Gervonta Davis is a three-time national Silver Gloves champion, a 2012 national Golden Gloves champion, an undefeated professional on the verge of his first world title fight and the protégé of one of boxing’s greatest fighters. First and foremost, though, Davis is a survivor.
Growing up in a rough section of Baltimore, Davis was surrounded by crime and violence, which cost many friends and family members their freedom, if not their lives. Davis appeared headed down a similar dark path when, at the age of 7, a friend’s father brought him to a boxing gym.
That man soon became not just a boxing coach who would help mold Davis into a world-class fighter, but a father figure as well. On January 14, that father figure—Calvin Ford—will be working the corner of Gervonta Davis (16-0, 15 KOs) when he challenges 130-pound world champion Jose Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Unfortunately, Quaadir Gurley—Davis’ childhood friend and Calvin Ford’s son—won’t be among those in attendance, as he was killed a few years ago. Ford is one of several names on a sad list of people Davis honors every time he fights.
On the bright side, one man who will be cheering on Davis at Barclays Center is Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has taken the 22-year-old southpaw under his wing and helped him score the title fight against Pedraza.
We recently caught up with Davis to talk about his difficult past, his promising future, Mayweather’s influence on his life and why he believes only one other boxer could give him trouble in the ring. (Hint: It’s not Pedraza.)
If you could spend 20 minutes picking the brain of any fighter in history, who would it be and what would you ask?
I would say Floyd Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard. They’ve been able to maintain themselves and manage their money well after their careers were over. They milked the game well, and both were able to retire with their senses intact.
There are different things business-wise that I would ask them about the ins and outs of the sport, and it would take more than 20 minutes! But when I’m around Floyd, I don’t really have to ask him. He’ll bring it up. He is always talking business and teaching me about life, period.
Who’s the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought?
I don’t actually see myself or picture myself in the ring with a great fighter. There is nobody specific. But I do know that as I improve my competition, it will continue to bring out the best in me.
Like this fight here with Jose Pedraza. I truly believe it’s going to make me a better fighter because he’s a solid opponent, and I’m definitely working toward putting on my best performance so far.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… a lost kid. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I would be dead or in jail, but coming from where I come from, all I knew was the streets. I was already in the streets at a young age. So boxing has saved my life, thanks to my coach, Calvin Ford.
Coach Calvin’s son first taught me how to fight, and he introduced me to Coach Calvin. Before him, I never had that father figure, because my father was in and out of jail. So I really needed that father figure.
Once my coach entered my life, he had me in the gym 24-7. I used to even sleep at his house on school nights.
Actually, many of the young men I used to look up to are either dead or in jail, including Coach Calvin’s son, who was killed a few years ago. So every time I go into the ring, their legacy is going into the ring with me. It’s a big responsibility, but I’ll take that.
“ There is no one in the [130-pound] weight class who can do anything with me. The only one in the division who would give me a tough fight is Vasyl Lomachenko. ” Gervonta Davis
With respect to your introduction to boxing, was it love at first punch or did it take a while for the sport to grow on you?
It was love at first punch. I was maybe 7 years old when I first sparred, and I actually got my nose busted and started crying. I wasn’t crying because he busted my nose. I was crying because one of my coaches told me that I wasn’t going to be [able to] box that weekend.
I didn’t even spar in the ring; we were fighting on the floor outside of the ring—me and the son of another coach. We fought all over the floor. We even went into the bathroom. It was probably for about 10 minutes that we were fighting all over the gym. From that time on, I was hooked on boxing.
The gym used to open at 5 p.m., so I would get out of school at 3:50 and go straight to the gym.
Not including yourself, who is the best 130-pound fighter in the world right now?
In my eyes, they’re all good, but I gotta say Vasyl Lomachenko is the best because he’s proven himself. But there is no one in the weight class who can do anything with me. The only one in the division who would give me a tough fight is Lomachenko.
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you wish you could compete in, and who in that division would you like to fight?
I want to say 154 pounds, and I would fight Canelo Alvarez. I would be quicker than Canelo, but I think he would be stronger, for now. But who knows? Maybe in the future I would be stronger.
I haven’t watched his fights with Erislandy Lara or Austin Trout, who are southpaws like me. But either way, I would be slicker and more elusive than Canelo, and as the rounds go on, I think I would be able to punish him.
Kind of like what Andre Ward did against Sergey Kovalev. Every young boxer should watch how Andre came on strong, taking [Kovalev’s] best punch, weathering the storm and coming out on top.
What does it feel like to land the perfect punch?
The perfect punch was when I knocked out Guillermo Avila (a sixth-round TKO on April 1). There were about four left uppercuts that split his gloves and landed right on the button, and the referee stopped the fight. I could feel those four punches so good that my knuckle goes through the padding.
I had another one when I knocked out [former world champion] Cristobal Cruz (a third-round TKO in October 2015). I split his jab and threw a left uppercut, and it landed right on his nose. He went down, and the referee stopped the fight. [Cruz] didn’t know what had happened.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit?
I sparred this Russian guy in Floyd’s gym in Las Vegas, and he was a 160-pounder. He was so big.
I was moving one way and he was moving the opposite way, and when he turned his hook I walked right into it. All I could do was to cover up. I was seeing stars. It was a good shot.
What is the toughest thing a boxer has to deal with outside the ring that the general public may not appreciate?
The hard work and the dieting, especially in the last week [before a fight], when you have to make that weight and you’re starving all week. That’s what makes a real fighter is that discipline. A lot of people don’t know about that.
What is your favorite movie?
The Lion King. I think it’s because I like animals. I like going to the zoo and things like that.
Snakes, though, that’s one creature that I don’t like.
Speaking of animals, which one best describes your personality?
A gorilla. They’re aggressive and strong.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?
I would say the actress from Baltimore (Felicia Pearson) who played “Snoop” in The Wire. [Laughs.] I say that only because she knows what it’s like to come from the streets of Baltimore. She’s from the ’hood.
She probably doesn’t know too much about the boxing side, but the actors in movies, they can study the sport and learn it. I think she could pull it off.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
I want to say the guys who have died in my life who were such a major influence on me: Angelo Ward, Ronald Gibbs, Coach Calvin’s son and either Tupac or Biggie Smalls. I would want them to know I’m doing well.
You can change one thing in the world. What would it be?
I know for sure black lives matter, but it shouldn’t matter what color your skin is. We’re talking about human beings. All of our lives matter.
God created us all the same, no matter what color your skin is. I know that everybody doesn’t stand for the same things, so we’re not all necessarily going to stand together all of the time, and that’s OK, as long as we treat each other in a positive manner.
What’s on your bucket list?
I want to have children, be a good father to them and travel. I want my kids to be healthy and to attend great schools and to enjoy life.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Coming January 4: Former 168-pound world champion Anthony Dirrell.