Garrin Davis took a moment to gaze at the crowd of men, women and children that showed up Wednesday evening at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore for his son and World Boxing Association super-featherweight champion, Gervonta “Tank” Davis, and made a prediction.
“To have the opportunity to come to this mall and have a press conference, he might shed a tear,” the elder Davis, 50, said. “Or I might.”
The tear ducts remained dry, but the sentiment was real. Despite showing up 1 hour, 49 minutes after the scheduled time of 5 p.m., Davis, who was born and raised in West Baltimore, was greeted by thunderous applause and cheers from about 400 fans at a rally inside the mall.
The 24-year-old boxer will defend his title and his unblemished 21-0 record with 20 knockouts against Ricardo Nunez (21-2 with 19 knockouts) on July 27 at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. Showtime will air the 9 p.m. card with Davis headlining an event for the second time this year.
“Just to have a press conference in this mall, it means a lot,” Gervonta Davis said. “I’m coming home to Baltimore.”
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young attended the rally and implored residents to buy tickets for the fight and back a homegrown product.
“This is huge for Baltimore,” he said. “Come on, Baltimore, let’s get him some support.”
Davis’ title defense in his hometown is not unprecedented, but it is not frequent either. According to Showtime spokesman Matt Donovan, Harry Jeffra was the last resident of the city to defend his title in Baltimore in a featherweight bout in 1940. Before Jeffra, Joe Gans, the first African American world champion, defended his lightweight belt in 1902.
Davis last fought Feb. 9, knocking out Hugo Ruiz in the first round. Ruiz was a late replacement for the injured Abner Mares. Davis trained for many of his fights at the Upton Boxing Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, but has not competed in Baltimore since his fourth professional bout.
In 33 years of televising boxing, Showtime has never broadcast a fight from Baltimore. But Stephen Espinoza, the president of the network’s sports division, pointed out that Showtime has aired six of Davis’ fights and that Davis won all six fights by knockout.
“That’s why Showtime loves Gervonta Davis,” Espinoza said, drawing applause.
The fans who turned up for Davis’ appearance said the boxer embodies the spirit of Baltimore.
“He represents Baltimore,” said Brian Bomster-Jabs, a 29-year-old digital artist from East Baltimore. “He is Baltimore. Every time he punches somebody in the face, that’s the struggle of Baltimore that he has gone through.”
His friend, Ridge Goodall, a 28-year-old artist from West Baltimore, said Davis has the ability to galvanize the city’s residents.
“His fights boost Baltimore’s confidence up,” he said. “He lifts the next generation up and shows that there is a way to move on from Baltimore to bigger and better things.”
Davis’ path has inspired friends and teenagers Bryson Hawkins and Kavon Harris.
“He shows that you can make it out of Baltimore,” said Hawkins, 17, from Northwest Baltimore. “No matter where you’re coming from, you can get somewhere in life.”
Harris, a 17-year-old from East Baltimore, said he envisions Davis becoming an iconic figure in boxing such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., whom both teenagers followed until his retirement in 2017.
“He’s the greatest,” Harris said of Davis. “He can wind up being the greatest fighter ever.”
The fans’ enthusiasm was not missed by Davis, who said, “I believe Baltimore has been backing me for a long time.”
Davis’ appearance at Mondawmin Mall was a trip down memory lane for his father. Garrin Davis said his son enjoyed shopping for shoes, clothes and jewelry and getting a bite to eat in the shopping center’s food court.
He said it is still surreal realizing that his son will fight at Royal Farms.
“l didn’t think it would be possible because we haven’t had a world champion from Baltimore,” Garrin Davis said. “To come back and fight less than 10 blocks from his neighborhood, it’s extremely overwhelming.”
Gervonta Davis has drawn comparisons locally to Mayweather, who held championship titles in five different weight classes. His company, Mayweather Promotions, signed Davis as a client after he impressed Mayweather during a sparring session.
Bomster-Jabs said the student could soon match the teacher.
“He’s the next Floyd,” Bomster-Jabs said. “That’s why Floyd took him under his wing. He sees himself in Gervonta.”
Garrin Davis said he can remember days when his son would return home after a day of training and fall asleep before he could make it to his bed. He said days such as Wednesday make the hard times seem like a distant memory.
“I always say that you get out what you put in, and he put a lot of hard work into it,” the elder Davis said. “So he’s getting everything he deserves right now, and I’m extremely proud as a Baltimorean and as a father.”