By : Matthew N. Becher
Howard Davis Jr. is a former professional boxer/trainer/promoter originally from Glen Cove, NY, currently residing in Coconut Creek, FL. He is most well known for winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the 132lb division in 1976 and being awarded the Val Barker trophy, as being the most outstanding fighter, beating out the likes of the Spinks brothers and the one and only Sugar Ray Leonard.
Davis went on to have a successful professional career , going 36-6-1 with 14 knockouts and fighting in four separate championship fights.
After his retirement, Davis became one of the first professional boxers to switch over to the mixed martial arts world as a trainer. Teaching his fighters how to box, while still being able to defend against other fighting techniques.
Unfortunately earlier this year, Davis was diagnosed with stage 4 Lung Cancer, which has since spread to his bones and liver.
He is extremely positive about taking on this new foe in his life, and took the time to talk with us about everything from deciding to become a fighter, the sudden passing of his mother, winning Olympic Gold, training his son Dyah Davis as a professional fighter, to his present day status battling cancer.
We were also able to speak to his wife, Karla, who was able to shed some light on the Howard Davis Jr. foundation. A great organization that attempts to help other people stricken with the blight of unwarranted medical bills, which insurance companies will not cover.
Boxing Insider: Good morning Mr. Davis, would you mind telling us how your career began and how you got into the sport of boxing?
Howard Davis Jr. My father use to run a boxing gym in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York. I use to go to the gym, and watch some of the fighters but was never really interested in boxing. I thought my career would be in music. At the time I was in a band, and I thought I would head in that direction. But when the band broke up, I was the age of 15. My father asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. And for some strange reason I didn’t ask him what movie we were going to see, and he didn’t tell me.
Not knowing that this movie would change the course of my life. It was a documentary that came out in 1971. It was only in a few selected theaters throughout the country, and for some strange reason it happened to be in my small town of Glen Cove. Glen Cove is such a small town, that if you blink you’ll pass it. And I was extremely shocked by viewing the movie, I kind of knew who Muhammad Ali was, but I didn’t understand the dynamics of what he did, what he accomplished and how he changed the course of history. But what blew me away, was his boxing skills. His flamboyancy, which I didn’t have, I was a shy kid. I knew I wasn’t going to be boisterous or a talker. But I was blown away by his style of boxing, how he didn’t get hit, how he avoided punches.
So after viewing the movie on our way back home, I told my father that I wanted to box. So he said a few things to me, that would keep me in line, “Eat Right, Train Hard, and Listen to Me.” So that is what I did, listened to him for five years and made it to the Olympics.
Boxing Insider: So in only five years, you were able to train hard enough not only to be a successful amateur, but to actually make the U.S. Olympic team?
Howard Davis Jr. : Getting to the Olympics was much harder, believe it or not, then actually fighting in the Olympics. I had 22 fights just to make it on the team. If I lost one time, I’m out, I would have never made it on the team.
I had to win my local tournament, which is the New York Golden Gloves. Then I had the national tournament, which was held in Las Vegas that year. I beat Tommy Hearns in the finals of that tournament. It is called the National AAU. That tournament qualified me for the Olympic trials. When I got to the Olympic trials in Cincinnati, I had to fight the notorious, Aaron Pryor. I admit, I didn’t know what the pundits were saying, but I knew whoever won that fight was going to the Olympics. Same time as that was going on, I didn’t know that too many people even knew who I was. Because I was coming up through the tournaments kind of quietly. But him (Pryor) and I met in Cincinnati, his home town, and we fought, I beat him in the Olympic Trials, but you still don’t get on the team. They have another program, which they call the “Box Offs”. The members that fought each other in the Olympic trial finals went to Vermont, trained for two weeks, and then every opponent had to re-fight, in Vermont. So I had to fight Aaron Pryor, again, beat him again, then I made the team.
It was extremely hard, extremely hard, extremely difficult just to make the team.
So I made the team, and then my mother passed away three days before my first fight in the Olympics. So I’m going through all these trials and tribulations. I Just remember my mothers last words, with a great big smile on her face, “You better bring home that gold”. So my initial reaction was to go home, but I knew that I had to do it for her. And, believe it or not, I was the guy to make that reality come true.
Boxing Insider: So after the Olympics, you won the Val Barker award for Most outstanding Boxer and you come home, and become pro. What was that transition from Olympic Gold Medalist to pro fighter like?
Howard Davis Jr. : Well, turning professional is quite different then being an amateur. For one, you get paid. You’re not getting trophies or medals. You’re signing contracts to fight certain opponents, so that makes a difference. You have managers, that are trying to get you the best deals. And of course, you have a trainer. So things changed a lot for me as a professional
I had four shots at a world championship. I never won one, and I won’t go into that. Its a long story and it’s a personal story. And I don’t like to make excuses. Nobody ever heard how I lost these title fights, because I never made excuses. Whether the judges may of scored one way or not. Whether I thought I won or not. Sometime as a fighter you aren’t very subjective.
Boxing Insider: You had a pretty solid career as a pro, like you said, you had four title fights. And eventually you became a trainer. Was that always the next step? Was that an easy change from fighting to training?
Howard Davis Jr. : I lived in New Jersey at the time and I had a good career as a computer technician, making a lot of money. Wasn’t worried about anything, bills or anything like that. We were living a very comfortable life. I get a call, from a friend of mine, saying that their was this MMA company just starting out and they needed a training coach. And I said, “well how much are they paying?”. He replied with a number so far less then what I was making, I couldn’t believe it. But, you get a free car, and you don’t have to pay for your apartment and it’s in sunny Florida. I say OK, let me try it out for a week. And I remember my fathers words, “Do something that you like, that you really enjoy, and you will find a way to make money at it.” So with that belief I move down to Florida, and after three days I made my decision to stay. I became the Striking Coach, Boxing Director of American Top Team.
I did that for ten years, took my wife to an MMA show, and she had an epiphany about doing promotions. I thought she was nuts. We were dating at the time. And my wife is a very smart woman, and I didn’t really understand her plan on how to start a promotional company. I have no idea on how to start one or how to get a license. But I always call my wife “the secretary of good information”. She is amazing at getting information.
So at the time I get a call from Chuck Liddel, an MMA legend. He wants me to train him in California for some of his last fights. So I go to California for a couple of months, and when I came back, my wife had everything in place, the name of the company, licensing, everything was in place and paid for. I was shocked. So we had the first card of Fight Time Promotions in 2010, it was a full house, and now we are on our 27th show. And we are blessed to have CBS sports network to be airing our show. That was the start of Fight Time Promotions.
Boxing Insider: You also trained your son Dyah Davis for a while, what has he been up to lately in his how successful pro career?
Howard Davis Jr. : He is trying to get a fight right now,he has a management team that is working diligently to get him a fight but nobody really wants to fight him. He’s trying to get a fight against a top ten fighter, but he’s kind of dangerous.
Boxing Insider: Keeping with training fighters, you use to train a female fighter by the name of Shelby Walker. With the rise of popularity in Womens mixed martial arts with Ronda Rousey and the UFC, how do you think Shelby would have fared in today’s Women’s mma?
Howard Davis Jr : Yes, God bless her soul, she committed suicide years ago. I think she would have done extremely well. She had great hands. She would have to learn the nuances of mma, but I think she would have done quite well. She was a tough girl, and many people wouldn’t know it by looking at her pretty face how tough she really was. Shelby Walker was extremely tough and I know she could have done well
Boxing Insider: Switching subjects, unfortunately we have to bring up the somber news that you have recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. When did you find out, and how did it all happen?
Howard Davis Jr. : Well, we had a show the following Friday and the Monday before our show I felt a little weak, and I lost my appetite a little bit, so I thought I might be coming down with something. By the time of the show, I must have lost 10-12 pounds. Throughout the week, I still didn’t have much of an appetite. The weight was coming off of me rapid. I actually had to go out to buy a new suit, because all my others suit’s became too big. So we went to the show on Friday, and people noticed that I lost weight. I still looked healthy and vibrant. The following day, I was bed ridden, absolutely couldn’t move. The following Monday I’ve lost another 7-8 pounds, just over the weekend. Went to the hospital, got diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to my back bones, my right shoulder bones, my right hip muscle, my liver and has spread throughout my body.
But I am blessed to still be here. According to one doctor I shouldn’t be here right now.
Switched gears, went to another doctor, spoke about the healthcare/cancer industry. So we decided to use alternative methods along with traditional methods to beat this cancer.
And as of last week, we found out that the cancer in my lungs shrunk, so we are very happy and pleased about that.
Boxing Insider: What are some of these other methods that you are doing?
Howard Davis Jr. : Iron treatments intravenously. I have a port in my chest, where they stick a needle in the port instead of in my veins everyday. Multi Vitamin supplements, 50,000 mg of vitamin C, twice a week. And some other supplements to stop the cancer from spreading. I am also getting ready to take some new medications I don’t know the name of it right now, but will start using that soon. And the future looks promising.
I am also doing low dose Chemotherapy. Instead of getting a ten cocktail dose, I am taking a two cocktail dose. My doctor took a biopsy and tested all the different chemo cocktails, and found the two that work the best.
Boxing Insider: Could you tell us a bit about the foundation that you and your husband have started?
Karla Guadamuz- Davis: when my husband got sick he was kind of quiet for a few months because he wasn’t in any position to say anything, so we kept it quiet and it was really difficult because as we went the more alternative route, those things are not covered by insurance. So our medical bills started at $1000 a week, then $1500, then $2000 and now we are around $3000 a week. We were quietly telling some friends and family about what Howard was going through and blessed that some of those friends were able to make a donation, which we put right to Howards care.
Once Howard felt comfortable, he wanted to tell everyone what he was doing, that he had this amazing doctor, it should not be kept a secret, everyone then got together and we had a meeting and went public.
July 10th we went to the local paper and made it public about Howards illness. We started the foundation, which is run by six board members of volunteers. We meet every week to get events going. The first event is next Saturday august 15th at the Tower Club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We will have dinner and a live band, which Howard will play two songs with the band.
Then we will have a comedy fundraiser in Westbury, NY after that.
The foundation has giving us a great voice to speak out about what Howard is going through. We are beginning to receive applications from other people who want to fight cancer the alternative way and we can help them financially with their burden. Because it is a financial burden. If we didn’t have the resources and friends and the mouthpiece of Howard being who he is, then we wouldn’t be blessed to be able to afford all of this.
This is a continuation. This will be an ongoing thing for the rest of Howards life. He will always need to see this doctor, maybe not five times a week, but a couple of times a month, once the cancer is in remission.
For any information about the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation please go to the website www.howarddavisjrfoundation.org