Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Davis-Martin

Frank Martin had an excellent opening five rounds against Gervonta Davis. Flashing quick combinations and solid movement, he routinely beat Davis to the punch. By the end of the fifth round, he had a good case for winning three or four of them. 

But in the sixth round, Martin, who had been on the move throughout most of the fight, suddenly started to languish on the ropes. "Uh oh" I thought. This could be the beginning of the end for him. And it turned out to be. 

Tank Davis (left) and Errol Spence after the fight
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC

Martin didn't make it out of the eighth round. Once he stopped moving, he started to get some bad ideas. How about I trade with Gervonta Davis with my back against the ropes? Maybe I can potshot him because my hands can get there quicker. Why don't I let him tee off on me because then I could slip in a perfect counter shot? 

I'm sure that Martin and trainer Derrick James didn't want any of those scenarios playing out prior to the fight. But the thing about great fighters is, they often force their opponents into making mistakes. Although "Tank" Davis wasn't winning the early rounds, his constant pressure took a toll on Martin. By the middle rounds of the fight, Martin just didn't have the gas tank to continue to evade Davis. It's not that Martin wasn't in shape, but Tank's pressure led to Martin burning himself out in the ring. 

And as good as Martin was on offense early in the fight, once he started getting tagged with regularity, he didn't know what to do on defense. He either stayed in front of Davis absorbing shots, or literally ran around the ring in avoidance – leading to burning off even more energy. 

Tank ended the fight with a beautiful three-punch combination, a throwaway right hook, a pulverizing left uppercut, and a straight left. But the moments leading up to the conclusion were even more devastating. Martin, stuck in the corner, let Davis attempt four straight left haymakers. And might I remind everyone that Davis has some of the best power in the sport. Why didn't Martin hold? Why didn't he grapple? He wound up looking helpless prior to the knockout; Martin had physically and mentally checked out by the end of the fight.  

Martin hit my radar in 2021 when he knocked out the unbeaten Jerry Perez in seven rounds. A late starter in the sport and a fighter who didn't have much hype in his developmental bouts, Martin blindsided me with his skill set. Here was an athlete with a wide variety of punches, great footwork, and power. He also had a great team around him. I thought, this is a guy who can win a world title. 

But why I didn't pick Martin coming into his fight with Davis was his lack of experience against top opposition and his inability to make quick adjustments. Yes, he had a nice win over Michel Rivera but that's probably the only guy on his ledger who had a chance to sniff the top-15 at lightweight prior to Saturday's fight. In his prior bout, against Artem Harutyunyan, Martin was caught by surprise by Harutyunyan's hand speed, aggression and tricky angles. Martin eventually did make adjustments, but it took far too long for them to come. He escaped with a close decision victory. 

Against Tank on Saturday, he never recovered after getting tagged with solid shots in the sixth. There was never a moment where he regathered himself or was able to retake control of the fight. He just didn't know what to do. It looked like he fell apart. 

I wouldn't say that the future has to bleak for Martin, but Tank at this point in his career was a bridge too far. This fight was really about levels. Tank knows how to operate at the highest reaches of the sport. He can pace a fight. He understands when to get aggressive and when to lay back and pick his moments. He's developed a tremendous ring IQ that has helped him become a premier finisher in the sport. He knows when a fighter is ready to go. And if he had been reluctant in letting his hands go at earlier portions of a fight, when he has someone on the ropes, either figuratively or in this case literally, he knows how to go for it, to end things. Martin let the pace of the fight get away from him. Despite winning rounds, he was not the fighter dictating the terms of the action. He was frenetic with his movement. 

Martin (left) throwing a right hand
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC

Also, it's worth pointing out that Tank weighed in at 133.5 lbs., his lightest since 2020. I thought that he looked terrific in the ring. Spry on his feet, Davis fought on Saturday as the aggressor, the hunter. Often, he has been the savvy counterpuncher in the ring, the one who lays traps for an overeager opponent, but on Saturday he never stopped applying pressure. He and coach Calvin Ford correctly figured out pre-fight that Martin did not have the clarity of thought to last 12 rounds under duress. And Davis was prepared for such a fight. Even when he wasn't letting his hands go, he was moving around the ring with Martin all fight, refusing to let Martin take breathers or gain a psychological edge. Although Martin was winning rounds, he had to work hard for everything. 

Throughout the entire fight week, Davis displayed a relaxed confidence that hasn't always been there throughout his career. He now seems perfectly comfortable in his own skin, as a star attraction and a top boxer. He no longer is trying to get somewhere; he's there, and he knows it. He has the added confidence that he now knows how to be a professional fighter out of the ring. He makes weight. He doesn't look sluggish in the ring. He understands that physical fitness can make his job so much easier on fight night. He has come into his own. 

Tank has always had skills and power, but it has taken him time to understand that the secret ingredient to greatness isn't often about those things. Lots of guys have skills; many have power. It's about being in the position to be your best on fight night. It's about being in a good place. It's about peace of mind. 

At 29 and with a sterling record of 30-0 with 28 knockouts, Tank is now in the best place that he's been in his career. He has a list of exciting potential opponents at lightweight or junior welterweight. Although his ride hasn't always been smooth, (his past problems have been well documented), I think that he has fully arrived as an all-around great fighter. The Tank who fought on Saturday is a nightmare matchup for anyone. And if he really has conquered his toughest opponent (himself) then there are very few guys in the world who stand a chance with him.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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