HOWARD DAVIS JNR, one of the most naturally gifted amateur boxers in US history, has lost his battle with cancer and passed away at age 59. Davis, who captured Olympic gold at the 1976 Games in Montreal, had been battling Stage 4 lung cancer since the summer despite the fact that the non-drinker had never smoked.
An elegant boxer with amazing hand speed, Davis defeated such top names as Thomas Hearns and Aaron Pryor in his run-up to the Olympics. Davis captured the top prize as a lightweight – this just days after his inspiration, his mother, had passed away due to a heart attack – and he also picked up the coveted Val Parker Award as the Games’ most outstanding boxer. Davis’ team-mates in Montreal included Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers, Leon and Michael.
A professional career followed, and world titles were predicted. But Davis was not as successful in the paid ranks. He did challenge for three versions of world titles: At lightweight Scotland’s Jim Watt in outpointed him over 15 rounds in a 1980 upset; four years later Puerto Rican Edwin Rosario won a split decision after 12; in 1988 James “Buddy” McGirt thrashed the fading Davis inside a round at super-lightweight.
Among the other notable fighters Davis met during his 36-6-1 (14) pro career were Hector Camacho (a points loss), Tony Baltazar (a points win) and in one of his best pro displays he drew with the young and unbeaten Meldrick Taylor. He eventually retired in 1996 after being flattened in two rounds by Dana Rosenblatt at middleweight.
Davis became a trainer, working with boxers as well as some MMA fighters. Davis also worked with his son, super-middleweight contender Dyah, who lost to James De Gale in 2013.
Promoted during his career by Dennis Rappaport, Davis is remembered fondly by the retired manager/promoter:
“Boxing at it’s best, to me it is poetry in motion. And back in 1976, the early days of me getting into boxing, I signed the gold medal winner from the 1976 games – the best ever U.S Olympic squad ever in my opinion – Howard Davis Junior,” Rappaport said in speaking with Boxing News just before Christmas.
“He was something truly special. He was one of the best amateurs we’ve ever had. He won the Val Parker trophy in ’76, ahead of Sugar Ray Leonard. He was an outstanding young man, and the cleanest liver I’ve ever known; no drinking, smoking and he was a vegetarian. But the sad fact now is, he’s fighting the greatest fight ever – the fight for his life. This man who never smoked has stage-four lung cancer. I just hope that with the medical advancements of today he can come through. But yeah, he was something special, he had a great jab and beautiful movement.”
May the brilliant Howard Davis Jnr rest in peace.