Big-event boxing is finally returning to Brooklyn and it’s coming back swinging.
Gervonta “Tank” Davis, a tattooed and undefeated knockout artist, is headlining a card Saturday that’s on track to break the record for Barclays Center’s highest grossing boxing event, an arena official told The Daily News.
Davis (26-0, 24 KOs), who has hinted at a separation from mentor Floyd Mayweather after this fight, is a soft-spoken personality but provided The Daily News a prediction that should frighten his untested opponent Rolly Romero (14-0, 12 KOs).
“A massacre,” Davis said.
The lightweight title bout represents the first big time match at Barclays Center since the start of the pandemic, a hiatus of 2 ½ years that halted the arena’s momentum as the premier boxing venue outside of hotels and casinos.
The pandemic-inspired limitations, along with an ownership change at Barclays Center (from Mikhail Prokhorov to Joe Tsai), shifted boxing out of focus. The sport also lost an ally at the arena in 2019 when Brett Yormark resigned as CEO of Barclays Sports & Entertainment, a position he held since Barclays opened in 2012.
But the Davis-Romero clash, if proven a success, should be the jump-off for a reinvigoration of the sweet science on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. The arena hosted a smaller event in October, technically the first boxing there since the pandemic, but that combined with a music concert and its scheduled main event was canceled.
“We have a couple of other dates on hold for the rest of this year,” Laurie Jacoby, the Chief Entertainment Officer at Barclays Center, told The News. “This is a litmus test to really determine the desire to have boxing being a big part of what we do here in Brooklyn.
“It has to be the right match. We hope to have three or four in the calendar year. But again, we’re not going to do something for the sake of doing it. It has to be the right mix of the right boxer and the right time.”
In the first six years after it opened, Barclays Center hosted 30 shows and supplanted Madison Square Garden on the NYC boxing scene. Bernard Hopkins, Zab Judah, Deontay Wilder, Adrien Broner, Erik Morales, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan and Errol Spence Jr. all fought in Brooklyn.
Davis, coincidentally, won his first title at Barclays over five years ago by knocking out Jose Pedraza.
Now 27 years old and up a weight class to 135 pounds, he’s defending his third title on Showtime PPV ($74.99 price) and anticipating a lively crowd.
“I ain’t fight on the East Coast in a minute,” said Davis, who hails from Baltimore and called Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant two of his favorite basketball players. “I just want to see how many people come this time. I hear about the whole city of Baltimore talking about it, the buzz is crazy in New York. I just want to see how everybody comes out and I can’t wait.”
Davis, despite his low-key personality, has attracted a following based on his backstory and exquisite power, having ended nine of his 10 championship bouts with knockouts. Davis looked more vulnerable in his last fight six months ago in L.A., when he required the distance to squeak by Isaac Cruz in L.A.
“I thought Isaac Cruz beat Gervonta. That fight showed just how vulnerable he is,” Romero said. “He’s scared of people that can actually crack.”
Still, Davis is a -1400 favorite to beat Romero on Saturday, according to DraftKings.
“It’s going to be crazy in there,” said Davis, who is giving up three inches to Romero, said. “It’s going to be bad. Real bad.”
Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, believes there’s an opportunity to break the Barclays Center attendance record for a boxing event. He hailed Davis as a top draw and moneymaker.
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“There is a certain quiet charisma and a real underground fanbase that Tank has built organically. They have demonstrated the ability to sell out arenas and generate multimillion dollar gates across the country,” Espinoza said. “He is generating the type of live gates that only two or three or four fighters in this sport are able to do. At his age, that’s quite an accomplishment.”
And he’s back in Brooklyn.
“We’re optimistic this will be part of a very busy boxing schedule in Brooklyn,” Espinoza said.
A juicy side story to Saturday’s bout is Davis’ expiring contract with Mayweather Promotions and a growing belief he won’t re-sign. Showtime has partnered with Mayweather Promotions but Espinoza believes the network’s relationship with Davis will go unaffected, regardless of the outcome.
“I think it’s part of the growing process for any young fighter. At some point, as you mature as a professional and you mature in the business of sports, it’s inevitable that you want to take more control of your own destiny. We saw it with Floyd himself (when he was a fighter),” Espinoza told The News. “I’m not saying Tank is necessarily leaving Floyd, I think it’s an adjustment in their relationship. But wherever he ends up, we’re confident the relationship with Tank is going to continue. We’ve been his exclusive home on television since very early in his fight career. And I think we’ve been good for each other. We’ve done a lot to advance his profile and he certainly brings in a lot of business and a lot of viewers. So whatever he decides, I think we’ll be in business for a long, long time to come.”
Davis, who is the top fighter signed with Mayweather Promotions, outlined his goals moving forward.
“Just beat whoever they put in front of me, collect more belts,” he said. “Become a bigger star all around the board. Build my legacy.”