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It’s incredibly rare in boxing to see a replacement opponent added to the main event of a pay-per-view card actually make the matchup a more compelling and (potentially) competitive one.  

That’s the biggest storyline entering multi-division champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis’ return on Sunday when rising star defends his WBA secondary lightweight title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  

Davis (25-0, 24 KOs) will return to 135 pounds when he takes on the hard-charging Isaac Cruz (22-1-1, 15 KOs) in what’s expected to be nothing short of a shootout at close range. Cruz, a 23-year-old who is aptly nicknamed “Pitbull,” was a late substitute for Rolando “Rolly” Romero after the unbeaten slugger was pulled from the bout amid multiple allegations of sexual assault.  

For as crude as Cruz’s crouching style might appear to the naked eye at times, the native of Mexico is very effective getting inside on his opponents and unloading a variety of short power shots from multiple angles.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview of Davis vs. Cruz on Sunday night below.

“I’m very confident in any punch that I throw,” Cruz said at Thursday’s final press conference. “Like the Mexican saying goes, ‘whichever way it goes, it goes.’ But I’m very comfortable in my own skin and in my own style. I believe in what I can do on Sunday night.” 

Cruz, who is unbeaten in his last 18 fights dating back to his lone defeat, an eight-round decision loss to journeyman Luis Miguel Montano in 2016, had no issue making a pair of guarantees as to what Sunday’s fight might look like.

“I guarantee a great fight, I guarantee excitement,” Cruz said. “It’s simple. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. [Davis] has never faced anybody that fights like me before. My hunger and my will to win is unparalleled. He’s going to feel it on Sunday night.” 

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Although Davis has been respectful of Cruz’s resume, he simply doesn’t believe that are on the same level as fighters. Davis has won titles at three different weight divisions over his last three fights, with all of them ending by knockout.  

In 2020, Davis moved down from lightweight to take on his first world class opponent in multi-division champion Leo Santa Cruz, with their PPV main event at 130 pounds ending in violent fashion as Davis uncorked the knockout of the year with a sixth-round uppercut. Eight months later, Davis made his debut at 140 pounds and stopped previously unbeaten Mario Barrios in a June thriller.  

“He can say whatever he wants right now, but it’s different when you get hit in the face,” Davis said. “He’s saying I haven’t faced someone like him but he’s never faced anyone like me either. He can say what he wants to build up the fight. The opponent change is just a part of boxing. I had to adapt to it just like I’ll adapt to what Cruz brings on fight night.” 

The upgrade didn’t necessarily change the betting odds as Davis, who is finally just starting to get pound-for-pound recognition globally, is listed as high as a –1100 favorite. But there’s no question Cruz provides a much more dangerous challenge than the extremely raw Romero.  

“Gervonta is a very strong fighter. I consider him the best in the division, but he’s human and he’s not impossible to beat,” Cruz said. “My goal will be to bring him down a notch and show who I am as well. 

“We are not scared of his speed. We have been training hard to be able to counter his speed. He has a strong uppercut, he throws a variety of punches but we are prepared. Regardless of what previous fighters have done against him, we have prepared to counter anything he can throw our way.” 

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Davis added a second set of eyes during training camp to prepare himself for Cruz as the well-respected Barry Hunter joined his team alongside head trainer Calvin Ford. Both trainers expressed on Thursday the need to be sharp given Cruz’s aggression and roughneck style, with Davis adding that he’s well aware just how hungry Cruz will be given he has nothing to lose.  

“I think fighting shorter guys is harder than fighting guys taller than me,” Davis said. “You have to punch down and find him. But I’m coming with my top game, so we’ll see how it plays out.  

“I’ve been the underdog like Cruz before. I know that he’s coming fully prepared and coming strong. I remember when my back was against the wall. It’s do-or-die right now and he’s coming with it, not only for himself, but for his family.”

The undercard fills out with some interesting prospects making their way up the ranks. “The Towering Inferno” Sebastian Fundora is back in a super welterweight contest against Sergio Garcia. Fundora, the 6-foot-5 contender, has won three straight fights by knockout and has amassed an undefeated mark at 17-0-1. Plus, former middleweight title challenge Sergiy Derevyanchenko returns to face Carlos Adames in a featured bout. 

Below is the full fight card for Saturday night along with a prediction and pick for the main event.

Fight card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Gervonta Davis -1100 vs. Isaac Cruz +700, WBA “regular” lightweight title
  •  Sebastian Fundora -270 vs. Sergio Garcia +220, super welterweights
  • Sergiy Derevyanchenko -400 vs. Carlos Adames +310, middleweights
  • Luis Arias vs. Vaughn Alexander, super welterweights
  • Prediction 

    The more Cruz can get inside, pound Davis to the body and make this as rough a fight as possible, the greater his chances become of pulling the upset. The fact that Davis can often be economical as a counter puncher could open up the door for the voluminous Cruz to outwork him on the scorecards.  

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    That sounds like a great plan on paper. The problem, of course, is Davis’ punching power. The native of Baltimore has knocked out 96% of his opponents, with only journeyman Ivan Meraz of Germany having gone the distance against him in a six-round bout in 2014.  

    Cruz will need to show a next-level chin in order to close the distance on Davis’ reach advantage. Cruz often ducks low on his way in, similar to a young Mike Tyson, which leaves him open to Davis’ most deadly finishing punch — the left uppercut.  

    The best-case scenario would be for Cruz to endure punishment early so that he can tax Davis’ gas tank late after slowing him down with body shots. It’s a strategy that might have worked against the Davis from four years ago, who often fell victim to the excesses of his growing celebrity, including him losing his 130-pound titles on the scales in 2017.  

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    Davis, who credits giving up drinking with allowing him to achieve an even higher level of fitness and focus, has been too dialed in of late to fall victim. Although Davis still has plenty of legal issues outside the ring, he has become a student of the game inside of it and no longer cuts corners in his preparation.  

    Expect Cruz to make this fight fun for as long as it lasts, using his aggressiveness to bring out the very best in Davis. That, in the end, will also bring about his demise as the very best of Davis is as scary a fighter as anyone in the sport today.  

    Pick: Davis via KO9 

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