GERVONTA DAVIS could end up calling himself a super-lightweight champion by the end of this weekend. That would be to erase the real achievements of Josh Taylor, who unified all four of the major belts at 140lbs with his recent victory over Jose Ramirez. But Mario Barrios holds a spurious WBA ‘regular’ strap and he takes on Davis at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Saturday (June 26).

This particular belt is not significant but Barrios is a competent fighter. Trained by Virgil Hunter, the 26-year-old is unbeaten in 26 professional contests, 17 of those victories coming inside the distance. He knocked out Ryan Karl on the undercard of Gervonta Davis’ last fight.

But he has had hard bouts himself. Batyr Akhmedov gave him almost all he could handle over 12 rounds in 2019. Akmedov is inexperienced as a professional, he’d only had seven fights when he met Barrios. But a solid amateur and an Olympian, it was Akhmedov who came on strong in the second half of the fight. He swarmed all over Barrios, getting to him with stern punches.

It was Barrios’ power that got him out of trouble and secured a win on the cards. A left hook dropped Akmedov in the first round and just when Mario needed it he blasted the Uzbekistan-born Russian off his feet and had him hurt in the last round.

It shows that Barrios has power and can be dangerous. But Davis is the more complete fighter. At his best he’s looked devastating. Most recently, with a hellish uppercut, he knocked Leo Santa Cruz cold. He has the better resume, he’s had the better performances but these have all come at lighter weights. He’s fought no higher than lightweight and most of his performances have come at super-featherweight. Barrios has been a super-lightweight since 2017. The key unknown will be how Davis handles that move up into this new division.

“We know that Barrios is a bigger guy and that he can punch. We’re working hard each day in the gym because we’re going up against a big task,” Gervonta said. “We all have challenges we go through in life and that’s what makes us strong. This is another challenge that I have on my road to success. I’m ready to walk through it and keep pushing.

“We know this is a dangerous fight. Barrios is coming with power and you know for sure I’m coming with power.

“I took this fight because I want to be great. All the other big names at lightweight had scheduled fights so I felt like I wanted to go out and beat the best fighter out there for me.

“Even if he is bigger than me on fight night, it doesn’t matter. This is all part of the sport.  My goal is to break him down. If I can get him out of there, I’ll get him out of there. He’s big and strong, but he’s never faced anyone like me.”

Interestingly Akmedov, like Davis, is a southpaw. It’s likely that Davis will get to him with his speed and eventually grind Barrios down and force a late stoppage.

Gervonta Davis
Esther Lin/Showtime

Barrios however insisted, “‘Tank’ is a good fighter and a very explosive fighter. There is the question of whether he’s bringing his power up to 140. I don’t have any concerns about it though. He’s the guy who has to show people he can handle my power at this weight.”

“Whether you like ‘Tank’ or not, he has one of the biggest names in boxing. This is the type of fight that can skyrocket my name up there to the top level of the sport,” he continued. “This is a huge opportunity for me. ‘Tank’ called me out. I know he’s trying to do something great, but this is a dangerous fight for him. It’s going to be an action-packed fight. We’ve never faced fighters like each other before.”

Davis does tend to perform in his big fights, though outside the ring there are real concerns. Last year he was arrested and charged after an altercation with the mother of his child. Most recently he was indicted on various counts after a traffic collision. None of this has discouraged Showtime from putting this next fight on pay-per-view. UK viewers can watch the stream on Fite TV, also for a fee.

The Verdict A test for Davis as he tries to prove he can rise through the weights but not quite PPV stuff.