Lightweight boxing star

Born: February 14, 1956;

Died: December 30, 2015

HOWARD Davis, who has died of lung cancer aged 59, was an American boxer who won gold at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976 but unsuccessfully challenged Jim Watt for the W.B.C. world lightweight title at Ibrox Park.

The clash with Watt happened on a rainy midsummer evening in 1980 and by the time of the fight, Davis had already won gold at Montreal – a feat made even more impressive by the fact that the Olympic fight happened just three days after the death of his beloved mother.

Understandably devastated, Davis had to be persuaded by Sugar Ray Leonard to enter the ring. But once the bell rang, he fought brilliantly and dedicated his victory and the resulting gold medal to his mother.

Howard Davis was born in 1956 in Glencove New York one of ten children. Despite his tough early years, he was, at first, reluctant to box but once he started he became arguably one of the USA’s greatest-ever amateur boxers – not only stylishly winning all but five of 130 bouts but also annexing the world amateur boxing title in Cuba in 1974 against stiff Soviet and Cuban competition.

This outstanding form attracted the attention of two of American boxing’s most colourful boxing management teams – Dennis Rappaport and Mike Jones. Jones and Rappaport may have been notorious for their conduct outside the ropes which saw British promoter Mickey Duff dub them “the Wacko Twins” after their behaviour in Glasgow before the Watt v Davis clash at Ibrox but their negotiating skill on behalf of Davis was stellar.

Proof positive of this was that Rappaport and Jones cut an exclusive deal with American television giants CBC that saw Davis earn, on his 1977 pro debut, an unprecedented purse of $185,000 per bout – a record for a novice pro having his first paid contest

Soon the outstanding Davis ran up a 14-bout winning streak between 1977 and 80 beating progressively harder opponents until in early 1980 he challenged and impressively outpointed world rated Vilomar Fernadez by unanimous decision.

That set the stage for his memorable clash with Jim Watt on June 7, 1980, in Glasgow for WBC world champion Watt’s title.

On arrival in Glasgow, neither Davis nor his managers endeared themselves to Scottish boxing fans when they continually disrespected Watt by calling him “Jim Who?” – the clear implication being that in world terms the Davis camp thought Watt was a boxing nonentity.

However, as Watt himself pointed out in his 1981 autobiography, the Ibrox fight was Watt’s 15th 15-round title fight while it was Davis’s first, giving the Scots defending champion a huge advantage.

And so it proved. While Watt conceded that during the 15 rounds – won clearly by Watt on points – Davis had his moments of technical brilliance the proud Scottish titleholder was never in danger of losing.

The fight was not the ultra-talented Davis’s sole connection with Scottish boxing. Even when losing to Watt over 15 rounds, Davis established a unique connection with Scottish and British world title boxing by wearing bright, salmon pink, boxing trunks specially commissioned by his managers from the Scottish boxing referee and noted bespoke tailor, Len Mullen. Mullen also officiated on the undercard of that 1980 fight, which meant Davis became the only American world title challenger ever to wear trunks made by a British referee who also officiated on the same world title bill.

Chastened by his loss to Watt, Davis bounced back to defeat world-rated Johnny Lira but all his subsequent attempts to emulate Watt by winning a world lightweight title came to nothing despite his spectacular technical talents.

Indeed, the nearest he came to winning the world title he craved was in 1984 when he lost a close split decision points verdict to WBC champion Edwin Rosario in Peurto Rico.

In contrast, when Davis once again tried to win a world crown at the expense of IBF lightweight champion Buddy McGirt, he was knocked out in the first round.

Thereafter, while his drawn verdict with future world champion Meldrick Taylor looked good he gradually faded until 1996 when rising star and fellow American, Dana Rosenblatt knocked out Davis inside two rounds in what proved to be his last bout.

Davis eventually gravitated to Florida where he opened a successful gym and was a popular figure among the Florida fight crowd.