IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston weighs up Saturday night’s intriguing 140lbs showdown between Gervonta Davis and Mario Barrios as well as Vasiliy Lomachenko’s comeback bout against Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani.
Gervonta “Tank” Davis opened as the favourite to beat Mario Barrios in tonight’s 140lbs title fight in Atlanta and the odds have been rising. The betting public clearly loves Tank. Yet on paper this is Tank’s toughest fight. He’s meeting a bigger, much taller opponent. Tank is young, ambitious, unbeaten and seeks to become a three-weight world champion. But Barrios is also young and ambitious, he too is undefeated, and he’s the defending champ.
If you believe Davis is going to win, you’re likely going along with the widespread view that he is an exceptional fighter and one of the sport’s future superstars. He’s 26 years old (the same age as Barrios) and he’s stopped 23 opponents in 24 consecutive wins. Tank has won titles at 130 and 135. His last fight was at 130, when he knocked out Leo Santa Cruz in the sixth round. So he’s essentially going up 10lbs in weight. That’s the sort of thing the old-time champs used to do.
Davis hasn’t come close to losing, but Santa Cruz fought him tough. All three judges had Davis in front by just one point after five rounds. Tank ended matters dramatically with a big left uppercut from his southpaw stance in the sixth, but up until that moment he was being given all he could handle by the taller, volume-punching Santa Cruz.
Now Tank is in with an opponent who will be much bigger in the ring on the night. Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs) absolutely towers over Tank. The defending champion can box and he can punch. But the Tank team might have seen vulnerability in Barrios when he beat Batyr Akhmedov to win the WBA title. After a slow start, including suffering a flash knockdown in the fourth round, Akhmedov came on strongly to have Barrios under heavy pressure, even chasing him around the ring. Barrios lost the 10th and 11th rounds on all three judges’ cards and was losing the 12th until he landed a right hand to have Akhmedov touching down on his gloves for another eight count. Barrios was a deserving winner but things were looking shaky for a while. And one would have to consider Tank on a higher level than Akhmedov.
Tank trained in Las Vegas for tonight’s fight, away from distractions in his hometown of Baltimore. I believe he hired a personal chef and nutritionist to add weight in a scientific way. He will want to be strong but without any loss of speed.
On paper, Barrios is Davis’ toughest fight. But Barrios has never met anyone who brings educated pressure, punch-variety, hand speed and explosiveness in the Davis manner. If Davis can get up close and get his shots off he can hurt Barrios and push him back.
I do believe that Barrios will have his moments. Tank might even encounter some adversity. But the special fighters are able to adjust, grit it out and reach the next level of intensity. And, yes, I do believe Davis to be a special talent.
Currently we’re seeing Davis priced at 1/5 (-500) at Betfred. That’s a high admittance price but reflects the market confidence in Davis, who opened at 1/4 (-400). Barrios is offered at 18/5 (+360). If you feel like taking a chance on Barrios you’re getting the bigger man in the fight and also a boxer who hasn’t learned how to lose and who has the confidence of being a champion. So, on paper at least, there is value there. But the people behind Davis — and that includes his mentor Floyd Mayweather — will tell you that we haven’t seen the best of Davis, that he has much more to offer.
The weigh-in image, with Tank peering up at his opponent, might worry those who have invested in Davis. But a height advantage doesn’t win fights, otherwise Donny Lalonde would have beaten Sugar Ray Leonard and Callum Smith would have beaten Canelo Alvarez.
I think Tank will be too much for Barrios. But 1/5 is a bit steep. If you like Tank by stoppage, the price offered is 8/13 (-160), while Davis by decision is a more attractive number at 1/3 (+300). And it’s possible that Barrios can hang in there for 12 rounds, with his 140-pounder’s frame allowing him to withstand punishment. So “fight to go the distance” at 13/8 (+160) might not be a bad idea.
Several shops have a total-rounds market. The over 7.5 rounds is offered at -140 (5/7) and -150 (2/3), depending on the bookmaker. Of all the proposition bets available across the market, this one might be the way to go.
In the other big fight of the weekend, Vasiliy Lomachenko is a prohibitive favourite to beat Masayoshi Nakatani in their 12-round lightweight bout in Las Vegas. Nakatani went 12 rounds with Teo Lopez so on paper he should be able to make it to the final bell against Loma. But, in his last fight, Nakatani was down twice and getting hit easily before Felix Verdejo ran out of gas. Loma did have to go the full 12 rounds against Jose Pedraza and Luke Campbell, true, but he had both men down and almost out.
I think Loma feels annoyed with himself for the way he blew so many early rounds when he lost to Teo Lopez. I just get the sense that Loma feels he needs to make a point against Nakatani, to prove he is still an elite-level boxer who still has plenty to offer. Nakatani is tough and game but Loma’s speed and angles are likely to give him problems. If Loma can keep making making Nakatani miss, and keep hitting him, I think he can wear down the much taller Japanese boxer. So Loma to win by KO TKO or DQ at 10/11 (-110) could be worth considering.
Main image: Davis and Barrios face off at yesterday’s weigh-in. Photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime.