As he pursues his first world title, Davis will be fighting for more than just himself

When Gervonta Davis makes the walk from the locker room to the ring for his first world title fight, he’ll be surrounded by several supporters. Many will be visible. A few will not.

Gervonta Davis

Gervonta Davis blasts former world champion Cristobal Cruz with a left uppercut during their 2015 fight. Davis prevailed by third-round TKO, one of 15 stoppages in 16 pro victories.

Long before he embarked on a road that would lead him to the precipice of boxing immortality, Davis was a lost soul roaming the streets of a crime-filled section of Baltimore, seemingly destined to become another tragic statistic.

Jail or death—those appeared to be the only life options for young men living in and around Davis’ rough neighborhood.

Fortunately, with the help of one of his friends, Davis found a safe haven within the confines of a boxing gym at age 7, and he quickly threw himself into the sport fists first. Years later, it’s not hyperbole to say boxing literally saved Gervonta Davis’ life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t save him from tremendous heartache, as several of his friends and family members did indeed become tragic statistics.

That’s why whenever Davis (16-0, 15 KOs) steps in the ring, he dedicates his fights to the memories of lost loved ones—loved ones like Quaadir Gurley, the friend who introduced Davis to boxing and the late son of Davis’ longtime coach, Calvin Ford.

Gurley is among those who will be with Davis in spirit when the 22-year-old southpaw laces up the gloves on January 14 for the biggest fight of his career: a battle with 130-pound world champion Jose Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT).

“Angelo Ward, Ronald Gibbs and Coach Calvin’s son—they’re guys who died and were such a major influence on my life,” says Davis, a lifelong Baltimore resident. “Actually, many young men I used to look up to are either dead or in jail.

“Whenever I fight, I feel like their legacy is going into the ring with me. It’s a big responsibility, but I’ll take that.”

Before Coach Ford, I had no father figure, because my father was in and out of jail. … Boxing has saved my life. Gervonta Davis

Two years before Gurley was shot and killed in 2013, Davis grieved the loss of Gibbs, a rising amateur boxer who was just 17 when he was stabbed to death while defending his sister during an argument. The following year, Ward—who once showed promise in amateur bouts against current 140-pound champion Terence Crawford and 147-pound titleholder Danny Garcia—was shot to death.

That Davis escaped the wrath of fatal violence is somewhat of a miracle. That he’s thrived as a boxer is a testament to his skills and determination.

A compact, 5-foot-6 slugger appropriately nicknamed “Tank,” Davis enjoyed a tremendous amateur career during which he compiled a 206-15 record from 2006-12. Along the way, he won gold medals in eight of the nine tournaments he entered, including earning the 2012 national Golden Gloves championship at 123 pounds.

Davis’ dominance has continued since turning pro in February 2013, as he's wiped out 15 of 16 opponents inside the distance, with 13 of those knockouts coming in four rounds or fewer.

If he can get past Pedraza—who is easily his most accomplished opponent to date—Davis will add another significant accolade to his résumé: He’d become the second-youngest world champion from Baltimore and the first titleholder from his hometown since Hasim Rahman won the heavyweight championship with a stunning knockout of Lennox Lewis in April 2001.

But even as he contemplates the possibility of realizing his championship dreams, Davis pays respect to those whom he says helped get him to this point.

“Winning a title at such a young age would mean a lot for me and for Baltimore,” says Davis, who is riding a seven-fight knockout streak. “But I wouldn’t be in this position if not for [Quaadir] first teaching me how to fight, and then introducing me to Coach Calvin.

“Before [Ford], I had no father figure, because my father was in and out of jail. … Boxing has saved my life.”

Nobody has enjoyed watching Davis transform himself from troubled kid to humble, world-class fighter as much as Ford, who trains Davis out of Baltimore’s Upton Boxing Center.

“I’m always reminding Tank of things that have happened to people he’s been close to,” says the 52-year-old Ford, who inspired the character Dennis “Cutty” Wise on the HBO series The Wire.

“I strongly believe that Tank has a God-given gift and talents meant to be of greater service to the city of Baltimore, and that God’s watching over this young man and allowing him to do what he’s been able to do.”

For all of our Pedraza vs Davis coverage, bounce over to our fight page.

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