(Dyah Davis poses with his father after his win over Marcus Johnson; credit Tom Casino, Showtime)
The tail end of 2010 saw the end to a wrenching, multi-generational grudge match spanning decades. Having suffered a defeat at the hands of Aaron Pryor Jr., the future of super middleweight Dyah Davis — whose father had crossed paths with Pryor’s — remained unclear.
The Coconut Creek, Fla. native quietly rebounded with an impressive 2011, going 2-0-1 with a signature victory over then unbeaten and highly regarded Marcus “Too Much” Johnson in a ShoBox 10-round headliner in April.
Slated to fight former Kelly Pavlik adversary Alfonso Lopez in the co-featured bout on ESPN Friday Night Fights’ season opener on Jan. 6, Davis is looking to carry his momentum into the new year.
His November 2010 meeting with Aaron Pryor Jr. stalled said momentum, if only for a brief moment.
The provenance of the Davis-Pryor rivalry actually predates the existence of both fighters, when Davis’ father Howard earned a spot over the elder Pryor onto the 1976 Olympic team. Two wins secured Howard’s place on the squad; later, he earned a gold medal alongside stars Sugar Ray Leonard and the brothers Spinks, Michael and Leon. Due to his success as an amateur, Howard would enjoy a well-publicized pro career while Aaron Pryor had to claw his way up the ladder. In fact, Pryor served as Davis’ sparring partner for much of their early careers just to make ends meet.
The long-documented storyline heading into the fight and the hoopla surrounding it got to him, admits Davis.
“I don’t feel like I didn’t put out my best performance,” he says. “There was lots of pressure and buildup due to the history of my dad and Pryor. I let that get to me. My thing is, I just wanted to fight. The drama and all of that and being the first time on TV, I kind of froze to be honest. It was the first time I had a big camera in front of my face. When the first bell rang I was like a deer in headlights. That is a fight I’d like to redeem myself down the line. As of now we’ve picked back up and are on the turn up.”
Davis welcomed 2011 with a bit of a letdown, earning a majority draw with Francisco Sierra in February headlining a Top Rank Live card in Maywood, Calif. At the time, Sierra was riding a three-fight win streak, one of those victories against undefeated Don George on ESPN.
“I was lucky enough to get the draw as they could’ve stolen it completely,” suggests Davis in regards to the decision.
Having been ringside in Maywood, this writer can affirm that a large fraction of the media present thought Sierra lucky to walk away without a loss.
Two month months later, Davis would face 20-0 Marcus Johnson atop a tripleheader televised by Showtime. Davis more or less dominated the action, dropping the touted prospect in the 9th to further cement his lead and earn a unanimous decision victory.
“I was surprised as the fight continued,” recalls Davis. “Is this really all he has to offer? I stepped it up, got the knockdown, tried getting the knockout. I was pretty comfortable going to the decision.”
Though the Johnson fight served as his coming out party, Davis spent seven months sitting on the sidelines as he waited for the phone to ring for a big fight. A November date underneath Edwin Rodriguez-Will Rosinsky then came within reach, but a suitable opponent did not — and Davis was knocked off the televised portion. In stepped gatekeeper Darnell Boone, perhaps the sport’s most dangerous .500 fighter, to fill the vacant slot against Davis.
“I felt like Boone would have been better on early on in my career. I would have expected something bigger after Johnson,” muses Davis.
“The word was that Showtime was turning everybody down and it got to the point that the fight wasn’t going to be on TV,” he says. “What is the point of fighting a guy like Darnell who is so dangerous if it is going to be off TV? I decided I still had something to prove and wanted to knock him out. I did hurt him, he kind of buckled, but he made it to the end.”
The Boone fight was initially scheduled as an eight-rounder but was reduced to six in order to squeeze it in before Showtime went live.
“It was hard to fight the normal style that I am accustomed to fighting,” concedes Davis. “He’s someone people don’t look good against. Even after the fight, Edwin Rodriguez said, ‘You did the thing against Boone, I thought I looked terrible against him.’”
Though the Boone fight wasn’t quite what he sought to conclude his year, Davis is glad to see a big opportunity waiting in 2012 when he fights Lopez, whose lone defeat came at the hands of former undisputed middleweight champion Pavlik on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard. Lopez was widely unknown heading into the Pavlik fight, but having managed to hold his own under the bright lights, should be more aptly prepared this time around.
“He is definitely a dangerous opponent,” says Davis. “He throws a lot of punches in bunches. I don’t know how Kelly’s problems affected him in the ring against Lopez, but I’m not going to hold that against him. Lopez has very good movement, good handspeed, and he puts punches together. Every fight is a must win for me. I’m looking at this guy like he has what it takes.”
Davis is also trained by former world champion John David Jackson, who has attained his fair share of success in bringing to the top guys that many doubted would ever get close. Those in the know will never forget Jackson’s leading a 34-year-old Nate Campbell to victory over an undefeated Juan Diaz in 2007, one of boxing’s biggest upsets in recent years.
It wasn’t until 2003, when he watched Vitali Klitschko’s eye rendered nearly useless against Lennox Lewis in a heavyweight title fight that Davis decided he wanted to box. For the 22-year-old to achieve success at the elite level would defy all expectation.
“I played basketball, it was my number one sport as a kid. At 12 or 13, I said I was gonna be in the NBA. Once I had to work and pay bills, my hoop dreams went out of the window,” explains Davis.
“I was watching the Klitschko-Lewis fight, and at the time I was just over 200 pounds and I just had an epiphany I wanted to box,” he says. “I called my dad and said I wanted to box, he said ‘Box what?’ My dad had moved to Florida was working with some MMA fighters. He said there’s no way you’re gonna be a heavyweight. I’m like, ‘I’m in shape.’ I had no idea. I was one Twinkie away from being fat. I started running, got out there everyday. Three months later I was 185. He said it seemed like I was really serious and asked if I would consider moving to Florida.”
“People expected a lot from me being that I was the son of Howard Davis,” continues Davis.
“I was very green. I would look good and show a lot of promise being that I was someone who just started with no amateur background. Another kid trying to live off his pop’s name is what they thought. I really didn’t pay much attention to what anyone else said,” he says.”
“When I first started I was watching hours of tape. We’d workout and I’d go home or watch YouTube,” he says. “I had some videos some guy in the gym gave me. Evander Holyfield, Salvador Sanchez, Pernell Whitaker. I think that helped me a lot.”
One would think that boxing offspring would more likely step into the ring at an early age. This wasn’t the case with Davis.
“Him and my mom had divorced when I was two. I had no interest in boxing,” says Davis. “When you’re a kid you’re not gonna watch a 12 or 15 round fight. The last fight that I had seen was against Dana Rosenblatt. I went to the gym a couple times to watch him train. He let me know he was fighting in a week or so. I made sure I tuned in and that was the last time I seen him fight.”
In December, Davis got the call to fight Anthony Dirrell as a proxy for Allan Green, but Dirrell reportedly turned him down.
“They asked if he wanted to fight me,” he says. “I heard something like [Lucian] Bute told him, ‘Leave that guy alone, he’s gonna beat you.’”
Safe to surmise that Bute knows what he’s talking about, having used Davis in a previous training camp.
“I had a chance to work with him, spar with him, and was doing more than well against him in camp,” he says. “They ran me outta there based on how well I did.”
With a win over Lopez, Davis stands to cement his place in line for a big 2012, one that could possibly include a world title shot. Several guys, both on their way out and on their way up, would constitute good matches for Davis as he ascends the pecking order.
“When we get past Lopez, I would definitely like to fight a known guy, someone that would put me right in line possibly for a title,” says a hopeful Davis. “Maybe a Glen Johnson or a Kelly Pavlik, who is mysteriously rated #1 in the WBC. Then I’d really like to test my skills and challenge one of the champions out there. Andre Ward is known as the best out there, I’d love to fight him.”
Despite a respectable year in the books, Davis does feel as though he is being overlooked.
“I still don’t feel like I’m getting the credit I deserve. That is why I am looking forward to this fight on ESPN on the 6th,” he says. “I’m looking forward to that fight, and that it is in the new year. Hopefully at this point after that fight I’ll start getting the recognition that I do deserve.”
Though very much his father’s son, Davis’ career has mimicked Aaron Pryor’s more than his own dad’s. Nothing has been predestined for him; nothing has been easy. Should he reach the pinnacle, it won’t be because he was handed a legacy on a silver platter — it will be because he earned it.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @OrtegaLIITR.