Toe to toe with 'Tank': Gerard Matthews relives Gervonta Davis showdown at Europa Hotel
AMERICAN powerhouse Gervonta Davis served up the knockout of the year so far when he flattened former Carl Frampton foe Leo Santa Cruz last month – but it wasn’t so long ago that ‘Tank’ was strutting his stuff before a Belfast audience.
The Mayweather Promotions fighter stands on the cusp of super-stardom after his demolition job on Santa Cruz, with talk already swirling around about a possible match-up with Teofimo Lopez, surprise conquerer of Vasyl Lomachenko.
However, in 2012 - the year before Baltimore southpaw Davis turned pro with Floyd Mayweather jr - he was part of a Washington DC team that took on a Belfast select at the Europa Hotel as part of the Belfast Beltway Project.
In the opposite corner was Gerard Matthews. The St Paul’s boxer, who is currently preparing for the Irish Elite Championships in January, was three years older than his 18-year-old opponent, who was already being tipped for the big time by his team-mates and coaches.
Matthews, though, took him all the day – eventually losing out on a split decision.
“There were a few people who thought I won,” says the Twinbrook man.
“He was a strong kid, and in first round he was just waiting to throw big back hands. Brendy [Irvine] was the only one I really had to spar then and he was really light at the time, so I was holding my hands low, doing a bit of boxing. That was the way I was sparring but Davis wasn’t the man to be doing that against!
“He was hitting me and I didn’t know where the punches were coming from, he was so fast. But in the second and third rounds I got my gloves up and I was parrying a lot of the shots and turning him.
“Even though it was points then, the judges were using clickers rather than computer scoring. I won the second and third round but he beat me on points because of what he did in the first round.
“He was confident as anything through the whole build-up. During the weigh-in at City Hall, me and Jamie Kennedy came in and Gervonta was like ‘what weight are you? I’ll fight you’ - he was sitting on his own saying this to everybody. Jamie was like ‘I’d love to be fighting him, he’s so arrogant’. Davis was 57 kilos, Jamie was something like 66 but he was calling Jamie out.
“They all stayed in the Europa so a couple of us hung about and had a beer and we were chatting to them. I was telling them all I was coming down the next day to take them out for a tour about Belfast!”
Matthews and Davis – now 24-0 and world champion at super-feather and lightweight – would speak again on the return leg of the Beltway project.
That time ‘Tank’ got the better of another Belfast boxer, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Joe Fitzpatrick, in Washington DC.
“I got on with him out there because we had all the slabbering out of the way before our fight,” recalls Matthews.
“He was telling me he was going to turn pro with Mayweather in another couple of months, and I remember being like ‘right, okay’. I’d already boxed him so I knew he was pretty good, but it sounded like a bit of a pipe dream. Fair play to him for what he’s gone on to do.
“He was strong then but obviously he didn’t have the power he has now - he’s putting everybody away. It was a serious shot he landed on Santa Cruz.”
TAYLOR KEEN TO INSPIRE NEXT GENERATION
INSPIRING the next generation of female boxers is what it’s all about, said Katie Taylor after she retained her undisputed lightweight crown with a near shut-out points win over Miriam Gutierrez on Saturday night.
Taylor took a unanimous decision, 100-89, 100-90, 99-91 on the judges’ scorecards, to retain her array of championship belts and bring the curtain down on another superb year for the peerless Bray native. She was the headline act on a Matchroom card that included three ladies fights and Taylor said the profile now given to the female arm of the sport was “absolutely huge”.
“I think every girl on the card tonight boxed brilliantly,” she said.
“Three fantastic fights. It's just an amazing showcase. As I've said before, Eddie has given us this platform. Women's boxing is on fire right now because of the platform he has given us.
“What an amazing few years of women's boxing. That's what it's all about for myself, inspiring the next generation. Hopefully there was a few young girls watching through Facebook on the livestream. It's all about inspiring the next generation and what an amazing platform to do it on."
Taylor is her own harshest critic at times but agreed that she had produced “a good overall performance”. Ireland’s Olympic Games star was levels above her previously unbeaten Spanish opponent and showcased her slick boxing and fearless fighting skills without ever looking in any trouble.
"I boxed well at long distance and close,” she said.
“I threw everything but the kitchen sink at her. I just couldn't get her out of there. She's tough as nails so credit to her. She hung in and she was there to fight until the very end. She's obviously big and strong and that showed tonight.
"I thought it was important for me to stamp my authority right from the first round. She hadn't fought outside of Spain and was out of the ring for a year. I thought it would be good to start fast. I thought I was going to get her out of there at one stage. She hung in there and she kept swinging shots. She was actually very dangerous when she was swinging shots. I had to be a bit more cautious later on in the fight. Overall it was a great performance.
"Obviously I would have loved to get a stoppage in there tonight. I haven't got a stoppage in a long time. It is hard to hurt these girls, they're very strong and durable. I did everything that I could to get the stoppage but she hung in and I have to be happy with a points win.
“I'm going home with all of the belts and I'm still the undisputed champion. I'm still unbeaten and this is a great end to the year.”
Meanwhile, Belfast bantamweight Cathy McAleer (4-0), the North’s only female pro, Cathy McAleer returns to action in Sheffield on Friday night in a unique ‘drive-in’ boxing show at Sheffield Arena.
Promoted by Dennis Hobson a maximum of 500 spectators will be able to watch the action unfold on several huge screens while several small 'pods' of VIPs will have a closer view nearer ringside.
Headlining the bill, to be shown live on Eurosport, will be local rivals Tommy Frank and Kyle Yousef, who will tangle for the British flyweight title.