Some sons of fighters are groomed to follow in their father’s footsteps. They are practically raised in a boxing gym, like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Erik Morales were, and compete in their first amateur bouts as elementary school students. The regrets of their fathers become their destinies.
Dyah Davis wasn’t one of those children. Davis (20-2-1, 9 knockouts), of Coconut Creek, Fla., grew up in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York aspiring to be an NBA player.
Though his father Howard Davis, Jr. was a 1976 Olympic gold medalist and world title challenger as a professional, there were no memorabilia or photos from his father’s time in the limelight lying around the house. Sure, he was aware of who his father was, but his father never encouraged him to walk in his path.
“He never introduced me to boxing or laced up my gloves or nothing like that,” said the 30-year-old super middleweight, who continues his own career this Friday against Alfonso Lopez (22-1, 17 KOs) at Mallory Square in Key West, Fla. The 10-round bout will headline the first installment of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, beginning at 9:00 p.m. EST.
“I think he never wanted his kids to feel like they had pressure. He wanted us to be doctors, lawyers, anything but boxers because of the ups and downs he went through in his career.”
Instead, Davis went into the tuxedo business, managing a store on Long Island that catered to weddings, high school proms and bar mitzvahs. It wasn’t until he was 23 and saw the Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko heavyweight title match in 2003 on television that he got the itch to try out the sport. By that time his father had moved down to South Florida to take a job as a striking coach at America’s Top Team, a mixed martial arts academy.
When Dyah made the call seeking his father’s guidance to begin a career as a boxer, the elder Davis didn’t quite know how to react.
“Box what, oranges and grapes?” quipped the father.
Despite his own father Howard Davis, Sr. running the local boxing gym, Howard, Jr. was never pushed into the sport. He eventually entered the sport at the age of 15, which he considered to be a late start. Howard, Jr. was initially skeptical of his son’s interest, but soon agreed to give him a two-week tryout.
“I said, ‘OK, let me call your mother,’” he said. “She was very concerned, so I said to her, ‘If he doesn’t have the talent – and I think I’d know – I’ll send him back home to New York, unless he wants to stay down here with me. I’ll be honest with him and you.’”
After his father assessed that there was enough innate athletic ability to warrant his time, Dyah went back to Long Island and resigned his position with the tuxedo shop, packed his car up and drove down to South Florida.
Dyah was committed to the project the moment he arrived. He had no choice; Davis’ car died on him just as he pulled into town.
Unlike his father, Davis turned pro without a single amateur fight. Instead, the younger Davis gained his experience in the gym, serving as a sparring partner for Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, Lucian Bute, Edison Miranda and Beibut Shumenov.
“I have no amateur experience, but I have professional experience,” he said.
Davis’ learning curve was twice on display, when he lost decisions to Tyrone Watson in 2007, and then against Aaron Pryor, Jr. in 2010. Each defeat served as a vital lesson, hard growing pains on his way towards understanding the ups-and-downs of the business.
The first defeat to Watson prompted Davis to leave his father’s tutelage.
“I blamed him,” said Davis. “I was upset that he didn’t do his homework on the guy we fought. Tyrone Watson was promoted by the same promoter as the show we fought on. After that my Dad didn’t want our relationship to be strained. He didn’t want me to be upset with him so he felt that it’d be better off if I trained with someone else. I’d never want our relationship to be hurt. It was probably best for me to leave my dad.”
Howard Davis remembers that conversation in the dressing room after the fight.
“When he had that loss, I said to him, ‘What was going on? You didn’t do anything you were supposed to do,’” remembered the father, who was trained by his father for the majority of his 43-fight career. “He blamed me.
“I said, ‘How’d you blame me?’ He said, ‘A couple guys came into the dressing room and they wanted your autograph.’ I said, ‘Dyah, that couldn’t be it, me talking to people distracted you?’ I came to find out he had some problems with his girlfriend leading up to the fight.”
A new trainer came in briefly, but the relationship didn’t work out. Howard Davis once again took the reins and the two enjoyed a winning streak before a new manager came in and suggested that Dyah trained with a different trainer.
“Dyah came and said, ‘My manager wants someone else to train me.’ He started crying, and I said, ‘Look, I’ll always be in your corner no matter what. If you need advice just call me. I’m always going to be there for you.’”
After a brief tenure in Las Vegas with Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Davis now trains with John David Jackson, the former junior middleweight and middleweight titleholder, in Boca Raton, Fla. Howard Davis says that he tries not to nitpick on the training between the two, but can’t help himself sometimes. Under Howard’s recommendation, Dyah brought in Craig Gibson, who had trained Howard, Jr. for a few of his fights, as an assistant.
Under Jackson, Davis met Pryor Jr., rehashing their fathers’ contentious Olympic trial meeting prior to the 1976 Games, which was won by Davis. It was Davis’ first bout under a major promoter – Dibella Entertainment – and first bout under the spotlight. Davis said he was like a deer caught in the headlights.
“It was a big disappointment for myself and his team,” said Davis of the unanimous decision loss. “I think I had a little bit of stage fright. It was my first national TV exposure, just me being in the ring with the camera in my face. The kind of stuff you shouldn’t be thinking about, I was thinking about.”
With his career on the rocks, Davis drew with Francisco Sierra before facing unbeaten prospect Marcus Johnson on ShoBox: The New Generation last April. Johnson, 20-0 with 15 KOs at the time, was the favored fighter and Davis was the “opponent,” yet it was hard to discern who was the unbeaten fighter as Davis boxed and battered Johnson around the ring for 10 rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory. His performance was highlighted by a body shot that dropped Johnson in the ninth round.
“I had no doubts going into the fight,” said Davis of the bout that earned him top-10 rankings with two of the sanctioning bodies. “I always thought, ‘I could beat that guy, why doesn’t Lou match us up.’ I think they had doubts matching Johnson with me, but once I had the loss and the draw I think they felt now was the time to match him with me.”
Davis’ next opponent Lopez is also no stranger to playing the opponent role. Last year, a then-unbeaten Lopez went to Las Vegas to play the foil to comebacking former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik on the undercard of Pacquiao-Mosley. For the first few rounds the tall and rangy Texan did not embrace his role, giving a rusty Pavlik problems with his movement and speed. Pavlik’s experience kicked in as the rounds progressed, enabling him to win a majority decision.
Outside of that bout, Davis says he doesn’t know much about his adversary, other than that a win over him moves his career to higher plateaus. While he didn’t want to speak much on the future, Davis was frank about his career’s end-game.
“My goal is to win a title where my Dad fell short,” said Davis.
Photos / Javiel Centeno-Fightwireimages.com
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.