Gervonta Davis predicted he would knock out 130-pound champion Jose Pedraza on Saturday night, but was noncommittal on when the stoppage would occur, suggesting it could happen in “the eighth, nine or 10th round.” In the end, the 5-foot-6 “Tank” sold himself a little short.
After overpowering Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12 KOs) for much of the fight, Gervonta Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) finished off the Puerto Rican titleholder with a vicious right hook to the jaw late in the seventh round for a TKO victory at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
By picking up his eight consecutive stoppage win, the 22-year-old Davis claimed a world title in his first try and became the second youngest champion from his hometown of Baltimore. He’s also the first Baltimore boxer to hold a title in any division since Hasim Rahman upset Lennox Lewis to win the heavyweight crown in April 2001.
As much as he relishes those accomplishments, Davis was equally satisfied just to prove wrong those skeptics who wondered if he was too raw to hang with a skilled, veteran fighter such as Pedraza.
“I think [Pedraza] was trying to pressure me out, to see if I could go into deep waters, and we showed that’s what sharks do,” said Davis, who credited Pedraza for the punishment he absorbed.
“But there were a lot of people going against me, saying that I lacked the experience. I showed tonight that I’m a dog, and I’ll continue to be a dog. We’re going to take over boxing.”
While Davis was extremely impressive and showed composure beyond his years for the majority of the fight, he got quite a bit of help from his opponent, who employed some odd tactics in his third title defense.
Despite having a significant height and reach advantage, the 5-foot-8½ Pedraza chose to come out and pressure his smaller-but-stronger opponent with a come-forward style rather than box from the outside. Making matters worse, Pedraza—a naturally orthodox fighter who has the ability to switch-hit—decided to fight almost exclusively from a southpaw stance.
“My strategy was to fight him from a distance,” Pedraza said. “I tried to fight him inside to lose some of the power, and it didn't work that way.”
Indeed, whatever Pedraza’s game plan, it completely backfired, as Davis immediately took advantage of his opponent’s aggression, repeatedly piercing his defense with pinpoint body shots and uppercuts with either hand, as well as a strong overhand left.
After bobbling Pedraza’s head with a series of uppercuts during a toe-to-toe exchange late in the second round, Davis began to find a home for rights and counter lefts to the head in Round 3.
Davis’ punishing assault—which led to swelling and redness that developed beneath Pedraza’s left eye—allowed the challenger to sweep the first three rounds on all three scorecards.
Pedraza, 27, finally started to let his hands go near the end of Round 4, and he carried that momentum over to the fifth, which turned out to be the unbeaten champion’s most productive round of the bout as Davis appeared to be fatiguing.
However, whatever momentum Davis lost, he got it all back with a single punch early in Round 6: a left hook to the liver that caused Pedraza to double over.
Knowing he had his man hurt, Davis went on the attack while Pedraza went into survival mode, dropping his right arm to guard against another body shot. Somehow, Pedraza managed to get through the sixth.
It would be the last round he would finish.
Back firmly in control of the fight, Davis unleashed a vicious right hook to the jaw late in Round 7 that put Pedraza on his backside in a corner of the ring. Knocked down for the first time as a pro, Pedraza sat on the canvas until referee Ricky Gonzalez reached the count of nine, then made it to his feet.
However, Gonzalez quickly deemed Pedraza unfit to continue, waving an end to the contest—and Pedraza’s reign as champion—at the 2:36 mark.
“At the end, I was trying to put on too much pressure, and it didn't work,” said Pedraza, who had been the only current Puerto Rico-born male world champion. “There was a moment that I adjusted to the game plan and something was telling me to come out and fight him and it didn't work.”
Davis said he figured a fighter with Pedraza’s championship pedigree would be a tough out. However, he and his corner believed if Davis just kept attacking the body, the power shot up top would eventually open up.
“I felt that he was wearing down. I caught him one time in the body, [and] he backed up,” Davis said of the sixth-round liver shot that turned the tables for good. “My team told me to go back to the body. … I just showed what a world champion does.”
By winning a title in only his 17th professional fight, Davis surpassed his idol, mentor and promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of boxing’s all-time greats who won his first championship—also at a 130 pounds—in his 18th bout.
If his performance against Pedraza is any indication, Davis—just like his superstar mentor—figures to be adding several more pieces of hardware to his collection as he continues to shed the lack-of-experience label, one fight at a time.
“I had experience. I told you all that,” Davis said. “[Pedraza] caught me with a lot of good shots, [but] I took it and I dished it back out. That’s how you know I’m a real dog.”
For complete coverage of Pedraza vs Davis, visit our fight page.