LEWIS RITSON never featured in the plans originally devised by Robbie Davies Jnr and his team. Two summers ago, inside a poorly attended Wembley Arena, Davies, protecting an undefeated record and lofty super-lightweight ranking with the WBA, surrendered years of hard work when he was brutally stopped in the final session by the marauding Michael Syrowatka. Davies’ work in the fight had been sporadically admirable and successful, but an alarming drop in output gave the Pole a confidence that had been absent in the fight’s early stages. Davies, stricken and stumbling, was rescued by his trainer, Dave Tonks, with seconds remaining.
Hospital tests in the immediate aftermath offered some respite for Davies as an issue with his kidney baffled doctors analysing him; they were unsure how he was able to perform to such a level against Syrowatka with the problem. But even the reassurances from medical professionals that his condition had contributed massively to his downfall, Davies’ dreams – ambitions he’s held since he was a young boy – were temporarily put on hold as a rebuilding process ensued.
“I’ve come up the hard way in boxing,” stated Davies to Boxing News, his attention fully on boxing following a brief positive review of the latest Joker blockbuster that Davies had enjoyed minutes before our chat commenced. “The small halls, the dinner shows, selling tickets to everyone; that was pretty much me for the bulk of my career at the start as I was trying to get ahead in the sport any way I could.
“The Syrowatka fight was meant to be a platform to push on for a world title eliminator. My manager, Neil Marsh, was working well for me behind the scenes and for the first time in my career, it felt like things were all falling into place for me. I was fighting on ITV on big shows getting good coverage, I was in the top five with the WBA, and I had a clear picture in front of me of what was to come. You can’t really take things for granted with boxing but having that plan in front of me with something to aim for gave me so much hope as it had been a bit if a struggle before that trying to get my name out there to get the exposure other fighters were getting.”
Davies, numb from his sole career loss, had no choice but to rebound from the unlikely setback, but his strategy for success, already dramatically derailed by Syrowatka’s relentlessness, was plunged even further when his father, Robbie Davies Snr, passed away just weeks later following a heroic battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Davies Jnr has spoken frequently on the impact his father had him as a man, and as a fighter, and the motivation instilled in him by his eternal mentor.
“I was down for a bit,” he said. “It wasn’t a nice time, and I wouldn’t leave the house. It hit me one day that I was going to have to fight again and then slowly it came back each day. There were a few options for me, but I felt I had to get back in the ring with Syrowatka again. Ohara Davies’ name was mentioned quite a bit back then and there was the opportunity to maybe do something with him when [Tony] Bellew fought [David] Haye, but I wanted to beat Syrowatka after what had happened in our first fight. If I could get that win back, then I’d be in position to push on from where I originally was.”
The rematch, set for March 2018, was a million miles removed from how the original meeting took place. ITV’s return to the sport had proved a brief one, so it was down to Marsh to provide the setting for his charge’s comeback. Liverpool’s waterfront Convention Centre was the venue, and Marsh struck a deal with a leading boxing website to stream the event live. Davies had been backed singlehandedly by his manager, and he delivered impeccably with a flawless performance that saw Syrowatka dropped three times before being halted in the final session.
“We had to win. Everything was on that fight and I had to get the win. If I lost to Syrowatka twice in a row, then where did I really deserve to be? We had to get everything right with that fight and that even meant taking less money as we had to get the event over and also pay Syrowatka what he wanted. I knew I was going to win because I had so many good moments in our first fight but closing the show the way I did meant a lot to me and it also meant I could get back on with looking forward in my career by putting a horrible few months behind me,” he said.
Davies’ joyful revenge over Syrowatka opened an immediate door as a conversation with Bellew would direct his career towards a destination he had long craved. A regular viewer of Sky Sports’ boxing coverage, Davies watched on almost weekly as fighters around his weight class, fighters he believed he was better than, received repeated profile boosters through the broadcasting monster’s multiple channels. Bellew’s relationship with the network, along with his bond with Eddie Hearn, allowed Davies the chance to showcase his skills on Sky and with two wins coming over Glenn Foot and Joe Hughes bringing domestic and continental honours, Davies’ hopes of becoming a television attraction in meaningful fights were finally being realised.
“I’ve always wanted titles and since going to Sky with Matchroom I’ve had a good experience of that. I was in a position close to a WBA title shot a couple of years ago, but I don’t look it at as a downgrade to be back fighting for domestic fights because I’m in with good opponents and they’re doing well to bring the best out of me. My goal was always to become a fighter who fought for the big belts on big shows and I’m close to doing that. My next fight is huge and it’s going to be a fight that I win, and it’ll also move me forward,” he said.
That aforementioned “next fight” occurs this Saturday night (October 19) at what’s set to be a sold-out Newcastle Arena as Davies takes on local favourite, Lewis Ritson. The Geordie Hero made an impact domestically in recent years with a number of crushing displays against respected names such as Joe Murray and Scott Cardle. His widely exaggerated momentum was dramatically deflated by Belgium’s Francesco Patera on this weekend last year, and Davies believes his outing against Patera is the most accurate reflection of Ritson.
“You can’t take away the results he’s had, but a closer look tells you they may not be impressive as first thought. Listen, he’s got to go in there and do a job and he done that, but was it really all that? Joe Murray would make featherweight if he got himself on a proper diet. There was flab on his belly the night he fought Ritson. Cardle is someone I consider a friend, but he’s a small lightweight. Patera had a solid plan and Ritson had no idea what to do after a few rounds. If he’s struggling like that with Patera then wait until he boxes me,” he said.
Victory over Ritson is only likely to grant Davies some minor satisfaction when placing the achievement against the demands he has placed on his career. His brief liaison with the business end of the world rankings still resonates deeply within Davies. It’s a position that he desperately wishes to return to. With the top spots being occupied by Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor, due to fight on October 26, and Jose Ramirez, a win for Davies should see a straightforward path towards a bigger target emerge. It’s a challenge he can’t wait to take on.
Davies said, “There’s names I look at like Taylor and Prograis, and I’d be mad not to want those fights. I’ve got no idea what the winner of that fight wants to do so it’s only right that I look at other fights that may be out there once I’ve beaten Ritson. Mario Barrios is a fight I’d absolutely love. He’s just took a version of the world title and he’s a fighter I know I’d beat if we were to fight. His last fight against Batyr Akhmedov was not one that impressed me, and he was lucky to get it if you ask me. The main thing for me now is beating Lewis Ritson and beating him well and then I think I’m in a good place to get out there and really see how good I can be.”