By Jake Donovan
Gervonta Davis will have fought just three rounds in the past 18 months by the time the opening bell sounds for his Showtime-televised headliner this weekend in Carson, Calif.
If not for the around-the-clock hustle from his surrounding team, that dreaded stretch of inactivity could be even longer.
The unbeaten super featherweight titlist from Baltimore is set to fight for the first time in 10 months when he returns this Saturday at Digital Health Sports Park in Carson, Califonia. Davis will face Hugh Ruiz, a late replacement for Abner Mares who was forced to withdraw after suffering a detached retina which required immediate surgery.
The initial reports of the former three-division titlist pulling out due to an undisclosed (and subsequently suggested elbow) injury made the rounds internally less than two weeks before fight night.
Despite Mares’ rich résumé backing his career-long reputation as a boxer willing to take on all comers, some actually questioned the legitimacy of the initially floated injury. Admittedly among them was his scheduled opponent until he had a second to think a little harder on such a scenario.
“I was actually asleep when I got a call that Abner pulled out. At first I thought he was lying,” Davis (20-0, 19KOs) confessed of his initial reaction before allowing empathy to set in. “Then I had to think, if I was in his shoes I knew his health means more than our fight.
“Hopefully he will be okay and we’ll get another shot at fighting him sometime in 2019 but my main focus is on February 9 and on my new opponent.”
Davis has the benefit of thinking about a new opponent in Ruiz thanks to the immediate reaction from the brass at Showtime and those at the top level of Mayweather Promotions.
“At this point the priority was in fact saving this card,” Stephen Espinoza, head of Showtime Sports insisted of a show that was rapidly approaching a record-breaking crowd for the famed venue formerly known as the StubHub Center. “We’ve got a whole host of various fighters who’ve been training very hard for this. They all want to remain active.
“Davis wants to remain active so it was a priority to save this card and to find the best possible, available opponent.”
Davis hadn’t fought since a 3rd round knockout of former featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar last April. The win launched his second reign as a 130-pound titlist, the first of which lasted just seven months and ended with his conceding the title at the scales after missing weight for an Aug. ’17 knockout win over Francisco Fonseca.
The aforementioned scale fail took place on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather’s one-time ring return, ending a two-year retirement to bludgeon UFC superstar and boxing debutant Conor McGregor in 10 rounds. The bout topped a show which went on to become the second highest-grossing boxing event in boxing history, trailing only Mayweather’s 12-round win over Manny Pacquiao in May ’15.
For Davis to miss weight on such a show wasn’t at all a good look. Nor was a 2018 campaign that saw just one ring appearance and a lot of social media and out-of-ring activity drawing the wrong kind of attention. Still, the 24-year young boxer and the Mayweather Promotions team were able to get on the same page for 2019—enough to the point where priority one became finding a new opponent the moment word circulated of Mares being forced off the show.
“Most definitely. That was definitely the mindset,” Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions explained of the immediate next steps for his team. “Obviously, (Davis is) a prideful champion. He’s been off for, it’ll be ten months when he steps in the ring and he needed to fight.
“So Hugo was the best available guy that we could find. He’s in shape. He’s ready. He’s a proud Mexican warrior. He’s going to put on a very entertaining fight for all the fans in attendance and all the fans that are watching on Showtime.”
The in-ring activity for Ruiz (39-4, 33KOs) is in stark contrast to that of Davis. The former 122-pound titlist just fought on January 19, ironically versus a last-minute replacement opponent of his own on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s 12-round win over Adrien Broner atop a four-fight Showtime Pay-Per-View event.
Ruiz was due to fight a featherweight title eliminator versus Jhack Tepora, who had to drop out of the show after missing weight by more than five pounds. He was replaced by Alberto Guevara, whom Ruiz easily outpointed over 10 rounds before immediately returning to the gym on the instructions of his handlers who insisted another opportunity was on its way.
They just didn’t know it would be immediate.
“There were a number of options pursued, a number of calls went out to a variety of different fighters,” Espinoza explained. “Not surprisingly it wasn’t easy to find someone who was willing to take on Gervonta Davis on ten days’ notice.
“Thankfully we did get Hugo Ruiz interested and he immediately accepted after he understood the situation.”