Montreal memories still vivid for Davis
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Howard Davis Jr. can pretty much set his watch by it.
Every four years, when people once again start discussing the latest incarnation of the Summer Olympics, hes touched by the same combination of nostalgia, satisfaction... and lament.
"There's not a day that goes by in my life when I don't think about Montreal," he said, in a recent FitzHitz interview. "Sometimes people will see me in a restaurant and recognize me, and every four years I go through the same mixed memories of what happened back then.
"It was a wonderful time for me because of what I was able to accomplish with boxing, but it's also sad to recall that it was when my mom died. It's more than just looking back at a great win for me. It's also a time of remembrance."
Now, 52, Davis was perhaps the least appreciated star on a studded U.S. team 32 years ago, winning gold in the lightweight division alongside a quartet of American podium-toppers that included Ray Leonard (light welterweight), Michael (middleweight) and Leon Spinks (light heavyweight).
The Glen Cove, N.Y. native won the Val Barker Trophy as outstanding boxer of those Games and went on to a successful pro career over the subsequent two decades -- retiring with a 36-6-1 mark in 1996 -- but never won a world title and never approached the acclaim of the aforementioned power trio.
"Let's say there were no championship belts in boxing. If that's the case, then my career was satisfying to me. But am I totally happy with it? No," Davis said. "I'm not hurt and I can still think and I've still got at least some of my looks from back then, so that's good."
He's now living in south Florida and stays busy by training mixed martial artists in the finer points of boxing, while also traveling as a motivational speaker and helping maintain his personal Web site -- HowardDavisJr.com.
"I made it all the way to the Olympics, so that proves there's nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it," he said. "I try and teach people to always shoot for the stars, because even if you don't make it all the way to the stars, you'll still land on the moon. And that's pretty good."
Davis began his career with 15 straight wins before dropping a 15-round decision to Scotsman Jim Watt for the WBC lightweight title in 1980. He followed up with 13 more triumphs prior to a narrow split-decision loss over 12 rounds to Edwin Rosario for the same WBC belt four years later.
He was quickly stopped by Buddy McGirt in a try for the IBF's crown at 140 pounds in 1988, and -- in the fifth step of a comeback after a six-year post- McGirt hiatus -- he was KO'd by Dana Rosenblatt for the fringe WBU middleweight championship in what turned out to be his last fight.
"I'm not cut up or marked up or anything, and when I see some of my contemporaries or guys who fought after me and how they're struggling, I have to say I'm blessed," said Davis, claiming a more lenient sparring regimen over his career helped lessen long-term concussive damage.
"You spar three or four times a week while getting ready for a fight and, whenever you get hit pretty good, you see that white flash, which in reality lingers for about six weeks. And then you go in and fight and see a couple more white flashes, because you're bound to get hit a few times.
"With all that, if you come back and get right back into training just a month after a fight, eventually something is going to happen. I've talked to a lot of doctors, and they pretty much agree that 80 percent of fighters have some level of brain damage, no matter what money they're making."
Meanwhile, compared to their medal-chasing brethren of 1976, 1984, 1988 and 1992, the U.S. class of 2008 is operating with distinctly less fanfare this time around in Beijing, due in large part to the lack of network television exposure both before and during the Games.
Leonard and the rest of the 1976 team were shown extensively during their stints in Montreal, as were the Holyfield/Breland/Whitaker class of 1984 in Los Angeles, Roy Jones Jr. and Riddick Bowe in 1988 in South Korea and Oscar De La Hoya in 1992 in Barcelona.
This year's team has been relegated to NBC cable offshoots CNBC and MSNBC through the preliminaries, with only medal-round bouts expected to reach the main network next week.
Davis, who eventually made his pro debut alongside Leon Spinks in Las Vegas and was on a Ken Norton undercard at Madison Square Garden just four months later, thinks the tail-off in amateur interest can be traced back to Disney's purchase of ABC in the mid-1990s.
"I think the times have changed and the networks have changed and they're just doing things very differently today," he said. "They're more family oriented now, and even though boxing was very popular through '50s all the way through to the '90s, the dynamics are different.
"For me, winning the Olympics was a tremendous boost. It's one of the major steps in your career. You get rated faster and the exposure is tremendous. But the guys now have to go new routes. It's all about getting the right team together and having a little luck."
As of midday Thursday, five Americans -- light flyweight Luis Yanez, featherweight Raynell Williams, welterweight Demetrius Andrade, middleweight Shawn Estrada and heavyweight Deontay Wilder -- were still alive in the tournament.
Andrade and flyweight Rau'shee Warren entered the tournament as reigning 2007 world champions, but Warren was upset, 9-8, in the opening round by 2005 world champion Ok Sung Lee of South Korea.
"I can't speak for all of them, obviously, but I can be pretty sure that some of them are nervous, others are anxious. Some of them just know that they're going to win, and others aren't so sure," Davis said. "There are a lot of things going through their heads right now."
Competition in the round of 16 will continue in all weight classes through Saturday, before quarterfinals get under way Sunday. All semifinals will be contested on Friday, Aug. 22, with gold-medal matches divvied up between Saturday and Sunday.
"I stumbled across the boxing in the Olympic Trials on television almost by mistake," Davis said. "But I'm definitely watching it at this point. I won't have to stumble on to it again. I think the team is set and I'm looking forward to seeing them compete and win."
Don't go away mad, Oscar. Just go away.
Lastly this week, the Oscar De La Hoya "Go Out on a High Note" Tour has apparently found a new opening act after initial choice Manny Pacquiao balked at a 30 percent revenue split.
Sergio Mora, a fellow Californian who's surely best known for a championship on the initial season of "The Contender," will meet De La Hoya on the Dec. 6 date previously slotted for Pacquiao, according to a Thursday report on espn.com.
Mora is the reigning WBC belt-holder at 154 pounds and will presumably be defending that jewelry against De La Hoya, provided he first gets through a Sept. 13 rematch with Vernon Forrest, from whom he won it via majority decision on June 7.
No offense to Mora, but if that turns out to be Oscar's grand finale... count me out.
He's had a great career. I've been a big fan through the years. But a blatant cash grab against a clearly ho hum opponent -- sorry Sergio, but I just don't care about you -- insults the intelligence of fans who'll be asked to shell out 50 or so pre-holiday dollars to fund the Golden Boy's golden parachute.
If you're going to fight at all, Oscar, then fight the guy you'd claimed you were prepared to fight.
The winner of the Cotto-Margarito bout... Antonio Margarito.
Otherwise, just go away.
Mean time, Pacquiao will likely fight Humberto Soto in his initial defense as WBC lightweight champion, while presumably hoping his fellow insurgent from 130 pounds -- Juan Manuel Marquez -- defeats Joel Casamayor next month to set up a potential third bout between the two men.
Pacquiao and Marquez fought to a 12-round draw at 126 pounds in 2004, while the rematch at 130 was narrowly won by the Filipino on March 15.
Nate Campbell, who defeated consensus lightweight kingpin Juan Diaz in March and now holds the WBA, WBO and IBF titles, will be defending that trio against Joan Guzman at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. on Sept. 13.
Campbell's Florida-based promoter, Terry Trekas, claimed Wednesday that an offer to bypass Guzman in favor of a unification match with Pacquiao in November was rejected by Pacquiaos team.
"They are not interested," he said.
Based on what I've seen of both guys at 135 pounds, I can't blame them.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.