Gervonta Davis has world title expectations after joining new camp

Gervonta Davis defeated Francisco Fonseca in August, but missed weight by two pounds and had to surrender the belt. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Professionally speaking, most of 2017 was great for Gervonta "Tank" Davis.

In January, he knocked out Jose Pedraza in a one-sided fight to win a junior lightweight world title to become, at age 22, the youngest American titleholder. Four months later, Davis traveled to England and blew out Liam Walsh by third-round knockout in another lights-out performance to retain his title for the first time.

Davis, a protégé of Floyd Mayweather, seemed on his way to stardom. He was young, explosive and talented.

It all came to a grinding halt in August, when Davis was stripped of his 130-pound title for being two pounds overweight for a defense against Francisco Fonseca on the blockbuster Mayweather-Conor McGregor pay-per-view undercard. The fight went ahead and although Davis won by eighth-round knockout it was not a strong performance.

Now, eight months later, Davis, who decided to stay at 130 pounds, will try to regain some of the momentum of his career lost when he returns to the ring to challenge Jesus Cuellar for a vacant secondary junior lightweight world title on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Davis (19-0, 18 KOs), 23, of Baltimore, made a key change in his preparation for the fight, parting ways with longtime trainer Calvin Ford and moving his training camp to West Palm Beach, Florida. There he now trains with Kevin Cunningham, who is best known for leading Cory Spinks to the undisputed welterweight world title and for developing Devon Alexander into a two-division world titlist.

Also in camp with Cunningham for the first time training alongside Davis is former four-division world titleholder Adrien Broner (33-3, 24 KOs), who meets fellow former welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs) in the 12-round main event on Saturday night. Former junior middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (26-0, 20 KOs) and Hugo Centeno Jr. (26-1, 14 KOs) will meet for a vacant interim middleweight world title and the right to become one of unified world champion Gennady Golovkin's mandatory challengers in the co-feature.

Looking back on the disastrous ending of his 2017 campaign, Davis, who came from a broken home and a gang- and drug-infested neighborhood, and has had legal issues, said winning a world title at such a young age was a lot for him to handle.

"I was one of the youngest world champions in boxing. It is not that I was not prepared for it. I was just so young and it happened so quickly," Davis said. "I had to adapt to it. Live up to the hype. It was hard."

After the Fonseca fight, Davis wasn't sure what he was going to do but knew he needed to get out of Baltimore to focus on his career. Then Broner, a friend of his who he views as an older brother figure, invited him to come to his first training camp with Cunningham, a former police officer with a no-nonsense attitude and vast experience.

"Adrien invited me to come down here to West Palm Beach to check out the camp. He said I should come to Florida to train with him and Kevin," Davis said. "So I came down, I saw Kevin's routine and I really liked it. There were a lot of distractions in Baltimore and I think they were a problem for me. I needed to straighten my head and focus on the things I have to work on. It was time to set my camp somewhere else.

"I needed a change after my last fight. I let myself down. I learned to be a different fighter, more responsible. I let others down, but think I let myself down more than anything."

Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe, Davis' promoter, applauded Davis for making changes.

"He won the fight but he didn't put on the kind of performance he would have liked to put on," Ellerbe said. "However, he went back and rectified that by making some changes. He's prepared and ready to go and ready to put on an electrifying performance."

Davis said the change of scenery has been good for him and that he is not only training better but he is also staying out of trouble.

"We have a big house that the coach provided for us," Davis said. "We all live together -- Adrien and I. We go swimming and to the movies. We just chill. We are being responsible. No South Beach, no clubbing. Just training hard."

Said Ellerbe: "It was a great opportunity for Gervonta to get away. Kevin is a great trainer and runs a very strict, no-nonsense camp. Gervonta is showing discipline. These are the things Floyd has done and he is an example to Gervonta. Floyd has shown him he needs to hone his craft to get to the next level."

Former secondary featherweight titlist Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs), a 31-year-old southpaw from Argentina, is arguably Davis' best opponent, though he is coming off the loss of his 126-pound belt by decision to Abner Mares in December 2016 and was inactive in 2017.

Davis, however, said he is more concerned with being at his best than anything Cuellar might bring to the ring.

"I'm not really into researching my opponents or other fighters other than the ones that I like," he said. "I just train hard and fight who is in front of me. I know a little bit about him. I know that he can hit, that he's not going to back down and that he's a tough opponent. I believe he's my toughest opponent to date. On (Saturday), we will see if he is ready. I know for sure I will be."

He is hoping a victory over Cuellar can reignite the excitement so many in boxing once had for him.

"I want to win more belts. I want to become a big star in boxing," Davis said. "I am going to put my work in the gym, put on a great performance in the ring and get back on track to become a world champion again. Being a world champion again is just a step closer towards my goal. I want to be a pay-per-view star. I want to be able to fight on pay-per-view against the big fighters and do big numbers."