispute that fan support would be one-sided, saying British boxing fans who had seen Davis against Pedraza — drilling right hooks, taunting the champ midfight, lowering his guard to show he could not be touched — would flock to his corner.
"As long as Tank stays focused and does what he does," Ellerbe said, calling Davis by his nickname, "the sky is going to be the limit."
Walsh did not expect to battle Davis so early with a belt on the line. Four months ago, he thought Pedraza would win on points. "I thought Gervonta looked brilliant and mature beyond his years," he said of their fight. Then, as if to clarify, he added that Pedraza also had erred in the seven-round bout.
Because Davis has handled his opponents with such ease and ferocity, Walsh's critiques focused not on what Davis has so far encountered but on what he hasn't. How would he hang in a tough fight? Or a long fight? What would he do if he could not put someone on the canvas?
"I will certainly ask all these questions," he said. "I'll do it any which way that it has to go."
Davis is confident it will go only one way, and that is in his favor. His future after that — still undetermined. He and Ellerbe sidestepped a question about a possible bid for title unification with other boxing federations, saying their focus is only on Walsh. Davis said he would consult afterward with his team, which, at the end of a training camp that began in Baltimore and ended in Las Vegas, featured Mayweather.
The former champ, undefeated in 49 career fights, was more "hands-on" with Davis than usual, the current champ said, running together, pushing each other in late-night gym visits, grinding "extra hard." Mayweather, ever the showman, no doubt expects a win. Davis, his budding protege, can do more.
"I'm excited to put on a show," he said.