Gervonta "Tank" Davis and Mario Barrios headline an intriguing boxing pay per view card on Saturday in Atlanta. The card also features an excellent junior middleweight clash between Erickson Lubin and Jeison Rosario. In both of these matchups the favorites (Davis, Lubin) and the underdogs (Barrios, Rosario) have considerable advantages; these fights could play out in a number of different ways.
Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) will be moving up to junior welterweight to face Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs). Tank most recently had a knockout of the year contender in defeating Leo Santa Cruz, which took place at 130 lbs. Barrios also appeared on that card and stopped Ryan Karl in the sixth round.
|Davis (left) and Barrios at the pre-fight press conference|
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott
Before breaking anything down technically for this matchup, Barrios will have four-inch advantages in height and reach and he also has been a junior welterweight for over four years. Davis has been a destructive puncher throughout his career, but all of his fights have taken place at lightweight and below.
As a prospect, Barrios was a tough fighter for me to get a handle on. He was one of those young fighters who seemed to do a lot of things well, but didn't have any exceptional attributes. He had good power, but nothing spectacular. He had a solid boxing foundation, but he could be hit. He had athleticism, but didn't feature blazing hand or foot speed.
The toughest test of his professional career was his 2019 fight against Batyr Akhmedov (who fights on Saturday's undercard). Despite scoring two knockdowns in that fight, I think that Barrios was fortunate to win the decision. Through large stretches of the fight Akhmedov outboxed Barrios, beat him to the punch and flummoxed him in the ring.
The Akhmedov fight demonstrated that Barrios had a couple of defensive holes. Akhmedov punched with Barrios and had a lot of success. Barrios' punches can be long and he doesn't return his hands to a defensibly responsible position quickly enough. In addition, there was a significant gap in his hand positioning, leaving ample space to connect with shots between his guard.
Barrios took some big punches in that fight, but a point in his favor is how he rallied in the 12th round to score a knockdown. That showed a ton of character and self-belief. It was a messy and brutal fight, but Barrios never stopped trying and was able to handle a level of duress to turn the tide at the end of the match.
Gervonta Davis has only had to go the distance once in his career and that was a six-round fight back in 2014. Only four of his bouts have even made it to the seventh round. He's tremendously poised on the inside and positions himself expertly to land his power punches from the southpaw position. In my estimation he has four excellent knockout weapons: his left uppercut, his right hook to the body, his right hook to the head and his straight left to the body. He's a brutal body puncher and places his shots surgically. Almost every punch of his is hard and thrown with knockout intentions.
Davis, like all fighters, has some flaws. He's not a high-volume guy. His gas tank can ebb and flow and he can't do a ton from the outside. In terms of the geography of a fight, Davis is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses and he knows that he has to get to mid-range and closer to win. Many fighters have tried to move away from him, but he can cut the ring off pretty well and doesn't need to burn a lot of energy to find opponents, even when they don't want to be found.
My main concern for Barrios in this matchup is his ring discipline. Despite having an excellent trainer in Virgil Hunter, who preaches defense and responsibility in the ring, Barrios can freelance during fights in ways that aren't always advantageous to him. He can get dragged into exchanges and he can stick around in the pocket for a little too long. Make no mistake; Barrios can't run from Davis all fight. He's going to need to land hard shots and make Davis respect his power, but he has to accomplish this strategically. One or two shots at a time must be the order of the day and anything longer in an exchange will favor Davis.
Davis needs to worry about not giving up too many early rounds. Barrios could potentially start well, using his reach and length to limit exchanges. It could take a few rounds for Davis to get into his preferred range. But Davis can't count on the knockout here. Although he has excellent power, it's not a given that his power will resonate at 140 lbs. the same way that it has at lower weights. I have no doubt that he can land on Barrios and probably hurt him, but that's not the same thing as getting a stoppage. Davis needs to compete every round. He has to give himself a chance on the cards.
I'm not making a pick for this fight. For me, there are too many unknowns. Barrios has only had one world-class opponent in my opinion and his performance in that fight was a mixed bag. But it's certainly possible that he's learned a lot from that experience and has improved in the ring. We may not see the same fighter on Saturday who was in the ring against Akhmedov. I also don't know if Davis' power will have the same effect at junior welterweight. Barrios has never been in with a big puncher and I don't know enough about his chin. If he can withstand Davis' power, then this becomes a fascinating fight where Davis will need to find a Plan B. Ultimately, it's an intriguing matchup and one, in my estimation, filled with uncertainty.
Erickson Lubin (23-1, 16 KOs) and Jeison Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) have both been knocked out by Jermell Charlo, but their matchup on Saturday isn't a losers' bracket consolation fight. Both are top-ten boxers at junior middleweight and Saturday's fight will help determine which one will get another crack at winning a title.
Lubin lost to Charlo in 2017 by first-round knockout in what was his first real step-up fight. Charlo discovered some weaknesses in Lubin's defense and the result was a short night at the office. Subsequently, Lubin would change trainers, switching to Kevin Cunningham, a veteran cornerman who has had success with southpaws such as Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander. In Lubin's comeback fights, he dominated Ishe Smith and turned in a solid performance against Nathaniel Gallimore. In those fights he displayed the type of hand speed and boxing ability that led to him being fast-tracked as a young prospect.
|Lubin (left) and Rosario sizing each other up|
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott
Lubin's boxing comeback was going swimmingly until his last fight, where he was cracked in the final rounds against Terrell Gausha. Lubin wound up winning a decision, but there were some troubling signs. Gausha has less than a 50% knockout percentage and isn't a noted puncher, but yet he landed a number of overhand and straight rights that damaged Lubin. Lubin needed several rounds to regain his bearings.
In Rosario's last fight, he was dropped three times by Charlo, with a body shot jab in the eighth round ending the bout. That fight was a war and fascinating to watch. Although Charlo scored knockdowns in the first, sixth and eighth rounds, Rosario seemed to win almost every round where he stayed on his feet. He landed enormous power punches, but Charlo had the chin and poise to withstand the incoming fire. Rosario perhaps was the bigger puncher in the fight, but he couldn't take Charlo's shots as well as Charlo took his, and that was the difference.
Perhaps my biggest concern with Rosario is his overconfidence in his power. Rosario hits hard, make no mistake about it, but he'll stay right in front of an opponent and is often amazed when a counter shot is thrown in return. If a fighter can take Rosario's punch, Rosario is there to be hit.
Lubin has multiple paths to beat Rosario. Perhaps the first thing he should do is to check to see if Rosario is all there at the outset of the fight. Rosario's loss to Charlo was brutal and it's possible that he still feels the physical effects from that fight. Lubin would be wise to land something hard in the first round, test Rosario's body, and put some real mustard on his shots. And maybe that will be enough. If Rosario gets hurt, press him, and go for the finish. I don't think it would be wise to let Rosario get comfortable in the ring and gain confidence. A quick strike is necessary.
If Rosario still looks sturdy after the first round or two, Lubin could then transition to his classic boxing skills, where he can let his speed and athleticism take over. That should give him a significant advantage throughout the first half of the fight.
For Rosario, pacing will be important. He won't be able to outbox Lubin for 12 rounds, and he knows it. Lubin's chin issues are still there and it will really come down to whether Rosario can land the right punch or sequences of punches to get the stoppage. Rosario needs to invest in the body early and focus on making each shot count. In each round he has to take a little something out of Lubin, which will hopefully result in him moving less and taking some of the sting out of his punches. Rosario would also be wise to throw his wide hook and looping right hand, shots that Lubin doesn't see often and may catch him on the way out.
I don't think this fight goes the distance. Lubin has a real opportunity to blitz Rosario early and it's possible that he could win in the first two or three rounds. However, my pick will be the underdog, Rosario. I don't believe that Lubin's chin is going to hold up against Rosario. He will get cracked with something hard and unlike Gausha, Rosario has the power and the finishing instincts to get the stoppage. If Rosario can survive the first few rounds, I think he can take Lubin out in the second half of the fight. I'll take him by eighth-round knockout.