On the audio of the 911 call made two days after Christmas, Vanessa Posso sounds petrified as she screams at the operator, “He’s going to kill me!” She can later be heard shouting, “I need help, please! I’m trying to go home. I have my baby in the car, and he attacked me in front of the kid. And now he’s messing up my tyres.”
Within an hour, Broward County police arrested Gervonta “Tank” Davis, 28-year-old WBA lightweight champion of the world, and charged him with battery causing bodily harm to the mother of one of his children. According to the official report, an undefeated boxer with 26 stoppages in 28 career wins, hit Posso a slap across the right side of her head, cutting the inside of her upper lip. He was eventually released on $1,000 bail.
Ten days later, nearly 20,000 filled Washington’s Capital One Arena to see Davis retain his title with a TKO over Hector Luis Garcia. By the end of the eighth round, Garcia had been rendered temporarily blind by a ferocious Davis flurry, culminating in a percussive left hand to the right cheek. As the fans, many of them having poured in from the victor’s nearby hometown of Baltimore, cheered his triumph to the rafters, Davis unfurled his trademark celebratory backflip from the top rope. Like nothing untoward had happened in the build-up.
In between those two events, Davis took to Instagram to deny ever hitting Posso. A post he later mysteriously deleted. Then, she issued a lengthy statement of her own.
“The state of our relationship has been in a fragile space and Gervonta and I were both at fault for the argument,” said Posso. “While the emotions were running high I made an unnecessary call to law enforcement in an intense moment while I was frantic. Gervonta did not harm me or our daughter. Today, we have sought the help necessary to move forward with our lives. I am confident that we will succeed within our co-parenting dynamic with the counselling provided to us.”
Even by boxing’s own parlous standards, the handling of the Davis incident was mind-boggling. There seemed to be no serious debate about the fight not going ahead under the circumstances. Never mind that it was his second arrest in under three years for domestic violence. In February, 2020, he was caught on camera grabbing Dretta Starr, an ex-girlfriend and mother of another one of his children, by the neck at a celebrity basketball match in Miami and dragging her out of the arena. She suffered injuries to her lip and jaw and he was charged with simple battery.
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“I never once hit her,” said Davis after that incident. “Yeah, I was aggressive and told her ‘come on’. That’s the mother of my child I would never hurt her.”
Despite the disturbing pattern of behaviour towards women, and multiple altercations with men outside the ring, coverage of his most recent victory focused on his pay-per-view performance (a very respectable 215,000 buys at $74.99 a pop for Showtime TV) and speculation about the date of a possible superfight against Ryan Garcia. Las Vegas in April is the preferred time and place for that eagerly awaited bout, but Davis has more legal issues to contend with before then. He is due in a Baltimore court on February 16th.
Having been refused a plea deal, he will face trial there on 14 charges relating to a hit and run in the early hours of November 5th, 2020. Davis ran a red light and crashed his Lamborghini SUV into a Toyota Solara, injuring all four of its occupants. Aside from the pending criminal case, he’s already settled civil suits with three of the passengers involved. The fourth, the driver, Jyair Smith, was pregnant at the time and briefly trapped in the smoking car. She screamed for help and claimed Davis “looked me in the eyes and he never came over.” He fled the scene on foot.
Floyd Mayweather was also somebody so box office that multiple arrests and even jail time for assaulting women didn’t impinge on his earning power
The crash occurred less than two miles from the boxing gym where Davis first discovered the sport. With a mother addicted to drugs and a father in prison, he and his brothers were shuttled between group homes and their grandmother for much of his hardscrabble childhood. Donning gloves, the troubled kid found an outlet for his aggression and unearthed a rare fistic talent in a facility run by ex-con Calvin Ford. A former lieutenant in the Boardley-Burrows drug gang that once controlled West Baltimore, Ford’s own ring redemption story formed the basis for the Cutty character who traces a similar arc in “The Wire”, HBO’s Dickensian portrait of life in the city.
With Ford working his corner, the Davis story should be a classic feelgood rags to riches yarn but it’s not. For most of his career, he was promoted by Floyd Mayweather. The greatest fighter of his generation was also somebody so box office that multiple arrests and even jail time for assaulting women didn’t impinge on his earning power. Maybe his one-time protege saw that and thinks the same applies to him. Or perhaps this is just what sports has become now, a place where UFC didn’t even suspend Dana White after he was caught on video slapping his wife at a New Year’s Eve party.
“These are just bumps in the road that we all have in life,” said Davis of his own travails. “I’m just human.”
Just human? No. Never.