LAS VEGAS — When Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia stood face to face, posing for the photos that closed out their news conference on Thursday, another argument erupted between the two boxers.
Garcia, an undefeated 24-year-old from Los Angeles, accused the 28-year old Davis of looking drained, suggesting his opponent was struggling to cut down to the 136-pound weight limit contracted for their bout. Davis, an undefeated power puncher from Baltimore, countered that the limit would only affect Garcia, who normally scales closer to 140-pound super-lightweight limit.
“You’re shocked I’m on weight, though,” said Davis, who is known as Tank.
That debate preceded one about who would break whose jaw, and followed an exchange in which the boxers swapped promises to knock each other unconscious. Their heavily hyped showdown is expected to attract a celebrity-studded capacity crowd to T-Mobile Arena Saturday night.
Davis’s 28-0 record includes world titles in three weight classes, a series of sold-out venues and several highlight-reel knockouts. His record outside the ring includes arrests for a hit-and-run accident that injured four people (he’ll be sentenced next month) and pending charges that he struck a woman at his home in Parkland, Fla.
Garcia has never held a top-tier world title, but his blend of reach, hand speed and punching power has yielded impressive results — his 23 wins include 19 knockouts. He is also a savvy self-promoter who has parlayed his massive social media following (9.6 million Instagram followers) into mainstream prominence. Garcia’s sponsors include Gatorade, which paired him with the N.B.A. star Damian Lillard in a TV commercial.
That mix of boxing skill and mass appeal prompted Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, one of the bout’s pay-per-view providers, to label Garcia “a worthy challenger” to Davis.
Neither Davis nor Garcia is a champion at super lightweight, so Saturday’s bout is not a title fight.
But it feels like one, because it matches two elite boxers with spotless records and large fan bases, assuming mutual risk for a chance at a massive reward, in terms of cash, reputation and mainstream recognition. It’s the type of bout that boxing fans complain doesn’t happen often enough.
“This is going to inspire young fighters to get in the ring, and to make the big fights happen again, and bring glory back to the sport,” Garcia said in an interview.
Davis, whom bookmakers made a betting favorite, called Garcia his toughest opponent, but still predicted a late-round knockout.
“I’m going to do the best I can, and that’s take advantage of people’s mistakes,” he said. “If he makes too many mistakes, it might be an early night.”
Davis is a promotional free agent, but is working with TGB Promotions on this fight. TGB is aligned with the managerial outfit Premier Boxing Champions, which has a pay-per-view partnership with Showtime. Garcia is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, which streams its fight cards on DAZN (which is also streaming Saturday’s fight).
Rival promotion companies can team up whenever they choose, but mainly tend to cooperate for blockbuster events. Davis’s most recent pay-per-view bout, a January win over Héctor Luis García, cost $74.99. Saturday’s card will sell for $84.99, a price bump that suggests organizers consider this bout significant.
“This is almost like the fight to save boxing again,” said Oscar De La Hoya, Ryan Garcia’s promoter.
He quickly toned down the hyperbole.
“Boxing doesn’t really need saving. It needs saving from itself,” he said.
Instead, the Davis-Garcia matchup can be seen as the fight that sets the tone for boxing’s near-term future.
Sports fans are understandably frustrated with high-level pairings that never develop into actual bouts. Negotiations between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight title have been fitful and unproductive. A showdown between the welterweight champions Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., which seemed imminent when Crawford became a promotional free agent in late 2021, still has not materialized.
But those false starts are not a reflection of boxing’s overall health. The sport remains a regular presence on Showtime, ESPN and DAZN.
Saturday’s bout, then, highlights what boxers and their business partners can gain when big-name fighters square off. The lightweight division alone features Garcia, who splits time between the 135- and 140-pound divisions, and Davis, along with Shakur Stevenson, the former 130-pound world champion.
The current undisputed lightweight champion is Devin Haney, who defends his belts against Vasyl Lomachenko next month, and who is optimistic about the sport.
“We have it confused. They say the best don’t fight each other, but this is the era of the undisputed champion,” said Haney, who has titles from all four major sanctioning bodies. “These guys cannot be undisputed if the best guys weren’t fighting each other. I think it’s a good time in boxing.”
But negotiations can grow tense when each fighter considers himself the headliner. The Davis-Garcia bout was finalized only after Garcia agreed to a series of compromises. He will receive 45 percent of the guaranteed purse, compared with 55 percent for Davis. Garcia also agreed to weigh in at 136 pounds on Friday, and to cap his overnight weight gain at 10 pounds.
Garcia’s camp says fear drove Davis to insist on those clauses, which force Garcia to lose more weight than he normally does before he fights. But Davis’s backers maintain that negotiating advantages is a headliner’s right.
“We believe in Tank 1,000 percent,” said Leonard Ellerbe, the chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, which is still affiliated with Davis even though the boxer is a free agent. “We’ve been the A-side in this situation. That’s how the A-side carries itself.”