Ben Davison on his split with Tyson Fury, training Josh Taylor and the mantra he lives by
IT is now more than four years since the fresh-faced Ben Davison led the corner in a world title fight for the first time. That night, Billy Joe Saunders squeaked past Artur Akavov to retain his middleweight belt and it was Davison that took much of the heat.
“I’ve had it all,” he says with a smile. “I’m this, I’m that. I’m only a cheerleader or a PE teacher. I’m used to it now.”
Davison was a surprise addition to the corner that night in Glasgow but he has since become one of the most recognisable and in-demand trainers in Britain. His work with Tyson Fury extended his reputation far beyond these shores.
It says much that neither Fury or Saunders remain part of his stable these days, for albeit differing reasons. The mantra by which he now lives by says even more about his stance as a trainer at the sharp end of the sport.
“A good coach is never afraid to lose his job,” he adds. “That’s the truth. And if you are, you’re not honest with yourself or with your fighter.
“The truth of it is that I’ve had fighters come and fighters go and that’s because I tell them the truth. A lot of coaches can’t afford to fall out with their boxer but I don’t have that worry. I’m able to give them my thoughts. I’m not in a position where I need anybody.”
It was Davison who received much of the acclaim for Fury’s startling weight loss and subsequent comeback which included a dramatic draw with Deontay Wilder and then a pair of Las Vegas victories. The second of those, when the “Gypsy King” survived a horror cut to outpoint Otto Wallin, would be the pair’s final fight together. Nobody was ever told much about why it happened, only that the separation was amicable.
“It was exactly that,” Davison remembers. “As a coach it was an amicable, mutual agreement where we both felt like there were elements that needed changing. We weren’t quite singing from the same hymn sheet on a few things. But I think that’s where people get mixed up. We didn’t disagree tactically.”
The perceived wisdom was that Fury split with Davison because he wanted a coach that would help him knock Wilder out, after the judges scored the first fight level. He employed SugarHill Steward from the Kronk Gym to help him be more aggressive and the result was an iconic seven-round destruction of the previously undefeated WBC champion at the MGM Grand.
Davison sees it differently. “People think I just wanted Tyson to box on the back foot but it was actually me that went to Las Vegas on my own time to watch the Wilder-Luis Ortiz rematch where I got speaking to someone from Wilder’s team and basically worked out that they were going to start slowly,” he says. “I’ve got texts on my phone where I had messaged Tyson saying, ‘Wilder is going to start slow.’ It was him who replied saying, ‘Well I’m starting fast then.’ He had already made his mind up on how he was going to approach the fight, so it wasn’t a disagreement tactically, it was just a few other things that we didn’t quite agree on. It wasn’t a case of a fall out or anything like that.”
So what exactly did cause the split? Davison pauses for a moment to consider his answer.
“Overall, the Wallin fight and the performance probably caused the split because there would have been a lot of people in Tyson’s ear saying, ‘That was all Ben’s fault.’ But that was forgetting the first Wilder fight when people thought he would get blown away in three rounds, or beating Tom Schwarz like that on his Las Vegas debut, or the weight loss and the comeback altogether.
“I would certainly say that in the Wallin camp it became more difficult. The truth is that he was very fatigued by then. He hadn’t had enough time off from the weight loss, to [Sefer] Seferi in June, [Francesco] Pianeta, Wilder and then Schwarz. Also, after the Wilder fight he was doing a lot of dinner shows, trying to socialise and live a normal life but still train every day for the good of his mental health. It just completely burnt the candle at both ends. I also had a big problem with the fact that the details of the Wilder rematch, dates and everything else, were being talked about before. I ended up saying: ‘No, there is no more talk of Deontay Wilder until Otto Wallin is beaten.’
“He was filming a TV series thing and there were people around who are not boxing people and that caused a bit of tension because I’m talking to people rudely. If someone would say, ‘You know next week,’ I would be saying, ‘There is no next week, next week doesn’t exist until Otto Wallin is out of the way.’ These people shouldn’t have been around during fight week. There is no next week, forget about it, I don’t know what the f**k you’re talking about or what you’re even doing here. I probably upset a few people in that way but like I said, a good coach is never afraid to lose his job.
“But there was no falling out. We had been through too much for that to happen. I don’t speak to him every day now but nothing has changed. They say best friends can go weeks or years without speaking to each other and then it’s like nothing has ever happened. He’s got his career, I’ve got mine and we can be friends. When it’s all said and done we can reminisce over the amazing times.”
Davison famously put his whole life on hold to help the 28-stone Fury back to full fitness and back into the ring. There was a time when he would leave home for months on end due to his role as Fury’s trainer, whether that was in Marbella or Manchester.
These days things are different. Davison has set up his own gym in Essex and only lives round the corner. His list of fighters reads: Josh Taylor, Lee McGregor, Shabaz Masoud, Leigh Wood and Leo D’Erlanger. “The way I was doing it with Tyson was not sustainable,” he says. “I dedicated a big chunk of my life to that. But at the same time, how many 24-year-olds are a head coach in a world title fight? Not many. But I wasn’t able to be a normal 24-year-old. I had to sacrifice a big chunk of my life to get myself in that position, where I was looked at as someone capable of doing that. It was a mad few years.
“Now I have more fighters but it’s less of a load you could say. With Tyson, I was the man on the ground to organise bits, get things done and help him in all other areas. Now, there’s not so much of that because the demand isn’t quite as great as it is with someone like Tyson Fury.”
However, what he does have is a multitude of fighters and a multitude of fight dates. Davison speaks from inside the Wembley bubble two days before Wood’s clash with Reece Mould. Wood would survive a scare in the third round to win via a brutal knockout in the ninth, extending Davison’s remarkable winning streak as head coach. The next man up from the stable is McGregor, Edinburgh’s talented bantamweight, who fights for the European title against Karim Guerfi in Bolton this Friday (March 19).
“I haven’t taken a loss now since 2016 when Tom Little lost to Dominic Akinlade,” Davison says. “But I’m fully aware that is going to happen, I’m not deluded. I know I will have a spell in my career which is not going to be what I want it to be. All of a sudden all of the criticism will reoccur: ‘He’s no good, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s a PE teacher, he’s a personal trainer.’ I just take it for what it is.
“I’ve trained who most people would consider as the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the UK. I can coach them, I can teach them and tell them things they didn’t know.”
The latest of that triumvirate is Taylor, the unified super-lightweight champion, who will get the chance to become Britain’s first-ever four-belt world champion when he takes on Jose Ramirez on May 22 in Las Vegas. Says Davison: “I’ve said to Josh it’s a hard fight either way. Ramirez is a God-fearing man, strong for the weight, world champion who has got heart, will and desire to win. No matter what, it’s going to be a hard fight physically.
“But tactically I don’t think it’s the toughest fight. I think if Josh follows a plan, it has the potential to be a Manny Pacquiao vs Oscar De La Hoya showcase, where the world says, ‘Oh wow.’
“Of course it would be fantastic for me as a coach, but for the fighter people will say – this guy is pound-for-pound. We know he is in the top 10 but he may shoot up a few positions by winning.”
Indeed, there will be a suggestion that after only 18 fights as a professional, the 30-year-old would have ‘completed boxing’. Davison, two years Taylor’s junior at 28, would have also ticked a huge box on his to-do list by guiding his charge to victory in such a huge fight. So what else does he hope to achieve as a coach?
“My goal isn’t a specific number of titles or anything like that,” he replies. “It is all individualised. I want that person to achieve his goal, and that person to achieve his. Hand on my heart, getting Leo D’Erlanger to a Southern Area title would mean as much to me as all these other successes.
“Most coaches are double my age. I think I will be a boxing coach for the next 20 years, I can’t really do anything else. I can’t even do DIY. But I love boxing, it’s a massive passion, there’s nothing else I want to do.”