AS talented as they are troubled, lightweights Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Ryan “King Ry” Garcia have to date faced their biggest battles away from the ring rather than inside it.

The pair have, in accumulating a combined record of 51-0 (45), beaten every opponent they have so far encountered when wearing gloves and have also avoided fighting opponents considered either equals or rivals. That will all change on Saturday (April 22), however, when Davis and Garcia meet in Las Vegas, where at last a perfect record will be blemished and bragging rights will be claimed by one of the two.

Which of the two is likely to have the last laugh remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: this fight, mooted for some time, has been stretched to breaking point. That it happens now, at a time when Davis finds himself in trouble with the law and Garcia continues to seek a breakout win, is perhaps no coincidence.

Ticking time bombs, the both of them, there is forever a sense that one or both of these men could unravel at any moment – inside the ring, outside the ring – and therefore it feels imperative that they meet before this happens. Davis, after all, is due to return to a Baltimore court on May 5 after pleading guilty to hit-and-run charges stemming from a November 2020 collision that left four people injured. For him at least, fighting Garcia on April 22 was a case of now or (maybe) never.

The moral issues surrounding that matter, and the sudden hunger to get the fight made, are plentiful, but will be nothing new to anyone who has followed the sport for some time. On the one hand, it’s hard to see the fairness in allowing Davis to proceed with his professional career while a criminal case hangs over him, yet, on the other hand, the Maryland native would not be the first boxer in his position to do so. In fact, some of the sport’s most famous and celebrated champions have spent time in the ring despite the looming prospect of jail time.

Nobody is perfect, especially in a sport like boxing. Moreover, what makes fighters such as Davis and Garcia compelling characters in the first place has a lot to do with the fact that they are imperfect beings; somewhat ironic, too, given their pro records.

For Davis, 28-0 (26), this is not his first brush with trouble, and indeed some fans have often wondered whether “Tank’s” obsession with the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson is a good thing or a bad thing. Keen, it seems, to play up to some tough guy persona, Davis has long fluctuated in weight between fights, frequently gone off the rails, and appeared in danger of throwing away his undoubted talent in favour of simply having fun.

Garcia, meanwhile, is a fighter susceptible to distractions of a different kind. He, unlike Davis, is rarely blowing up in weight between fights, or slacking in the gym, yet, at 24, is one of the sport’s first Generation Z stars and thus at the mercy of an ever-changing world. He is, for instance, a young man constantly online, engaging, going back and forth, and utterly self-absorbed. He posts videos of himself training and living his life and has become a target for both criticism and temptation as a result. He is also, most important of all, another young person vulnerable to the demands of a permanently online world, with his mental health used at least once to explain a fight cancellation and a subsequent period of inactivity.

Mental health, of course, means different things to different people and any struggle with it will manifest differently in different people. In the case of Garcia, though, someone whose entire style and personality seems predicated on attention to detail (or just plain old attention), speed of delivery, and a constant state of unrest and alertness, it is hardly a surprise that a man in his early 20s, under so much scrutiny and pressure, would be liable to become overwhelmed by the weight of it.

Davis, likewise, though four years Garcia’s senior, is a fighter young at heart; some would say underdeveloped. In keeping with his style, he is raw and aggressive and prone to bouts of impulsiveness, which make him such a threat, both on fight night and on the many nights in between.

In other words, strip these two men of their character traits and you take from them a lot of what makes them so successful and dangerous when the first bell rings. For Garcia, that’s his rapid, twitchy style, and his ability to think quickly and act just as fast, whereas for Davis, that’s his merciless streak and the cruel, callous way in which he goes after injured prey. Boxing, it’s true, didn’t make these lightweights this way, but it has definitely celebrated these traits and, in turn, the two fighters.

It will continue to do this on Saturday as well, when Davis and Garcia meet at an agreed weight of 136 pounds, which is one pound above the lightweight limit of 135, the weight at which Davis is most comfortable, and four pounds beneath super-lightweight, the division in which Garcia, 23-0 (19), originally wanted the fight to take place. (That it now happens at 136 is fine, both fighters say, with only a 10-pound rehydration clause for precautionary measures inserted into the contract by Davis indicating he had any concerns or misgivings.)

At 5’5, Davis would be wise not to concede too much to Garcia, who stands at 5’8, with so much already at stake. Yet he claimed when meeting his rival at a press conference that he didn’t appear as tall as he had expected and this, he said, made him even more confident of cutting him down to size on April 22. He also slammed Garcia for being “lazy” and said his inability to fight him at the lightweight limit of 135 pounds was indicative of a young fighter whose concentration had wandered along with his discipline.

That, on the face of it, would seem rich coming from a man like Davis, whose own motivation issues are well-documented, but it is a revealing comment nonetheless. As was Davis’ suggestion that Garcia is an “Instagram boxer” rather than a “real fighter”, which has been an accusation levelled at Garcia since he turned pro back in 2016.

“He’s [Garcia] not in the same class as me,” Davis told Fox News in a recent interview. “I have the full package. I don’t think he has the full package with his overall ability.

“He [Garcia] doesn’t bring any concern for me to need to change up my game plan. I don’t want to sound cocky. I wouldn’t know until I get in the ring with him – his movement, his hand speed. I’ll fill him out overall, break him down by his mistakes, and then we’ll get him out of there.”

Much like how many have felt the only thing capable of defeating Gervonta Davis is Gervonta Davis, the same could be said of Ryan Garcia. For he too is exposed to the same distractions and the same temptations and he too, on the surface, appears to possess all the physical gifts to excel in a sport like boxing: fast hands, fast feet, power in his left hook, snappy jab, great stamina. As a boxer, he looks to have the lot, something he demonstrates to fans when posting videos of himself shadowboxing, or hitting either a speedball or bag. He seems, in those moments, to be something close to the perfect boxer: straight up, well-poised, well-balanced, completely in control.

Yet, of course, away from those carefully constructed moments, designed purely for social media clout, one gets a greater insight into Ryan Garcia, the man, and the fighter. It is there, in fights against Luke Campbell in 2021 (a fight in which Garcia pulled himself up from a second-round knockdown to stop Campbell in seven), you get a far greater sense of what he is and what he could become. Even last time out, against Javier Fortuna in July, Garcia could be seen stepping on the gas as the fight approached its halfway stage, so keen was he to get Fortuna out of there – which he did in round six – rather than simply cruise or try to avoid the possibility of things getting messy.

At a certain level, then, he is a true fighter, no doubt. He has proved it more than once. But the suspicion with Garcia, one Davis shares, is that when finally he meets an opponent who can match him physically and athletically, what else does he have to offer? It is in those moments, after all, that a fighter needs more than just a pretty repertoire of punches and quick hands with which to deliver them. It is in those moments you discover where a fighter comes from and the true nature of their hardship and both their determination and need to succeed.

Davis would argue that Garcia is all show, the implication being that when the going gets tough he will most likely get going. He will argue that while Garcia may be the more marketable of the two, and the one whose appeal stretches beyond boxing, it is he, Davis, who is the true fighter and the one who was born to do this rather than made to do it. He may well be right, too, although this we will not know for sure until the two of them share a ring.

Physically, it would seem Garcia has the tools to give Davis problems, particularly given Davis’ many distractions and his tendency to start fights slowly. In the event of that, one could quite easily see Garcia’s jab and sharp left hook limiting the advances of his squat opponent and perhaps racking up some of the early rounds, maybe even stinging the Baltimore man on occasion. But Davis, for all his faults, is one of the many fighters who is as intelligent in the ring as he is foolish away from it and therefore it is hard to envisage a scenario in which he is left somehow confused or outmanoeuvred by an opponent like Garcia, despite Garcia’s physical advantages. What’s more, so open is Garcia when he attacks, and so high is his chin when pulling away from punches, it becomes almost impossible not to picture Davis, a vicious puncher, at some stage landing something heavy and finishing the fight in its second half.

If that doesn’t happen, and if Garcia does indeed prove his toughness on the night, the second most probable outcome is that Davis claims a comfortable decision on the cards.

In the night’s chief support bout, Cuban southpaw and WBA super-middleweight belt-holder David Morrell, 8-0 (7), now fights late replacement Yamaguchi Falcao, 24-1-1 (12), following the withdrawal of original opponent Sena Agbeko. There is also a second fight at super-middleweight between Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev, 11-1 (9), and the old warhorse Gabriel Rosado, 26-16-1 (15), who is now 37 years old and has lost his last three bouts.