Neither happens without the other.
No, not Gervonta Davis, the 26-0 WBA lightweight champion of the world and his burgeoning stardom in boxing. Nor Calvin Ford, whose personal transformation inspired the character Dennis “Cutty” Wise in HBO’s all-time great series “The Wire.”
“Man, I would’ve never believed in 100 years I would walk down the street and they’d say, ‘Look, that’s Gervonta Davis’ coach.’ It’s scary, man,” Ford told The Post before Davis defends his title against Rolando Romero on Saturday night at Barclays Center (9 p.m., Showtime PPV). “I had to leave the city, just recently. Usually, I don’t come home before a fight. Usually, I have to go straight to where we’re going, but I had to come and drop equipment off and everything and people see me and say, ‘Coach!’ and they’re beeping their horns and stuff. And it’s like, man this is different. I wasn’t expecting this in my life.”
Davis, at a young age, likely couldn’t imagine where his life would take him, either. Ford showed Davis the path, and Davis provided Ford a new platform to inspire change.
Now many years removed from federal prison for racketeering and conspiracy charges, Ford was a major player in Baltimore’s drug trade. Serving near the top of a drug distribution ring as the “brains,” Ford was sentenced in 1988 and spent the next decade in prison.
When he finally got out, Ford — as depicted by “Cutty” — committed to turning his life around and soon took over a local boxing gym, hired to run a public program for inner-city youth — an at-risk demographic he himself knew painfully well.
One of his earliest students to walk in his gym was a 7-year-old Davis, bouncing with energy that needed to be channeled. According to a Los Angeles Times interview, Davis jumped between foster homes as his father was in prison and his mother lost custody due to drug abuse issues, before eventually settling with his grandmother. Davis and Ford connected while “The Wire” was in production and never looked back.
“Calvin’s always been like that father figure to me because he’s always been around me since I was young,” Davis told The Post. “He had a lot of say on my career and life because of the relationship we have. I slept at Calvin’s house with his kids, his wife, and things like that. I feel as though we’re family. He’s not just a coach or anything to me; I think he’s like a father. He’s definitely helped me with a lot. I got a lot of my ways from Calvin.”
“I’m like the total package to him,” Ford added. “I keep it real with him. I can be the father, I can be the pop pop, the coach, the trainer, the butler. When he calls on me, he knows I don’t have a problem making sure things get taken care of. And I give him his space. I don’t get on him about things or try to force things. I remember when I was his age, and I commend him. I shake his hand, I salute him, and I say, ‘Man there’s no way in the world I could’ve gone through the things that you went through at that age and the type of money you had at that age.’ It probably would’ve sent me crazy. Looking at him, I commend him, and I keep telling him that he’s blessed, that he’s a genius, become who he is gonna become.”
Now 27, Davis has become one of boxing’s most lucrative and successful fighters amid his electric, overpowering knockout prowess, stopping all but two of his opponents. He first cemented his stature as one of the sport’s most exciting up-and-comers in 2017, claiming his first world title with a KO victory over Jose Pedraza at Barclays Center. Now, the Baltimore native returns to Brooklyn knocking on divisional, and boxing, supremacy.
“It means a lot because it’s like a full circle that’s coming back around,” Davis said. “It’s just big, where I started off, this is where I won my first world title, you know what I mean? It definitely means a lot. It’s definitely a big piece to my story. There’s no place like New York City. I couldn’t do it anywhere else. When I first saw that I’m fighting Rolly, I was like, ‘Let’s go to New York,’ because New York is definitely a nice place. It’s close to home, three hours away from home, and I’m just excited man. Just excited for it.”
Years before he was the main attraction, Davis’ drive, even from an incredibly young age, separated him from others in his gym.
Davis had the energy and the talent. Too often in their shared environment, Ford noted, those qualities got sidetracked or used in the wrong direction, symptoms of a system designed for them to fail.
Nobody knows the harshness of that lesson better than Ford. And there was nobody better to impart that wisdom on than Davis.
“He was a young man in Baltimore. Coming up in Baltimore, it’s rough,” Ford said. “To be a young kid coming up in Baltimore, he was excited, he was a normal kid. That’s what they’re missing. He had a chance to actually have his childhood around us. Still be a kid, but it was a different type of kid. It matched him, he was a fighter. He had that type of energy. We cultivated that energy and did something good with it.”
Their relationship has evolved. In the beginning, it was Ford directing Davis. As he’s grown throughout his career, and his personal life, it’s become a partnership, sharing responsibilities and coming together to make decisions or changes.
As they prepare to take the next step in their unlikely careers, the vehicle by which their unexpected lives played out is not lost on them, and continues to remind them of their origins.
A young kid in need of a mentor, and a coach in need of a protégé.
“Boxing has transformed my life to give me a chance for a platform for the youth in Baltimore,” Ford said. “That’s what I’m really focusing on because I was a youth in Baltimore, and there’s certain things we’re not having for the youth in Baltimore. So I figure I’m that voice to actually show him that, if you put the right people around them, anything is possible, and that’s what we’re missing for some of the youth in these inner cities.”
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