Gervonta Davis set off a frenzy among boxing fans with the terrifying left uppercut he landed to the jaw of Leo Santa Cruz in October. It was the perfect punch against the toughest opponent he’d ever fought in his first turn as a pay-per-view headliner.
As the West Baltimore native climbed the ring ropes to celebrate, his career seemed headed for the stratosphere.
Seven months later, the 26-year-old Davis is preparing for a different kind of challenge in his follow-up fight against Mario Barrios, with a pair of court dates in Florida and Baltimore looming in the months beyond.
Barrios, a super lightweight titleholder from San Antonio, wasn’t one of the young tigers mentioned as a possible opponent for Davis in the immediate aftermath of the Santa Cruz fight. Though undefeated (26-0, 17 knockouts), he’s less known to the general public than Ryan Garcia or Teofimo Lopez.
Size is the source of intrigue this time around. Davis was the bully in his 130-pound fight against Santa Cruz. Compared to the 140-pound Barrios, he’ll be the little guy. Showtime is betting this will be enough to sell Davis’ second appearance as a pay-per-view headliner on June 26 in Atlanta.
“Life, period, is about challenges,” Davis said Thursday on a Zoom call from Atlanta. “Once you get over one challenge, you’ve got to go through another one. That’s basically what boxing is — you go through one champion, you’ve got to go through another one. So that’s what we’re doing, building a legacy.”
The 26-year-old Barrios is not on Davis’ level as an attraction or as a knockout puncher, but he is five inches taller and naturally heavier. Davis will move up two weight classes from his fight against Santa Cruz. The last time he took on a naturally bigger foe, Yuriorkis Gamboa in December 2019, he had trouble setting up a finishing flurry even though he dominated the action.
Davis said that was more about the Cuban veteran’s experience than his physical stature.
“Gamboa, he was bigger, but he was someone who’d been in the game longer than me,” he said. “There were shots I caught him with, and he knew how to protect himself. He would grab me, and he knew how to hang on, so that’s what he was doing.”
Davis (24-0, 23 knockouts) said he’s not assuming Barrios will be stronger than him in the ring, but he is training to elude a larger man’s punches. He began his camp in Las Vegas five weeks ago under the watchful eye of his trainer since childhood, Calvin Ford. Gone are the days when they prepared for fights in the Upton Boxing Center, a few blocks from where Davis grew up.
“I don’t have to worry about anything; all I have to worry about is going to the gym and training each and every day so I can stay undefeated,” he said in explaining his gravitation toward Las Vegas.
For his part, Barrios sees this step up against the smaller, more accomplished Davis as his best chance to make a name in boxing. He said he’s “coming to shock the world.”
If Davis can’t have the superfight he covets, winning title belts in multiple weight classes — he already holds championships in the 130- and 135-pound classes — is another way for him to make his mark. He’s following a path tread by other fighters he admires, including his promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and current pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez.
He said he’s “not frustrated at all” that higher-profile matchups with Lopez and Garcia have yet to come together. “Whoever they put in front of me, it could be Godzilla, I have to go through him,” he said.
Davis will fight with out-of-ring legal troubles still awaiting him in the months beyond his date with Barrios.
Five days after he knocked out Santa Cruz on Halloween night, he was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run crash in downtown Baltimore that left four drivers in another car injured and led the boxer to be indicted on 14 misdemeanor charges ranging from failure to remain at the scene to driving on a suspended license. That case is scheduled to go to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court in October.
Davis is also preparing to stand trial in July on two misdemeanor battery charges stemming from an alleged public altercation with the mother of his child at a charity basketball game in Florida. Video of that February 2020 incident circulated online and briefly caused Davis to go silent on his usually bustling social media platforms.
He said he did not have a comment on either case.
“My main focus is June 26; we got a big task in front of us,” Davis said. “It really doesn’t matter what’s going on outside the ring. My main focus is inside the ring.”
For now Davis is expecting a warm reception in Atlanta, where he owns a home. The last time he fought in the city’s State Farm Arena, against Gamboa, he drew a crowd of 14,129. Tickets for the Barrios fight will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.