Baltimore’s boxing champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis won before he even got in the ring on Saturday at Barclays Center. As New York City fans adopted the champion they boo’ed his challenger Rolando “Rolly” Romero as he entered the ring to Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” in a purple metallic robe.
As Tracy Morgan, adorned in dookie gold rope chains, Madonna, Polo G, and Michael Strahan sat in the sold-out crowd of a record 18,970 people, “City of God,” started to play as Davis entered the ring in a black robe, tatted up on every inch of his body. Alicia Keys voice bellowed: New York City please go easy on me tonight.
The crowd went apesh*t. The roars deafening. The energy was alternately electric and out of control. During the first round a fight that broke out in the stands was given nearly equal attention to the one in the ring.
For the first few rounds Rolly looked clean and disciplined. Predictions were being made that this would be an upset. He held Davis’s power punch off with a few jabs, and it seemed like he had Davis running. But Davis’s explosive power would end the fight in the sixth round by TKO with a clean left hand that left Rolly crumbling on the ropes. His record remains pristine 27-0, (25 KOs)
During the post-fight press conference, a reporter asked why Davis is so popular with the fans.
“He’s the most exciting fighter in the entire sport, that’s why,” said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Productions.
Ellerbe’s not lying. Fans are rooting for him in ways boxing fans haven’t seen in a while. They don’t just love him. They’re in love with him.
“The talking is over. The time is now,” Davis had blustered from the podium at the press conference two days before the fight.
Even though Davis is focused more on action than talk, he is the biggest talk in boxing right now. He’s admired in a different way than Mayweather who fans love to hate. Maybe it’s his youth or his graciousness. Or his speed and power. Whatever it is he’s given fans something to look forward to.
He says his focus is on bringing up young fighters in his hometown the same way he was mentored.
Promoted by one of the most bombastic fighters, Floyd Mayweather for Mayweather Promotions, Davis is quite the opposite of Mayweather. He’s quietly confident, an observer and listener who is convinced he can make a difference not just for professional boxing’s stature, but for his city – often relegated as the city best known for the dysfunction illuminated in the HBO series, “The Wire.” In fact, the character Dennis “Cutty” Wise from the show, was drawn from Davis’s real-life trainer, Calvin Ford, who trained him at the Upton Boxing Center in West Baltimore. The gym is steps away from where Davis grew up and where the uprisings spilled out in indignation in the wake of the police-involved death of Freddie Gray. Ford says the actor Chad Coleman who played Cutty got all the nuances of his personality and that much of it was true including the women who tried to woo him with home-cooked meals and baked goods when he came home from prison and coached their sons at Upton.
Born and raised in Poe Homes projects in Baltimore, Ford says he ran the streets in the Lexington Terrace projects as a lieutenant in the drug trade in the 1980s until he was sentenced to a 10-year stint in federal prison on racketeering and conspiracy charges.
“There’s nothing glamorous about prison, every day I had to wake up to protect my life to get back home to my family,” said Ford. “I told Gervanta you don’t have to go that route; find something you’re dedicated to.”
Upon his release Ford went back to his two passions – baking and boxing. He baked cakes for Phillips Seafood at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and became the first black manager there.
Meanwhile, in and out of group homes because his parents suffered from addiction, Davis found solace in boxing. He and his friends would meet up at Mondawmin Mall and start street fights. When he found Upton, he would go every day after school and observe. At Upton, Ford was working with national champion Ramone Manley. Davis would watch as he trained him. Ford’s son Quaadir Gurley started training Davis.
“He took me under his wing,” remembers Davis. “He (Gurley) would go home and talk about me to Calvin who was training Ramone. Ramone ended up going to jail so Calvin was looking for the next person.”
Ford started training Davis when he was only seven years old.
Before Manley left Ford remembers telling him: “This kid watches everything you do and sometimes he gets it better than you.”
Ford said that Davis wasn’t the most gifted fighter, but he was the most focused, and he listened to the lessons.
“Everything I was giving to him when he was young, he learned it and when he went in the gym, he performed it,” Ford said. “He saw the vision I had, and he turned it into his vision.
“We were together everywhere,” remembers Davis. “I started winning national tournaments. We were on the road together. I would sleep in his office at Phillips. I was with him 24-7. I was like his kid, that’s how much we clicked and he’s still with me.”
Ford had him watch tapes from the greats – Floyd Mayweather, Adrien Broner, Pernell Whitaker. “Sometimes he’d fall asleep, and I’d smack him in the head,” Ford laughs.
On his own Davis would watch Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor” who Ford likens to Davis’s style. And he’d absorb tactics from Roy Jones, Lamont Peterson and Paul Williams by watching tape.
Ford and Davis lost Ford’s son Gurley when he was shot to death in 2013. He was one of a string of fighters from Upton that Ford trained and would lose to the streets, including Ronald Gibbs who was an Olympic hopeful and was stabbed to death while defending his sister and Angelo Ward who was shot to death.
Davis turned professional at the age of 18 after winning the 2012 Golden Gloves. He met Mayweather through boxer Adrien Broner. One of his first requests when he signed with Mayweather was that he would be able to fight in Baltimore, which he has been able to do once so far professionally.
He’s been supporting Baltimore rappers and businesses financially and wants to have a larger impact on the city. “In due time they’re gonna be big for the city,” Davis says.
He’s also looking to step out into something new for promotion.
“He’s in the position to be his own boss, “said Ford. “He’s always gonna do business with Mayweather promotions, Floyd is his mentor. But he wants to help talent coming out of Baltimore. He wants to do more for them. Only way you can do more for them is to be your own boss.”
The fight Saturday was his last contractual fight with Mayweather Promotions. Ellerbe refused to talk contractual information and Mayweather was absent because of a family emergency according to Ellerbe.
Still, Ford says there’s no conflict between himself or Davis and Mayweather. “Floyd has been where I’ve never been as far as winning championships. When you have a great fighter, a great mentor that’s been there. You supposed to listen like you would a professor.”
Both Ford and Davis use boxing as a vehicle for something bigger for the city that averages over 300 murders per year.
“It’s not about the boxing. It’s bigger than the boxing, it’s just an avenue we use to bring kids in to teach them what they really need – teach them economics, teach them how to dress, how to put money in the bank, how to buy a house, make sure they go to school, just life skills,” said Ford.
“Floyd has his lane, Mike Tyson had his lane, Ali had his lane – all of them had an identity about who they were as champions,” said Ford. “Davis’s lane – he’s gonna be a champion of the youth.”
“I knew Baltimore was gonna come out here and I have a fan base in New York, and to see them show up was amazing,” Davis said at the press conference after his win.
“I feel like I didn’t just win. As a whole we won.”