Timothy Bradley’s take: Who has the edge in Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin?


The stage is set for the WBA lightweight champion, knockout artist Gervonta “Tank” Davis, to return to the ring Saturday in Las Vegas for the first time in more than a year. He has a chance to showcase his punching power and skills against the undefeated southpaw, but less experienced, Frank Martin.

Davis is a big betting favorite (-700 via ESPN BET) over Martin, and that’s fair. But we often dismiss fighters due to their lack of experience, failing to acknowledge what they have been visualizing, planning and preparing for years, dreaming of becoming world champion. Hunger, an unmeasurable quality, can make every fighter a threat, even against the best.

In 2004, Felix Sturm, boasting a 20-0 record, faced Oscar De La Hoya, one of the most revered pound-for-pound fighters of the era. Largely unknown and a professional for only four years, Sturm was considered a soft touch for De La Hoya, who had already been negotiating for a fight against Bernard Hopkins three months later.

Contrary to expectations, Sturm gave De La Hoya one of his most challenging fights, forcing him to dig deep. Many observers and boxing pundits believed Sturm outboxed De La Hoya throughout 12 rounds, but he didn’t get the decision. Sturm may have been unproven, but he possessed the skill set, mindset, strategic insight and focus necessary to give one of boxing’s best a rude awakening.

On any given night, something magical can happen. This is the essence of boxing, a sport where even the biggest can fall and the overlooked can rise to greatness.

Let’s look at the Davis vs. Martin matchup and the underdog’s chances to win the fight.

Davis’ style and strengths

Davis is a true master of the sweet science with one of the most versatile skill sets among all champions. With his right foot and hand positioned forward, the southpaw stance gives him an edge, as do his hand speed, power, accuracy and tactical prowess. Davis seems to possess a sixth sense that helps him detect fears and weaknesses in his opponents. This awareness enables him to ramp up the heat offensively and ultimately catching and punishing his adversaries before finishing them.

He fights with a low center of gravity, and his stature (5-foot-5½) allows him to spring upward to generate explosive punching power. By attacking from a lower vantage point, he can catch opponents off guard.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is similar to top pound-for-pound fighter Naoya Inoue, a master chess player and an astute predator who shapes his actions to maximize their impact — taking advantage of his opponent’s defensive liabilities.

Davis embodies the qualities of what I call a “P.A.C.E.R.” — Patient, Athletic, Controlling, Explosive and Rhythmic. He is not afraid to play catch-up, often finding himself behind on at least one of the judge’s scorecards before stopping his opponents. His athleticism allows him to box, moving smoothly laterally, setting traps with sudden changes in direction, exploding with single-punch counters or applying pressure while moving forward behind a high guard, waiting to exploit his opponents’ repetitive patterns.

Davis is known for unleashing his power punches once he has worn down his foes physically and mentally, quickly transforming into a violent offensive rhythm with incredible precision, speed, power and accuracy while moving at different angles. In addition, Davis is a prolific counterpuncher and nasty body puncher with a plethora of slip counter hooks, uppercuts and backhands. Most opponents shell up defensively, remaining stationary and turning into an instant human punching bag under his onslaught.

Davis’ weaknesses and how to beat him

Davis has generated an aura of intimidation similar to what Mike Tyson did in his heyday, instilling fear in his opponents before they step foot in the ring. However, even the most powerful punchers have limitations. An implosion can take form when those punches no longer have the same effect on an opponent who persistently matches their intensity. This was evident when George Foreman, who many feared as the hardest-punching heavyweight of his generation, crumbled against Muhammad Ali’s indomitable resolve. In the Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder rematch, we witnessed a role reversal in which the typically dominant, forward-pressing Wilder was overwhelmed by pressure and forced back onto his heels, only responding periodically until he was knocked out.

Davis faced his most formidable physical and mental challenge in his battle against Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz in 2021. Cruz relentlessly applied pressure on Davis, landing more punches on him than any other opponent had managed to do before (121, according to CompuBox). This fight exposed a potential breaking point in Davis’ facade of invincibility, hinting his armor may not be as impenetrable as it seems.

To overcome Davis, an opponent would need to match his aggression, capitalize on his inconsistencies (spurt fighting) and have the ability to absorb his power punches and deliver even more in return. This requirement sets a high bar for anyone seeking to defeat Davis in the ring. To further clarify my point, Davis’ career has been guided carefully, and he has often faced opponents coming up in weight, weight-drained rivals with rehydration clauses and in recent years B-level competition. This has raised questions about how he would perform against other high-level fighters just like himself.

Davis has shown defensive vulnerability and occasional lapses due to his high guard, which exposes his body. His jab and backhand techniques sometimes leave him lunging, reaching and off balance, compromising his defensive stance after throwing punches. He tends to become inactive while moving, baiting or just retreating to recharge after an offensive attack, occasionally resorting to just throwing potshots instead of maintaining a consistent offensive and defensive flow. He also often reacts to meaningful feints, lowering his hands and opening himself to being countered.

Davis uses two guard changes: the single high shield with the lead hand positioned in a sling, aka the “Mayweather Shell.” At the same time, the backhand remains up-cocked and loaded to counter an incoming lazy jab. Or he sets up a traditional high guard looking to set a trap from his opponent’s tendency to punch at his portrayed upright positioning. Both positions come with exposure; the high guard opens up his body for straight punches and hooks to the side of his head and body. The single high shield opens him up to the 2-1, 2-3 and 1-2-3 combinations. This is a number system for the basic punches in boxing: 1: jab, 2: backhand cross, 3: lead hand hook, 4: backhand hook, 5: lead hand uppercut, 6: backhand uppercut.

Martin’s style and strengths

Martin, a former all-state wrestler, stands out with his physically imposing, muscular physique — a build that uses a lot of oxygen throughout 12 rounds. His style is similar to that of Davis’, mirroring his guard changes, setups and counters. But unlike Davis, Martin lacks explosive power and single-punch knockout ability. He compensates with lightning-fast reflexes and reactivity. He’s an adept counterpuncher and combination puncher — mainly attacking in straight lines, getting in and quickly out of range.

Martin’s experience may be limited on paper, but he has impressive control and offensive and defensive skills inside the ring. When stationed in the pocket, he’s a bit of a control freak, showcasing nuances beyond his experience with guard manipulation, frames, body bumps, guard pins, turning on slight angles and maintaining head control. He possesses the pull-two-counter, the upstairs jab followed by a two-hook combination (the 4-3 or 3-4) to the body and the jab, back cross (1-1-2) combination. He even uses lateral footwork for defense and to reset his offensive prowess.

We must also consider Martin’s athleticism and long-standing career as a 135-pounder, which could help him inside the pocket. Martin may be the most technically skilled opponent Davis has faced since Jose Pedraza.

Martin’s weaknesses and how to beat him

Martin’s offensive output can be inconsistent as he is a counterpuncher by nature, often leaving him vulnerable to the incoming offense while he waits for openings. He pulls straight back in straight lines, not moving his head offline. In a battle of southpaw vs. southpaw, this creates an opening for Davis’ left cross. Martin’s natural habit of changing his level and staying low with bent knees — a technique reminiscent of his wrestling background — presents a unique finding. While this ability to fight from a lower stance can disrupt Davis’ usual advantage of being the lower man, it comes with risk as Davis possesses the most lethal punch in boxing: the uppercut. It can be placed on Martin’s chin as he leans forward with his head slightly tilted down.

When watching film, I see that Martin’s moments of uncertainty and discomfort arise when he faces forceful offensive heat and pressure, disrupting his rhythm and not allowing him to be in control. He also inadvertently impairs his vision by raising his lead hand high, obstructing his peripheral view and leaving him vulnerable to incoming left crosses and right hooks. This flaw could open up an opportunity for Davis to execute a well-timed uppercut as Martin moves into mid-range.

Martin’s reliance on a high guard for defense leaves his midsection exposed to punishing body shots from the more powerful puncher. His failure to respond to feints, like Davis, poses another concern. Davis, known for his prowess in setting traps, could easily exploit this weakness with a deceptive feint followed by a quick inside slip to target Martin’s body with a hard right hook before delivering his right to the head.

Who wins?

Martin’s potential for success lies in his hand speed, quickness and agility. It’s worth noting that Davis is not oblivious to being outboxed, and Martin possesses the necessary skills to do so. However, the critical question remains: Does Martin have the temperament, discipline and fortitude to withstand Davis’ notorious power? Looking back at Strum against Del La Hoya, where outboxing the opponent alone didn’t cement victory, Martin must understand that simply trying to outpoint Davis may not be the winning ticket. He may need to do more to win, perhaps even score a knockdown to help get his hand raised.

While both fighters have been inactive, Davis exudes confidence and understands his capabilities well. This is Martin’s first championship bout, and he is facing one of boxing’s premier pound-for-pound talents and most devastating punchers. Given these circumstances, the odds seem stacked in favor of Davis, with a late knockout appearing to be the likely outcome. But anything can happen. It’s boxing.

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