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Gervonta “Tank” Davis has been boxing since he was 5 years old. Now, at age 25, he is a three-time world champion with a 23-0 record, 22 of those fights won by knockout. While his promoter and mentor, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is known for his meticulous and calculated style, Davis is violent, explosive and unrelenting. One of his fights in May 2016 lasted just 41 seconds.
Davis was born and raised in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the U.S. Several of his friends, including his coach’s son, died there. “I wasn’t brought up off of love,” Davis says. “I wasn’t brought up by my parents. I was raised by my grandmother, but at a time, even she started leaving the house, so I raised myself…”
After school, Davis would head straight to the gym. The problem was, school got out at 2:30 p.m., but the gym didn’t open until 4 p.m. “I would sleep in front of the gym,” Davis says. “The people from the daycare across the street used to call the police on me… and the whole time I’d tell myself the future would be bigger, better.” Turns out, he was right. His future would be.
Despite such a turbulent childhood, Davis is a survivor – grounded, humble and focused on reaching one thing: the pinnacle of boxing. What follows are a few of the many lessons you can learn from his experience about how to overcome the odds, rise above the trappings of your environment and become a champion.
You can watch our conversation in full below:
Davis’ responses have been condensed and edited for readability.
1. Everyone needs someone
Part of why Davis survived — and now thrives — is because he recognized early on in life that everyone needs someone, no matter how tough they think they are.
“You need guidance in life – period,” he says. “You need people in your corner showing you the ropes, inside and out. That’s what I had. My coach told me, ‘Stay focused. You could become as big as you want.'”
Nature is indiscriminate and merciless. Life is hard, and trial and error is the cruelest teacher of them all. Because no one person is born knowing everything, we have to rely on each other to survive and to fill in the gaps of our understanding about the world and how it works. Without someone in your corner you trust who cares for you, you have to make those decisions on your own, and if you’re not careful, the consequences could cost you everything.
2. Distractions can kill you
Distractions are generally caused by a lack of focus, lack of interest in what you should be focusing on, or the intensity or novelty of what’s distracting you. Doing a million things at once will only lead to a million subpar outcomes. And for Davis, distractions could’ve been fatal — so unyielding focus was a non-negotiable for him.
“Coming up there were a lot of guys who couldn’t stay focused because they needed money now, he says. “Boxing saved my life, because I saw what was going on outside the gym. I knew if I was in the gym and focused on one thing, it would be hard for me to get in trouble. It got a little harder when I was getting older, but when it was time to go to the gym, I was in the gym, no matter what.”
Our eyes are always fixated on something. So if you allow distractions to interrupt your focus, your goals will always elude you. But, if you’re serious about yourself, your life and the goals you have for yourself, choose what you set your eyes on wisely. Then never take your eyes off of it.
3. Always believe in yourself
“One thing my coach drilled into my head is if you believe you can do something, then you can do it, no matter what,” Davis says. “It doesn’t matter if it seems like it’s too far away. If 10 people are telling you you can’t do it, all you need is to believe in yourself and continue to work towards that goal, and you’re going to get it. It may not be now, it may not be in a week or a year, but you will get there if you stay focused.”
As beliefs form, they become the compass of our lives, acting as the unconscious guide behind every decision we make. Like Davis has done, don’t focus on who or what is around you. Focus on who you could be. We all have untapped potential. Recognize it, then believe in yourself like your life depends on it, because it does. If you don’t, no one else will.
4. Stay grounded
A success trap is when someone focuses too much on historic successes rather than continuing to push the boundary and set themselves up for future successes. This manifests itself in many ways, from complacent companies that stop innovating to competitive athletes whose growing egos supersede the skills that got them their initial success in the first place.
“When I first started with Mayweather and he was taking me everywhere, there was something telling me ‘I made it’ already,” Davis says. “But that was the difference between me and other fighters. Other fighters used to be around him and think they’d made it and continue on, but I caught myself. You want to catch yourself before it gets too late.”
Davis closed out our interview with this advice. “Stay focused, stay humble, stay out of trouble, find somebody that cares about you, and just be the best person you can be. Be better than yesterday.”
Stephen Espinoza, president of sports even programming at Showtime, told World Boxing News this month that “In order for boxing to be at its best, the best fighters must fight the best fighters. Tough fights matter…” And Davis’ pay-per-view debut this Saturday, October 31 against the 39-1, four-time world champion Leo Santa Cruz is sure to be his toughest yet.
When I asked him how he handles the increasing demands of boxing super stardom, his response was simple. “Get through my next opponent.” We’d all be wise to do the same.