Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin, David Benavidez vs. Oleksandr Gvozdyk: Top storylines to watch in Las Vegas

Two of boxing’s biggest breakout stars will headline a PBC on Prime Video pay-per-view card this Saturday in Las Vegas as Gervonta “Tank” Davis and David Benavidez return in a pair of high-profile fights.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) will snap a 14-month layoff when he defends his WBA lightweight title in the main event against top contender Frank Martin (18-0, 12 KOs). The MGM Grand Garden Arena will also be home to a must-see bout in the 175-pound division as David Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face former champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs).

As we draw closer to this weekend’s action, let’s take a closer look at the biggest takeaways.

1. It’s “Tank” against the world 

Or, at least, that’s the way it has felt over social media in recent months. At 29, “Tank” remains one of the sport’s biggest stars despite making his return to the ring for the first time since knocking out Ryan Garcia in their blockbuster showdown in April 2023. Davis served time in prison to close the calendar year and, for a stretch, found himself out of boxing’s day-to-day limelight. The time away appeared to build a sizable chip upon his shoulder as fighters like Garcia returned to the spotlight thanks to an upset of Davis’ fellow 140-pound titleholder, and former undisputed lightweight king, Devin Haney. From the dismissive attitude he showed toward Martin in their kickoff press conference in May to his multiple tussles online with fellow elite fighters, including lightweight titleholder Shakur Stevenson, Davis has displayed an unmistakable longing to remind the boxing public exactly who he is. Davis has even traded barbs with former promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr., along with former unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who promotes Martin, as a revenge for Spence picking Davis’ opponent to win. Davis has emerged through training camp in the best shape of his career and brings an extra level of danger to the fight given the added layer of menacing focus he has brought to the build-up. With the longest layoff of his pro career now behind him — along with added reason to mature into the next level of adulthood given his public missteps — it could be time for the very best version of Davis to arrive on Saturday. 

2. With that said, Frank Martin is no one to trifle with

The idea that Davis returns against any form of a soft touch or stay-busy opponent couldn’t be more wrong. The 29-year-old Martin, who largely does his talking inside the ring, may not be the sport’s most electric hype man. But the rugged southpaw from Indianapolis can box just as good as he can fight when the action heats up inside the ring. Martin’s stock took a largely unnecessary hit last July when he was unable to chase down or finish Artem Harutyunyan, and was blamed almost exclusively for the fight’s lack of entertainment despite the fact that Harutyunyan circled away from fighting for the majority of the bout. A quick glance, however, at the pair of 2022 victories that got him to that point — a late stoppage of former title challenger Jackson Marinez and a one-sided schooling of unbeaten Michel Rivera — and it’s easy to see how much of a threat Martin could be. Being trained by elite coach Derrick James has also allowed Martin time in camp with the likes of Garcia and Spence to further sharpen his sword (although Spence and James had a recent falling out). Martin is quick, sharp and compact, with the power to hurt Davis and the combination of guts and confidence to risk his first defeat in order to give himself the best chance at a breakthrough win.

3. No Canelo, no problem for the best-laid plans of David Benavidez

While fans and critics can’t seem to (rightfully) get over undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez’s disinterest in defending his titles against Benavidez, the former two-time champion at 168 pounds deserves credit for how little he has allowed that to slow him down. Even with Alvarez-Benavidez topping most people’s wishlist of the best fights to make for 2024, the 27-year-old “Mexican Monster” has already pivoted into an incredible opportunity in the new year. Benavidez will move up to 175 pounds when he faces Gvodzyk, the 37-year-old former titleholder who won a trio of comeback fights in 2023 after a retirement that lasted nearly four years. The fight presents the perfect technical challenge for Benavidez against an experienced foe to truly test the waters in his new division, which should make Benavidez’s ambitious weight cut a heck of a lot more manageable. More importantly, it’s what Benavidez is angling towards that makes the Gvodzyk fight even that more important. Turki Alalshikh, the man in charge of Saudi Arabia’s extensive financial investment into the sport over the past year, has targeted Benavidez as one of his favorites and expects to match him against the winner of October’s undisputed championship bout between unbeaten 175-pound titleholders, and future Hall of Famers, Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev. While neither of those names could net Benavidez the type of overnight star potential that Alvarez could, he may already be on his way there without him (especially after being given his nickname by Mike Tyson). But it’s the fight against the winner of Beterbiev-Bivol that also gives Benavidez the chance at true financial and critical breakthrough given Saudi Arabia’s clamoring and the fact that both light heavyweight kings currently join Benavidez in the top 10 pound-for-pound list. No fan would be wrong in lamenting such a huge missed opportunity like the Alvarez fight. Yet, the fact that Benavidez refuses to sit around and beg shows how much he believes in his talent and that, after a few missteps outside the ring early in his career, he isn’t willing to leave his future in anyone else’s hands but his own.

4. It’s time to find out how good Gary Antuanne Russell really is

Russell, the unbeaten southpaw who is the younger brother of former champion Gary Russell Jr., has knocked out all 17 of his pro opponents, including a recent trio of wins over recognized names like Viktor Postol, Rances Barthelemy and Kent Cruz. But the 27-year-old Russel makes his move to the title level this weekend when he faces unbeaten former champion Alberto Puello in a WBC interim championship bout at 140 pounds. Unlike his older brother, this Russell doesn’t rely on speed and movement as much as he does pure power and technique. A victory over Puello would boldly announce Russell among the top names at junior welterweight, which currently holds some of the most marketable fighters in the sport including Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez Jr.

5. Can PBC continue to stand on its own as a true power player?

It’s an interesting question to ask, not just considering Saudi Arabia’s arrival but PBC’s own struggles in transitioning from a lucrative Showtime deal in recent years to a more limited (and PPV dominant) schedule with Prime Video. Not only has PBC been quietly losing quality fighters to rival promoters since the start of 2024, it has been late to the party in cashing in on the windfall provided by Alalshikh. That will change, of course, when PBC allows a number of top fighters to appear on the Aug. 3 PPV card in Los Angeles that doubles as Alalshikh’s debut event beyond Saudi Arabian soil. But that PPV card will be produced by DAZN (and not Prime Video) and promoted by PBC-rival Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport. PBC still retains a number of sport’s biggest names, including Davis, but may have trouble over the remainder of 2024 drumming up the finances to afford to promote its biggest stars in big fights without the financial intervention of others (namely Alalshikh). The remainder of 2024 should tell us a lot about PBC’s future.

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