Davis and Garcia in 'the fight to save boxing'

DAVIS/BOXING: Gervonta Davis' fight against Ryan Garcia in Las Vegas was billed as one of the sport's most important fights in years. John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia, two of boxing's young, luminescent stars, stepped into the ring Saturday night in Las Vegas for what event organizers, based on early ticket sales and pay-per-view buzz, billed as one of the sport's most important fights in years.

The unbeaten, charismatic knockout specialists are in the prime of their careers and competing at a catchweight of 136 pounds. Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions counts Garcia as its marquee client, is expecting big things even without a title at stake.

"This is the fight to save boxing, literally," De La Hoya said last week during Garcia's open workout in Los Angeles. "Every decade has its fight to save boxing. The reason why is because you have two young guys, two undefeated guys who are the best of the best, willing to fight each other."

Tickets for the Showtime pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena moved at such a brisk pace that more were made available this week, in large part because of Davis's track record of selling out venues.

Davis (28-0, 26 knockouts), a native of Baltimore, most recently filled Capital One Arena, where an announced 19,731 witnessed the southpaw nicknamed "Tank" punish Hector Luis Garcia, landing a signature left hook late in the eighth round. Garcia did not answer the bell in the ninth after his corner requested a stoppage.

Davis thus retained his WBA lightweight belt Jan. 7 while setting the record for live gate ticket revenue at Capital One Arena and continued a run of sellouts in major markets such as Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta.

"I feel like this fight is big for the sport," Davis, 28, said during a workout in Las Vegas. "We're drawing a lot of people, and a win on that night is really like winning a world title again. This is going to be spectacular. It's going to be two young guys who are hungry. You got to tune in or be here in Las Vegas."

Davis's laser focus heading into what industry experts are forecasting will be the most lucrative fight of his career belies incidents away from the ring that have followed the five-time world champion over several years, complicating his legacy.

Just over two months ago, Davis pleaded guilty on multiple counts in a hit-and-run incident that took place in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2020, in downtown Baltimore, leaving four people injured. One of the victims was pregnant.

Davis has not commented publicly about the case after exiting the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Sentencing was ordered to take place May 5, compelling representatives from both Davis's and Garcia's camps to finalize logistics for their megafight within that timetable.

Davis was arrested Dec. 27 in Parkland, Fla., for hitting a woman with a "closed hand type slap," according to an incident report from the Broward County Sheriff's Office. He was jailed on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge of battery causing bodily harm.

In February 2020, Davis was charged with simple battery domestic violence in Coral Gables, Fla., stemming from a video showing him putting his hands around the neck of the mother of his child and pulling her out of her seat during a charity basketball game.

Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, has expressed disappointment in some of Davis's actions, indicating in an interview before his fight in D.C. that certain conditions were being imposed in order for the partnership to continue.

"Tank just needs to listen and do what he's been doing all along," Davis's trainer Calvin Ford said. "I've seen the journey to here a long time ago. (Saturday) night is his night. We'll walk through that fire or that desert or whatever we have to walk through."

Ryan Garcia (23-0, 19 KOs), meanwhile, is fighting for the first time in more than eight months after withdrawing from a bout against Mercito Gesta that had been scheduled for Jan. 28 – and contracts signed, per an ESPN report – as a tuneup for his encounter with Davis.

The last fight for Garcia, 24, took place July 16, 2022, when he earned a sixth-round knockout of Javier Fortuna in Los Angeles. Garcia had claimed the WBC interim belt Jan. 2, 2021, before the sanctioning body stripped the American of the title when he withdrew from his next scheduled bout, citing mental fatigue.

"This is a huge fight for boxing," Garcia said. "It can really change the trajectory of the sport and inspire young fighters to get it on right now. People are going to love you. They're going to see that you went out there, and you fought the best, and you gave it your all. (Win or lose) you showed them what a champion is in life."