LAS VEGAS — Just before Floyd Mayweather fights what is expected to be his final bout, the next face of boxing may be introducing himself to the biggest audience in the sport’s history.
Headlining the undercard of Saturday’s match between Mayweather and Conor McGregor, Gervonta “Tank” Davis (18-0, 17 knockouts) will step into to the ring to face 23-year-old Costa Rican Francisco Fonseca (19-0-1) at T-Mobile Arena.
The bout was originally supposed to be for Davis’ IBF junior lightweight title. But he was stripped of the belt after missing weight by two pounds Friday. Fonseca still can become champion if he wins the fight.
Davis apologized to his fans on Twitter.
“I’m young, I’m growing,” he said. “I had a chance to make the weight I knew I couldn’t make it & that’s that. I will have a belt again.”
Nevertheless, fighting under Mayweather Promotions, Davis could keep the money rolling in for his retiring mentor for many years, especially if the 22-year-old knockout prince, compared with a young Mike Tyson, eventually succeeds in becoming boxing’s biggest draw.
“Floyd’s going out the door, and I believe boxing needs that next star,” Davis said earlier in the week. “I’m that guy that can take over the sport.
“[It will be] a great performance from me … as Floyd Mayweather Jr. passes me the torch.”
Before the light, came a “dark background,” living in Baltimore, where Davis watched his mother abuse drugs, and his father get sent to prison.
And because of another man who had been to prison, Davis received much-needed direction.
When Davis was seven, he was introduced to Calvin Ford, and began studying under the coach at the inner-city Upton Boxing Center. Ford, who had just served 10 years for racketeering and conspiracy, was a lieutenant in a powerful West Baltimore drug crew, and learned to box in federal prison.
Ford, 52, became the inspiration for the character “Cutty” (who similarly coached youth boxing after serving time) on the critically acclaimed show, “The Wire,” after being tracked down by Ed Burns, a writer on the show, who previously investigated Ford while he was a police detective.
“Everybody doesn’t know, a lot of stuff that happened on ‘The Wire,’ it was written out in my life before it even happened, and the majority of the kids in the show came from my gym,” Ford told The Post at Thursday’s press conference at the MGM Grand. “Gervonta has his stories, too. There’s a lot of anger he’s releasing in the ring. If it wasn’t for keeping him in the gym, I don’t know where he would be at. I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t want him to see.
“As coaches, you have kids that see people get shot, and they have to hold that back or something might happen to them or their family. Kids go through a lot of stuff in the city. The gym keeps us focused. Kids looking up to you, it keeps you focused, and with ‘Tank’ on this level, it gives the other kids hope that they can do it, too. To a lot of them, they think you need to be on the street to be successful.”
Ford was on the streets, starting when he was 13.
“It was easy, and it was right in front of me,” Ford said.
One of Ford’s sons, Quaadir, mentored Davis as kids at the gym. It wasn’t open 24 hours, though.
As a 15-year-old, Davis once avoided bullets fired at him and his friends. As a 24-year-old, Quaadir was killed by gunfire, hours after a Davis bout had finished.
In the gym, Davis was safe. In the gym, Davis was home.
“I always felt love in boxing. I felt like I had a family because I wasn’t getting that at home,” Davis said. “Every kid needs love growing up, and that’s what the gym gave me.”
Davis, who still lives in Baltimore, now wants to take what never seemed possible — the spotlight Mayweather is surrendering.
“I’m trying to give the fans the confidence to say I’m the next star in this sport,” Davis said. “It’s important to me to put on a good show — and show I’m not just hype.”
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