Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Gervonta Davis surges after ‘Tank’ shatters eye test as PPV headliner

How soon is too soon to award someone recognition as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world when their resume has not yet caught up with the ability seen inside the ring? 

It has long been a common debate for those who take creating such a mythical list designed to compare the best fighters in the game regardless of weight. It’s called the “eye test,” and many fighters — most notably middleweight champion Gennadiy Golovkin during a time in which he was heavily avoided — have benefitted from it in the past to acquire P4P respect. 

It’s the idea of trying to determine the merits of what your eyes are telling you when seeing a fighter compete against a certain level of competition while imagining how that same fighter would do once they were able to step things up in competition. Given how often boxing’s disorganization and political disadvantages get in the way of always seeing the best fights, one must trust the “eye test” as a way to fill in the gaps. 

Whether it was softer matchmaking than necessary or the bad luck of potential tough opponents falling out due to injury, Gervonta “Tank” Davis had yet to gain the critical respect he coveted despite already, at age 25, proving he was both a devastating knockout puncher and a legitimate box office draw as the jewel of the Mayweather Promotions stable. 

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Davis (24-0, 23 KOs), who has collected world titles at both 130 and 135 pounds, hasn’t always been his best advocate in this area. Along with consistent troubles making weight (he lost his junior lightweight title on the scales ahead of a showcase bout as the co-main event to Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor in 2017), Davis also has been no stranger to headlines of the negative kind after multiple brushes with the law. 

But in theory, none of that should matter as long as you deliver inside the ring, which is something Davis had consistently done in producing the second-highest knockout percentage among ranked fighters (trailing just unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev) across the sport. All “Tank” seemed to lack was proof that he could consistently do it against top competition, which is what made him losing out on the chance to fight Abner Mares in 2019 just days before so heartbreaking. 

Davis finally had his referendum moment last weekend in his first headlining pay-per-view slot opposite four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz in San Antonio. Although the cynics could easily point out he was moving back down in weight to fight a respected champion who had made just one appearance at 130 pounds previously, the competitive nature of the first six rounds before Davis delivered a massive one-punch knockout seemed to erase that. 

Not only did Davis deliver on his commercial potential by uncorking one of the most savage finishes to a major fight thanks to the left uppercut which caught Santa Cruz flush in Round 6 and left him unconscious under the ring ropes in the corner, Davis finally showed us from a critical standpoint that he can hang. 

When you have a long history of knocking out opponents early, it’s hard to tell the world and have them believe you that you are just as capable of outboxing elite foes. But the adjustments Davis made after Santa Cruz got off to a hot start showed just how versatile he is by going hard to the body and bringing down his opponent’s high guard before delivering the finishing blow. 

Should one big victory be enough to crack the P4P top 10 despite a few flat performances — including his lightweight debut against Yuriorkis Gamboa last December — in between? It’s a leap that each P4P voter will have to take seriously and do the math internally in order to figure out.  But by having no issue at all moving down to make 130 pounds and delivering such a thorough (if not scary) performance against a man who was no stranger to hovering around the P4P top 10 as it was, Davis made a fairly large statement. 

Should “Tank” continue to benefit from the wisdom of Mayweather and prepare to be his very best each time he enters the ring, how many fighters in and around his weight division can you realistically imagine having levels of prolonged success against him? Davis also has the kind of fight-ending power within his own divisions that give him an edge over almost anyone when doing the kind of mythical matchmaking regardless of weight that is necessary to rank one fighter above another. 

From that standpoint, Davis’ mix of craft and power punches a hole through anyone’s P4P objections and shatters the eye test. Davis isn’t just a potential blockbuster star on the verge of truly crossing over — he’s one of the best boxers in the world to boot when he’s dialed in and ready. 

Sometimes you need to simply believe what your eyes are telling you. 

Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Dropped out: Jermall Charlo

Honorable mentions: Jermall Charlo, Juan Francisco Estrada, Josh Taylor, Jermell Charlo, Jose Ramirez, Gennadiy Golovkin

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