In the eight years that U.S. Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis Jr. and his wife, Karla Guadamuz-Davis were together, they formed an inseparable bond.
On Wednesday night, nearly one year after being diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer, Davis died in his wife’s arms in their Plantation home. He was 59.
“Because Howard was very sick, he knew the inevitable was going to come,” Guadamuz-Davis said in a telephone interview Friday. “I saw what was happening and I got a chance to hold him, and I wanted to tell him that I loved him and how much he has meant to all of us.
“I thanked him for our little gift of our 5-year-old, Samiha, and I got a chance to whisper in his ear,” she continued as she choked back tears. “I know a lot of people don’t get that chance, so I should feel blessed. I am glad we had that moment.”
Davis, a Broward County Sports Hall of Famer, suffered one of his most devastating setbacks on the eve of his greatest triumph, when his mother Catherine, 37, died of a heart attack in 1976, just days before the 20-year-old lightweight won gold at the Montreal Olympics. He won the Val Barker Trophy as that Olympics’ most outstanding boxer over teammates such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael and Leon Spinks.
Davis’ hometown of Glen Cove, N.Y. is working on naming a city building in his name. A street is already named in his honor.
After a 17-year pro boxing career, which featured three title fights, Davis moved in the 1990s from fighting to training, from boxing to mixed martial arts, and in 2003 he relocated from New York to South Florida. Davis later became an MMA promoter and five years ago founded Fight Time Promotions with his wife. He trained many top MMA fighters, including Chuck Liddell.
In February, Davis — who said he never smoked or drank alcohol — was diagnosed with Stage-4 lung cancer, which eventually moved to his liver, lower back, right shoulder and right hip.
His wife knew Davis — who had lost nearly 60 pounds from his 195-pound frame since February — was in failing health. Last month she purchased a wheelchair to get her husband around as they attended a holiday party in Glen Cove.
As the band played at the holiday dinner, Davis, a self-taught musician on five instruments, joined for a couple of sets and played the drums and base guitar.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” said Guadamuz-Davis, who noted that the flags in Glen Cove are being flown at half-staff this weekend in honor of her husband. “It was like he did the last thing he really loved, one last time. I was so happy that I was there when he was playing, because I knew he was a musician at heart as well. It was nice to see him happy.”
Guadamuz-Davis said she takes solace in knowing that her husband was revered — and the text messages and posts on social media she has received since her husband’s death have astounded her.
“I know he is loved by many,” she said. “He always cared about humanity and always put others first. I am grateful that he touched me as well. My husband was the strongest man that I’ve ever known.”
Davis went to the clinic as many as five times a week for six months through September and then three times a week until mid-November, when Davis found that the cancer had spread to his liver.
“The whole time from February to now has been the hardest year of my life as a wife, mother, business partner and trying to hold it all together,” Guadamuz-Davis said. “I never had a nurse, until the last week, when he was really sick. Once it got to the liver, it was just a matter of time. You can only fight so long.”
Along with his wife and their 5-year old daughter, Samiha, Davis is survived by daughters and sons, Diarra, Anika, Howard Davis III, Amira, Dyah, Imaan, Yazmeen, Maryuum, Kamalli, Bryce, and his brothers William, Kenneth, Sylvestor, Eric and sisters Shirley, Catherine, Cheryl, Kisha and Debby.¿
A public memorial service celebrating Davis’ life will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8 Ave. Fort Lauderdale. An additional memorial will be held Jan. 16 in Glen Cove.
In lieu of flowers Guadamuz-Davis is asking for donations to be made to the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation at howarddavisjrfoundation.org.
“I am not done fighting,” she said. “We are going to continue with Fight Time and we are going to continue with the foundation and to keep his name alive, because he deserves it.”