Keyshawn Davis might just be the best prospect in the US. He spoke to John Dennen ahead of his pro debut
ERROL SPENCE was the star to emerge from the US men’s team at the 2012 Olympic Games, Shakur Stevenson was America’s leading man at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 would have been the making of Keyshawn Davis. Except it didn’t happen.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic the 2020 Olympics have been rescheduled for July of this year. The Americas qualification event is still to take place, now set for May. Davis though decided enough was enough. He could wait no longer. He left Team USA.
“I had a whole year to think about it and I didn’t make my decision until 2021,” he tells Boxing News. “I hope that it happens, especially for my friends that’s waiting for it. But I think the Olympics was going to be watered down this year and that it wasn’t going to be good on my end to wait a whole other second year for the Olympics. It was a big risk and I just wasn’t willing to take that risk of waiting again.”
“Me sitting and waiting, that’s scary. I couldn’t do that for a whole other year,” he continued. “I feel like it was going to be more of a setback than a gain.
“I did want to go to the Olympics, the Olympics is a great experience but ultimately pro was always just something I knew I could be very, very, not only successful, but just be inspirational at, have people really engage into watching me fight, period, whether it’s a knockout or just a great performance. I couldn’t wait to go to the pros and now it’s here.
“So going into 2021 I feel like it was great timing to go. It’s like I’m a fresh breath of air coming into the professional game. A new fighter now. Now all the attention is on me. It was a great time to go.”
The man from Virginia is set to make his professional debut on February 27, on Canelo Alvarez’s undercard in Miami. But he has been hampered by the snow storms and power outages that struck Houston, where he trains in Texas. His water had been cut off when he spoke to Boxing News. Later that day they’d lose electricity. “All week, we have been scrambling for food because everything was shut down due to no power and no running water – grocery stores, restaurants, and even gas stations were bare of food and snacks,” he said.
His training was severely disrupted. But Keyshawn said, “One thing this winter storm reminded me of is that regardless of your situation, someone else always has it worse. My team and I rode all over the city of Houston for two hours looking for food one day. On our journey, we saw dozens and dozens of homeless and displaced citizens out in the freezing cold, snow, and rain. It made me realise that while we are hungry and desperately searching for food, this is an everyday reality for some people. It reminded me that I had to be grateful for my situation and the fact that I had a roof over my head despite having no power, water, or food.”
There is good reason for mounting hype around Davis. The outstanding member of the current US amateur team, he won silver medals at the Pan American Games and World championships, denied gold in both events by the brilliant Cuban Andy Cruz, and Cruz might well prove to be not only the best in the 63kgs division but one of if not the best pound-for-pound in the Olympic sport.
“He was way more experienced. At first I was losing to him, I was taking those losses personally… I don’t like losing. But after a while I just started going back and watching tape and just understanding the sport of boxing period and I started taking those losses as learning sessions,” Keyshawn said. “I just got better with each fight that we had. He’s a great fighter, he’s not easy to beat. He’s very experienced, he’s older than me, he’s got all the tools to beat me. I was just this kid going in there and competing with him and making great fights with him. I had to look at the bigger picture itself, not just the loss, but look at what I was doing and the type of fighter I was becoming and now February 27, you’re all going to see.”
“I feel like the decisions that he was getting was because they [the judges had] seen him plenty of times, I was this brand new kid showing my talent,” he noted. “I was really up against all odds.”
Davis will only turn 22 on February 27. He was just 19 years old when he went on a remarkable run at the AIBA World championships in Russia. His tournament, five bouts in a few days, might have ended in a defeat to Cruz but along the way he beat Uzbekistan’s Elnur Abduraimov, an Asian champion, Sofiane Oumiha, an Olympic silver medallist and World champion, and Hovhannes Bachkov, a bullishly strong Armenian who is a European Games and European championships gold medallist. That was an astonishing sequence of performances. “After the first performance I had, I started feeling great, I started getting into my rhythm, I started to know okay, I can compete with these guys, not only compete with these guys but I can dominate too,” Davis said. “Every day I just had that in my head. I went out there and I performed great.”
“I beat three champions,” he reflected. “Just by that I’m a champion. I knew I was a champion with the success I done in that tournament.”
In terms of the level of competition, the World championships are just as hard, if not harder than the Olympic Games. “The only difference between the World championships and the Olympics is the title that they have,” Davis said. “The Olympics, it was no guarantee. I couldn’t keep going off no guarantee. Because I already made a name for myself. People already know I can fight and I can be a world champion. It was just the Olympics [where] they wanted to see me win a gold medal and we don’t even know if there’s going to be an Olympics.
“Right now I’m just looking to move forward.”
His ambitions are firmly focused on the professional sport. “I’m ready, I’ve been ready and I just can’t wait to show the world how great of a fighter I really am. They know that I can fight but they don’t know how great I really am and I just want to show them,” Davis said. “They’re going to see how good I actually am, they’re going to see the IQ, they’re going to see a big difference in me coming into the pros rather than all the other amateurs coming into the pros.”
Davis will turnover at lightweight but at his age he can eventually move up through the divisions (he sees himself ultimately going all the way up to super-welterweight). “I want to be the top dog at 135lbs of course,” he says. “I want to be undisputed at 135, I want to let everybody know can’t nobody beat me.”
It will be an exciting division to be a part of. “You’ve got Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, Lomachenko, Devin Haney, you’ve got so many names at this 135 and [now him,] this kid that can be on the fast-track is in this weight class,” Keyshawn said. “Being in this weight class I’m very confident, I’ve sparred a lot of them guys already.”
It was that elite sparring that prepared for the best in the amateurs. “I’ve been in the ring with Terence Crawford, I’ve been in the ring with Shakur Stevenson, Teofimo, Gervonta Davis, I’ve been picking up so much IQ from these guys and then took it internationally,” he explained. “The best person technically I’ve been in the ring with was Shakur Stevenson but all around fighter I would say definitely Terence Crawford.”
He learned from them. “I’m a person that’s like a sponge,” Davis explained. “I understand what they’re doing to me, I understand why I probably got caught with that body shot, why he keeps throwing the jab and taming me. Because I used to be a real aggressive fighter.
“Now sparring guys like that, they made me use my head. I started realising a lot of things, like okay I can’t just keep fighting off my ability. I can win like that but let’s take it to another level, let’s start using my head.”
They made him understand the importance of control over your opponent in a contest. He’s convinced that’s what helped him against the best the amateur sport had to offer. “I already knew how to have control in the ring, which a lot of these prospects don’t understand to do yet, they don’t know how to do that yet,” he says. “I feel like I do that naturally now.”
Davis grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, the home of Pernell Whitaker, one Keyshawn’s own heroes. “He was a Pan American champion, he was an Olympic champion, he was a world champion, not only that but he was a great fighter, he will go down as one of the greatest,” he said, before adding, “I want to top that, if not be better than him!”
Norfolk, he explains, “It’s not really a great place to grow up in, I’m not going to lie to you. A lot of distractions, the environment wasn’t good. You got people doing things they’re not supposed to be doing at a young age, understand what I’m saying. But that was just like the typical we had to overcome. That’s like a typical story. Honestly that wasn’t really hard to overcome, especially as I’ve got two other brothers, Kelvin and Keon. We always stuck together. We was raised right, I would say, and we always had this mentality that we’re not going to let nothing stop us and as we stuck together we grew together.”
His older brother Kelvin is already a pro, his younger brother Keon is a six foot two amateur lightweight. Keyshawn promises they will be ones to watch too. “I’m here today and I’m bringing them along with me,” he says. “I do this for my family. They’re the ones that drive me… They’re my strongest circle. They’ve been supporting me since I didn’t have no support and I can’t be nothing without them.”
The next step for him, the new beginning is February 27. “I left amateurs a loser. I was number two in the world,” Keyshawn said. “That just speaks for itself. Now I’m coming into this pro game with a chip on my shoulder and to be number one. And to leave number one.”