- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2023

They raised their phones up, ready to capture blood. 

Fans accustomed to watching Gervonta Davis have come to expect that the Baltimore boxer’s fights can end at any moment — and by the early hours of Sunday morning, the crowd in a sold-out Capital One Arena was no exception.

Nothing quite captures the sense of anticipation the 28-year-old creates more than seeing that sea of phones bobbing in the dark, the bright screens creating a light show in the arena.

In the eighth round, Davis gave the amateur videographers what they wanted.

Davis hit opponent Hector Luis Garcia with a devastating left-hand cross — the kind that has typically led to highlight-reel knockouts. And while Garcia somehow stayed on his feet, the Dominican didn’t come out of the corner to start Round 9. He couldn’t see, he said. 

The fight was over. For anyone still recording, they likely managed to capture Davis celebrating with his trademark backflip jump off the corner of the ring post.

“I thought I caught him good,” Davis said, “but I didn’t know I caught him like that.” 

Davis (28-0, 26 knockouts) dispatched Garcia (16-1, 10 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage Sunday in his return to the District. And by the time Davis sat down for his post-fight press conference, the WBA lightweight title holder had already turned his attention to another Garcia. After all, Davis entered this past weekend with his next fight tentatively lined up — an April showdown with undefeated rival Ryan Garcia (no relation to Hector) in what figures to be the biggest match of their respective careers thus far. 

One of the biggest draws in boxing, Davis has proven he can attract a crowd in several cities throughout the United States. Saturday’s pay-per-view card had a paid attendance of 19,731, the first time Davis had headlined in D.C. and his first time appearing in a ring here in nearly seven years. But a Davis-Ryan Garcia fight has the potential to crossover into the mainstream in a way that could make the winner a household name beyond their current fan bases. Both fighters excite in the ring and know how to stir up a promotion outside it. More importantly, fights like this — two possible A-listers — don’t come around often. 

Davis, nicknamed “Tank,” appears to be on the cusp of true superstardom. Can anyone — or anything — stop him?

“He’s made mistakes,” said Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports. “And he will be the first to admit that. And he has said multiple times that ‘The only one that can stop me is me.’ Now he meant that largely in a boxing context, but I think you can apply it (outside the ring), and we’ve had those conversations.”

Saturday’s main event — which didn’t start until 12:58 a.m. Sunday — almost didn’t happen. On Dec. 27, Davis was arrested in Florida on a domestic violence charge that put his showdown with Hector Luis Garcia at risk. Speaking to The Washington Times at Friday’s weigh-in, Espinoza said that if Showtime had made an immediate decision, “it probably would have been to pull the fight.” 

The arrest was yet more legal trouble for Davis, who is set to stand trial next month for his alleged involvement in a November 2020 hit-and-run and has been previously accused of domestic violence, though that case was discharged. But the card proceeded in part because the woman who accused the boxer of hitting her recanted her allegations, writing in a social media post that “Gervonta did not harm me or our daughter.”  

Still, Espinoza said after talking with Davis, he made clear that the network’s “flexibility” with the boxer would be limited if another troubling incident were to occur. “We want to know that it’s being addressed meaningfully,” Espinoza said. He added that Showtime wants — and will require — Davis to “work on himself,” mentioning counseling as an example. 

“He’s got the chance to write the ultimate rags-to-riches story,” the executive said of Davis. “And there are some things he needs to iron out and address immediately. But if we didn’t believe that he was sincere in improving himself, we wouldn’t be in business with him.”

Inside the ring, Davis remains captivating. His fight against Hector Luis Garcia began as a tactical chess match, with the defending champion starting slowly to properly gauge Garcia’s three-inch height advantage. Gradually, Davis started to pour it on. The southpaw threw a series of vicious combos at a flat-footed Garcia, chopping away to buckle his opponent’s knees. According to SHO Stats, Davis landed 99 of 239 punches through eight rounds.

When Garcia failed to come out for the ninth, the stoppage took Davis — and the rest of the crowd — by surprise. Garcia said through a translator that Davis’ left cross caused him to not know where he was, as well as lose vision temporarily in his right eye.

After the stoppage, promotion for Davis’ next fight had already begun. On Twitter, Ryan Garcia tweeted: “Goodbye Tank [it’s] over for you” and “No more talking let’s get it on. APRIL 15th” Jake Paul, Garcia’s celebrity YouTuber-turned-boxer friend, added more buzz by predicting his pal would knock Davis out. 

Davis, told of the comments, smiled and had sharp words of his own.

“Jake Paul is a clown and Ryan is a baby clown,” Davis said. “Tell them to get ready. That’s what they do. They like to talk and try to get fame off other people.” 

Davis, though, agreed with one point: The time for talking would soon be over.

The contracts for April’s fight have yet to be officially signed, but the 135-pounder reiterated that the framework of the deal has been agreed upon. 

“I worry that he is going to squander a tremendous opportunity,” Espinoza said of Davis. “I worry that there perhaps are some issues that still need to be addressed. Like all of us. But he has overcome tremendous odds to get here. That doesn’t excuse some of his missteps. But his missteps need to be viewed in light of how he was raised and lack of some of the guidance he had at home. 

“Now he’s an adult now. He’s going to be judged on his own actions.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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