Gervonta "Tank" Davis, one of boxing's top young stars, moved up to lightweight and won a belt in a second weight division, dropping Yuriorkis Gamboa three times en route to a one-sided 12th-round knockout victory on Saturday night at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Although Davis dominated the fight to claim a vacant secondary 135-pound world title, it was a surprise that Gamboa, who is long past his best days and ruptured his right Achillies early in the bout, was able to go into the final round. Gamboa was knocked out in his two previous losses by Terence Crawford in the ninth round of a lightweight title bout in 2014 and by journeyman Robinson Castellanos in the seventh round in 2017.
"I believe my performance tonight was a C-plus," Davis said, knowing he was expected to dismiss Gamboa much earlier. "It was a great experience. I'm only 25 years old. I'm learning each and every day."
Whatever the 38-year-old Gamboa has lost in his skills and reflexes, his heart is still championship material as he took a shellacking from Davis but fought hard until the end.
Although Davis' conditioning was an issue -- he struggled to make 135 pounds despite the fight being his first at lightweight -- he scored knockdowns in the second, eighth and 12th rounds and led 109-98 on two scorecards and 109-97 on the third before closing the show in front of a crowd of 14,129.
"Coming into this fight I knew Gamboa was a tough opponent. I knew he was a vet," Davis said. "As you see in the ring, I was catching and hurting him, but he was still there. I knew he was better than anyone I had fought before."
The card featured the first world titles fights in Atlanta -- Davis' second home, where his 1-year-old daughter lives with her mother -- since September 1998, when hometown favorite Evander Holyfield defended his unified heavyweight title against Vaughn Bean.
The southpaw Davis connected with two jabs and then a left hand on the chin that dropped Gamboa midway through the second round. Gamboa got up quickly but was having a hard time with his right foot. Initially, it appeared as though something on his boot had broken and he could not find his footing, telling his corner after the round that he could not walk and couldn't go on. But he did despite the difficulties.
Gamboa had a hard time finding his footing in the third and fourth rounds, and after the fourth round, assistant trainer Stacy McKinley taped up Gamboa's boot so he could have more support. Gamboa's footing improved, but he said after the bout that he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the second round but kept fighting on heart.
Tony Gonzalez, Gamboa's adviser and attorney, told ESPN that Gamboa was examined by a doctor following the fight and was indeed diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
"I'm a warrior and I kept going, but as soon as I felt it I knew it was ruptured," Gamboa said through an interpreter. "I couldn't put pressure on it. I wanted to keep going. I told my corner it was a problem, but I wanted to keep going because I'm a warrior."
Davis said he did not realize Gamboa was having a foot problem.
"I was mainly focused on catching him with clean shots," Davis said. "I was catching him with clean shots and wasn't hurting him, so I knew I was in for rounds tonight."
Gamboa was repeatedly rocked with left hands in the fifth round, but he surprisingly stayed on his feet, especially considering he has been knocked down many times in his career.
Gamboa landed a couple of solid left hooks in the sixth round, but Davis seemed unmoved by them and backed Gamboa up with body shots later in the round.
Davis had been very inactive in the eighth round until the final seconds when he landed a powerful straight left hand that hurt and dropped Gamboa. The round ended before Davis could throw another punch.
A right hook from Davis (23-0, 22 KOs), of Baltimore, did damage to Gamboa early in the ninth round, forcing Gamboa to hold. He took several more blows before grabbing onto Davis in desperation and wrestling him to the mat.
Davis went into the 10th round for the first time in his career, and Gamboa, fighting basically on heart, had a good round against an inactive Davis, who might have been feeling the impact of his struggles making weight.
Davis, whose first junior lightweight title reign came to end when he was stripped for failing to make 130 pounds for an August 2017 defense, nearly missed weight for Saturday's bout, his first since vacating his second junior lightweight title to move up in weight.
While former unified featherweight world titlist Gamboa (30-3, 18 KOs), a Cuban defector and 2004 Olympic gold medalist fighting out of Miami, made weight with no issue Friday, Davis struggled. He was initially 136.2 pounds, well over the 135-pound limit, and as far as the Georgia commission was concerned he didn't make weight within the allotted time and was also fined for being late to the weigh-in.
However, Davis returned to the scale about two hours later when the WBA, which sanctioned the title involved, oversaw him weigh 134.8 pounds -- with Gamboa's team also observing -- and he was able to fight for the belt.
Davis found energy late in the 11th round when he put his punches together and landed a hard straight left hand that sent Gamboa into the ropes face first.
Then he put Gamboa away in the 12th round, blasting him with an uppercut and a left hand before dropping him hard moments later with a hellacious left uppercut. With Gamboa dazed on his rear end, referee Jack Reiss took a good look at him and waved off the fight at 1 minute, 17 seconds to end Gamboa's four-bout winning streak, which included a blistering second-round knockout of former junior lightweight titlist Roman "Rocky" Martinez on Davis' undercard in July to set up the title fight.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Davis landed 120 of 321 punches (37%), averaging a measly 28 punches thrown per round, while the more active Gamboa landed only 78 of 617 shots (19%).
Davis' handlers at Mayweather Promotions and Premier Boxing Champions plan to move him onto pay-per-view at some point in 2020, hoping to build on the growing popularity he showed in 2019 as one of the Untied States' best attractions. He finished the year having drawn 36,863 fans for his three bouts in three cities: 8,048 (near capacity) to the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, on Feb. 9; a sellout of 14,686 to Royal Farms Arena in his hometown of Baltimore on July 27; and 14,129 on Saturday night.
"2020 will be a big year," said Davis, who likely will face junior lightweight world titlist Leo Santa Cruz on pay-per-view in 2020. Davis also is interested in fighting unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, but that is highly unlikely for a variety of reasons.
"I feel comfortable at both weights. I feel I could fight at 130 or 135," Davis said, despite the weight issues for Saturday's bout. "I'm the top dog. Bring 'em on."