Sports

Gervonta Davis Bests a Rival While Burnishing His Star Power

Before the final round of his tightly contested, unanimous decision win against Isaac Cruz on Sunday night in Los Angeles, Gervonta Davis, the World Boxing Association lightweight champion, sat on the stool in his corner with his right hand in his lap and his left hand cradled tenderly by his side.

During the minute-long rest period, Davis’s cornermen assured him he could win the final round by carefully placing his left hand to Cruz’s body and depending heavily on his right.

“Your jab and your hook is your money, hear?” Calvin Ford, Davis’s trainer, said.

Davis’s backers at Mayweather Promotions have been positioning Davis as an heir to Floyd Mayweather Jr. as boxing’s next megastar. They tout his string of sold-out events in cities from Baltimore to Los Angeles as evidence of his box office appeal. And they point to his punching power — 24 knockouts in 26 wins, no defeats, in every weight class from superfeatherweight to superlightweight.

If his promoters’ business plans depend on Davis’s concussive punches, they also rest on delicate human hands, which can bruise, bend or break under the forces top boxers create. Davis said he injured his left fist in Round 6, but won the final frame of the 12-round bout with his right hand, movement and defense.

“Not just one knuckle, but a couple of them: My hand is shaking a little bit,” Davis, 27, said, describing his injury to reporters after the fight. “Ain’t no big deal. I got the job done.”

The final scores favored Davis — 115-113 from one judge and 116-112 from two others. His knockout streak ended at 16 bouts, possibly because of the hand injury and largely because Cruz, 23, from Mexico City, applied steady pressure and did not buckle under Davis’s thunderous punches.

With an announced paid attendance of 15,850, organizers considered this card, a rare Sunday night pay-per-view event, another sellout. Granted, Staples Center, which can seat up to 20,000 spectators for boxing, was not configured for full capacity. But sports celebrities in ringside seats hinted at Davis’s appeal among his pro athlete peers. Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, who, like Davis, grew up in Baltimore, attended the fights, as did his teammate Dwight Howard, the injured Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and the N.B.A. retirees Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“Gervonta Davis has proven that he’s an attraction, and one of the biggest attractions in the sport,” Leonard Ellerbe, chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, said. “He’s one of the best fighters in the entire world.”

They watched Cruz, now 22-2-1, pursue Davis early, gloves held high, bobbing and weaving like an early-career Mike Tyson. Cruz landed a right hand and left hook in Round 1. Davis connected with a left uppercut.

As the fight progressed, and Cruz continued crowding him, Davis, a southpaw, used his straight left hand the way fighters use a jab, to halt Cruz’s forward progress and create space for more offense. Davis bounced several left-hand leads off Cruz’s forehead in the fifth, some more in the sixth and still more in the seventh.

Somewhere in that sequence, Davis said, he injured his left hand by cracking Cruz on the crown of his skull, the kind of impact that often leaves a fighter’s fist damaged even when encased in gauze, tape and eight-ounce gloves.

“He’s a shorter fighter,” Davis said of the 5-foot-4 Cruz. “I was throwing down, and I hit him on top of the head. I hit my knuckle and I messed it up. I couldn’t really throw it effective the whole fight.”

For his part, Cruz said he sensed midway through the fight that Davis had injured his left hand, even as Davis continued throwing it. He continued moving forward, throwing heavy body blows that left red marks on Davis’s torso.

Davis connected on 133 of 462 punches; Cruz landed 121 of 553.

“He hits hard, of course,” Cruz said at a news conference after the fight. “But that’s why we prepared the way we did. To handle it.”

From a competitive standpoint, a rematch is appealing. Both fighters are young, fast, aggressive and powerful. They delivered entertainment once, and Cruz, buoyed by his strong performance on Sunday, figures to have grown his following.

But Davis had a simple answer when asked about facing Cruz again.

“Hell no,” he said in the ring after the fight.

The business of boxing demands Davis move on.

The new lightweight champion George Kambosos Jr. also attended Davis’s fight. Last weekend in New York, Kambosos upset Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez to win belts from the World Boxing Organization and the International Boxing Federation, along with the World Boxing Association’s “super” title, distinct from Davis’s W.B.A. “regular” championship. That bout didn’t have a rematch clause, leaving Kambosos free to pursue a new opponent — potentially Davis.

Bouts with lightweight stars who are signed to competing promoters are also possible, even if boxing’s politics complicate arranging the bouts. Devin Haney, the World Boxing Council champion, fought Saturday night, and could align his schedule with Davis’s. After Sunday’s bout, Ryan Garcia, who is signed to Golden Boy Promotions, used Twitter to lobby for a Davis bout.

Davis, his hand still throbbing, dismissed and accepted those potential challenges in the same sentence.

“Them guys is easy work,” Davis said in the ring afterward. “I’m the top dog.”

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