One of the things that sucks in life, if you value intellectual honesty even one iota, is having to admit that someone you don’t like did something impressive.
The more prideful and/or dickish that constitute the rest… you wonder if it burns harder for them not to admit it. Michael Jordan, for instance, for all his success, doesn’t seem well, does he? You watch “The Last Dance” and see him denying with a hollow cackle that in the NBA Finals, Gary Payton switching to guard him had no effect at all, when statistically and even just looking at it with your own eyes is plenty proof that it very much did. So 24 years later, in a documentary his company co-produced, it’s like watching a guy trying to staunch a wound that he still can’t stop from bleeding.
This brings us to the 2020 Boxing Knockout of the Year.
Gervota Davis is not a likable man. We all know that some percentage of the in-ring boxing heroes are, outside the ring, anything but. Davis, though, made that explicit for all to see when he put his hands around the mother of his child’s throat and dragged her out of a gymnasium, and worse. Not exactly a role model.
On a much less morally offensive note, he’s failed to make weight multiple times, a galling development for those who would gladly take Davis’s physical gifts off his hands if he finds little need to match them with one of the mandatory minimums required of boxers. Then he gets some guilt by association with one of boxing’s biggest assholes, Floyd Mayweather.
Making matters worse is that the man on the other side of Davis’s Halloween annihilation was Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is far on the other side of likability, smiling brightly the moment he woke up from the Davis KO. Santa Cruz even came in with an uplifting tale-of-the-time experience with COVID-19, as his father made a “miraculous” recovery from the coronavirus before the fight.
So this one hurts, in more ways than one.
It was a nice match-up through five rounds, virtually even on the cards. Davis was doing all his incendiary speed + power business, as expected, and Santa Cruz, moving up to lightweight, was withstanding Davis’s assault and trying to drown Davis in his own.
Looking back, you wince a little at what Santa Cruz said beforehand.
“Tank Davis is strong the first five rounds. I know he’s also dangerous in every round, but I think the more dangerous rounds will be 1-6 where he will have the most power,” Santa Cruz said.
Oof. It’s like he predicted his own demise, just outside the safest zone. What was happening in the 6th round: Davis was really letting Santa Cruz have it. Santa Cruz, seemingly of the mind that he needed to back Davis off, began trading.
Davis had landed plenty of beautiful counter left uppercuts to that point in the fight, and Santa Cruz took them well. (It was a good year for counter left uppercuts generating KO of the Year candidates.) With this one, though, the determinative one, Santa Cruz was in the middle of winging wide punches, as if driven wild by desperation to make Davis leave him alone. His head dipped down, exposed. Goodbye, withstandingness.
The knockout was all the more impressive for the fact that, before the moment Davis delivered it, Santa Cruz had no record of even being off his feet as a pro.
Sometimes, reluctantly, you have to stand back from the part of your brain that doesn’t want to give credit where it’s due and say, “Hey, man. Nice shot.”
(Gervonta Davis, left, Leo Santa Cruz, right; credit: Esther Lin, Showtime)