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After toughest fight yet, Baltimore boxer Gervonta Davis looks to make statement against brash Rolando Romero

This was an unfamiliar foe, one that robbed him of his very essence as a fighter.

Every time Gervonta Davis’ left glove crashed against the granite crown of Isaac Cruz’s skull, the hand inside hurt a little worse. One of the most lethal instruments in boxing turned on its owner to the point where he no longer wished to use it. Davis, normally the man to finish a fight with that crackling left, transformed into a survivor as he endured the first major injury of his pro career.

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Survive the West Baltimore native did, retaining his World Boxing Association lightweight title and extending his record to 26-0. But Davis, one of the greatest attractions in the sport because of his knockout power, failed to stop his opponent for the first time since 2014.

The Cruz fight was almost six months ago now and Davis initially shrugged it off during a recent interview to promote his next bout, Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against hard-punching, trash-talking Rolando Romero.

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“That wasn’t tough to me at all,” he said of his victory by judges’ scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112. “I didn’t put the pressure on him. I just let him tire himself out by throwing lots of punches. He missed a lot. People just seen somebody throw more punches than me, but he was just swinging wild.”

Upon further probing, however, Davis acknowledged he had never dealt with anything like the injury that left him reluctant to use his left hand against Cruz.

“It was a big factor,” he said. “I hurt it in training and me coming into the fight, I knew I was going to hurt my hand, because he was smaller and his head is big. So I knew. I just didn’t know when. … It’s basically I was fighting with one hand for the whole half of the fight. I would forget that it hurt and then throw it — it’s just nature to throw that hand. But then I’d throw it, and it kept hurting, so I was like, ‘Damn.’ But I got through the fight pretty good.”

Fighters do not like to admit vulnerability. Fearlessness and an aura of invincibility are as important as their technical skills. Once these illusions are shattered, some champions never entirely recover. Others cope and find new paths back to greatness.

Davis is not at that point. He did not suffer a shocking knockdown or lose his title. But he does want to dispatch Romero in spectacular fashion so there are no lingering questions.

“I just want to beat his [butt] real bad,” he said. “Like a spanking. It’s for him, but I also want to make a statement to everybody.”

The Romero fight comes at a professional crossroads for Davis, who said his contract with Mayweather Promotions is coming to an end. As much as he’s known for his finishing ability in the ring, he’s also the most famous protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the greatest fighter and box-office attraction of the previous generation. Mayweather’s belief in Davis, as a boxer and a star, gave him credibility beyond his years when he began fighting on Showtime and moving toward his current status as a pay-per-view headliner. They had their public spats but always seemed to mend fences when it came time to do business.

Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, has sidestepped questions about Davis’ future with the company, saying he is focused on the fight with Romero, who also works under the Mayweather banner. “One of the most anticipated fights I’ve been involved with,” Ellerbe called it.

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Davis said he’s not opposed to doing business with Mayweather Promotions in the future, but he wants more control of his career. He said he’s unlikely to sign a long-term deal with anyone and instead wants to negotiate fight by fight.

“I just want to build myself,” he said. “I’m ready to do my own thing. It’s time to spread my own wings. … I don’t think I should be in any lockdown contract, because there’s fighters all over. So if they don’t want me to cherry pick [opponents], keep it open.”

Fans will hope that means Davis is finally headed for a showdown with one of the other top fighters in a stacked 135-pound division, whether that means Teofimo Lopez Jr., Ryan Garcia or the winner of the June 5 title fight between George Kambosos Jr. and Devin Haney.

He said he’s “definitely tired” of hearing that he has ducked these dangerous opponents but did not tip his hand when asked what might come after Romero, other than to say he wants to fight at least once more this year.

Out of the ring, Davis, 27, is scheduled for a June 8 trial in Miami on two misdemeanor battery charges connected to a February 2020 incident at a charity basketball game involving the mother of his daughter. He’s then scheduled for a Sept. 21 trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court on 14 charges stemming from an alleged hit-and-run incident in November 2020.

The undefeated Romero (14-0, 12 knockouts), known as “Rolly,” is not considered to be in the class of the top lightweights, but he has tossed relentless barbs at Davis, trying to build their fight into a grudge match. His power and unpredictable style could at least make for an action-packed affair.

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Davis and Romero were supposed to fight in December, but a sexual assault allegation against Romero forced Davis to seek a different opponent, who turned out to be Cruz, a more skilled all-around fighter. Police in Henderson, Nevada, concluded their investigation of Romero without charging him, so how he has his chance to make a name for himself against Davis.

Promoters and fans have compared the 26-year-old Romero to Ricardo Mayorga, the wild-talking, wild-swinging Nicaraguan who briefly became one of the biggest stars in boxing after he upset Vernon Forrest in 2003. Romero has ripped on Davis for everything from his diminutive stature to his “padded” resume to his behavior during an alleged argument between the two at a 2019 bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia. He promised to knock Davis out in the first round.

Davis, who prepared for the fight in South Florida with longtime trainers Calvin Ford and Kenny Ellis, seems to have little patience for Romero’s antics and less respect for his talent.

“He’s trying to sell the fight; that’s about it,” he said. “Rolly hasn’t really got that much skill. He just depends on power. … He’s not really awkward. He just does dumb [stuff] in there.”

Davis and Romero stood inches apart after their final pre-fight news conference Thursday, talking over one another as they spat insults.

“The time is now,” Davis said again and again.


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