Time is a concept of both simplicity and complexity.
While the basic structure is of a concrete nature and its passage is measured without flexibility, singular experiences or moments seem to operate free of confinement. Linear time lines can be traced, tracked, projected and examined, but things which occur in the spaces between can elevate and stretch on for infinity.
In addition to many passionate accomplishments and fascinating details, Howard Davis Jr.’s story is one about time. His tale is a prime example of enduring, persevering and excelling in the long-range layout, and absolutely making the most of the biggest moments when they materialize.
Nearly 30 years have passed since a gold medal at the Summer Olympics of 1976 solidified him as the best 132-pound boxer in the world—a dream he’d envisioned for longer than he could remember. And while winning Olympic gold is a lofty accomplishment pursued by many and obtained by few, the Val Barker Trophy awarded to the most outstanding boxer at the Olympic games in Montreal put an extra stamp of emphasis on that notion.
Had he not been anchored by his golden achievements, Davis Jr. may have floated right off of the podium in Montreal, but an emotional weight kept him grounded. And once again, time and its many numbers played a factor in things being so.
1976—a year of transition in the United States, as the war in Vietnam had ended one year prior and the nation celebrated its 200th birthday with the Bicentennial Celebration.
59—the average price in cents for one gallon of gasoline.
28—the amount in dollars it cost to purchase a brand new Polaroid camera.
“It was such a different time back then,” Davis Jr. told Bleacher Report. “The country was going through a lot of changes and things felt like they were loosening up in a lot of ways. There was a feeling of freedom in the air and people really started to embrace that mindset in 1976. You could feel something in the air that was magical. America was going through a big transition and anybody who lived through that time will tell you the 70’s were amazing.”
Still, while the cultural evolution of the United States was in constant flux around him, there were other numbers and elements of time that had a far more pressing impact.
7—the number of medalists (five gold, one silver, one bronze) the U.S. Boxing Team won in Montreal, Quebec as they stepped into history as one of the greatest—if not the greatest—Olympic squads of all time.
5—the number of bouts Davis Jr. won to claim gold in the 132-pound division.
3—the number of days out from the start of the tournament when Davis Jr. was informed his mother had passed away.
While that last number is the smallest of the group, it certainly carried the biggest impact. Upon hearing the news of his mother’s death, the Earth below Davis Jr.’s feet stopped spinning for what felt like an eternity, and the razor-sharp focus he’d had locked on the ultimate dream of becoming an Olympic champion faded out like tuning static on a radio between stations.
There is no grand secret regarding the passion and near-obsessive drive athletes pursing Olympic greatness possess, but in those moments, the slick-moving prospect was no longer the boxing pride of Glen Cove, New York, but a grieving son who had just lost his mother.
Nevertheless, rising up to a challenge to achieve greatness is impossible without facing adversity, and that’s precisely what Davis Jr. did in Montreal. He won two of his first four bouts via knockout, then defeated Romanian Simion Cutov to earn the gold medal. In doing so, he joined teammates “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Leo Randolph and brothers Michael and Leon Spinks as the best in the world in their respective weight classes.
While the dates of those fights and achievements will forever be notched in record books and Olympic history, the elation and recognition of the task completed still burns brightly in the fans who watched them and the fighters who lived it 29 years later.
“My mother had passed away three days before my first fight and that was traumatic,” Davis Jr. said. “I won my gold medal for her and I dedicated it to my mother. That was tough to get through…but overall it was a magical time. If you go back and look at the stories from that time and not just the Olympics you will get a sense of what was going on. It was America’s birthday. There were parties and parades everywhere you went. It was a celebration of the American spirit and a truly wonderful time.
“Myself, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and Michael and Leon Spinks—two brothers who both won gold—we made history in ’76. At the time there was no headgear like there is today. You don’t have judges hitting a button like you do today. A lot has changed since then, and from what I hear they are going back to the old system. There are a lot of things wrong with the button system. The old way of scoring is the best way because it’s subjective.”
36—the number of fights Davis Jr. won as a professional
14—the number of bouts he won by knockout.
3—the number of times he competed for a world title.
0—the number of regrets he carried when he retired from the sport in 1996.
In the aftermath of the glory found in Montreal, time would carry on, and Davis Jr. would continue to do what he did best inside the boxing ring as he built a solid career in the professional ranks. The New York native would come close to becoming a champion on several occasions, but he would never be able to clear the final hurdle standing between him and a world title.
Throughout his time in the sweet science, Davis Jr. had always relied on his cerebral fortitude and fight I.Q. to push him toward success, and those talents were also crucial elements when he decided to hang up the gloves once and for all in 1996—20 years after winning his Olympic gold medal.
“I hate losing. I hate losing at anything to be honest with you,” Davis Jr. said. “The competitive spirit is what pushes you to rise up and excel. It’s all relative really. If I had put the same energy into becoming a lawyer I would have been a good lawyer, but my life ended up being in sports and boxing. My I.Q. went to that.
“Just like anything else, once you choose the life and if you like what you’re doing then you are going to be good at it. When you are in something and like it sometimes and don’t like it others; that’s when mistakes happen. That’s what happened to me and why I had to retire from boxing. I started making mistakes and I noticed the reason why I was making them. I really didn’t have the passion for it anymore.
“When you lack the passion you make mistakes and that’s when bad things can happen,” he added. “I was smart enough to retire and leave the sport unscathed and unhurt. I’ve seen so many of my contemporaries leave the sport in bad shape. I wasn’t going to linger on or go way past my prime and end up getting hurt.”
Over the next decade, Davis Jr. would stay connected with the sport he loved and lived as he trained a collection of fighters looking to bring championship goals of their own to reality. It was during this stretch when another corner of the combat sports world began to garner attention, and it wasn’t long before mixed martial arts started to gain a bit of traction in the fight world.
Where other athletes and personalities from the world of boxing were quick to scoff at this emerging form of hand-to-hand combat, Davis Jr. was quick to appreciate the complexity of the competition at hand. He knew what he was watching was still in its infancy, but the additional elements of danger in an MMAfight were certainly intriguing to him from a fighter and training perspective.
“I get asked what about the difference between the two all of the time and it really is like comparing apples to oranges,” Davis Jr. said. “Can a boxer throw their opponent to the ground? No. Can a boxer kick their opponent? No. Can a boxer throw a chokehold on a fighter? No. Can they use armbars, leglocks, or wrestle someone to the ground? The answer to all of those questions are no. The one similarity is that each fighter in the bout can punch and that’s the only place similarities exist. That’s it.
“The majority of MMA fights take place on the ground. Eighty-five percent is on the ground while 15 percent of the fight is standing up. Of course each bout begins with the two combatants standing up and they are going to circle one another and throw jabs, but that is mainly done to expose openings for other things. If a fighter’s strong skill is wrestling, they may box a little bit, but their main objective is to get their opponent to the ground. The differences between the two sports truly are vast.
“There’s really no comparison. You hear fighters and in both sports pontificate about it, but there is really no reason to compare the two.”
Before long, Davis Jr. took the wealth of knowledge he possessed to mixed martial arts and began working with a collection of fighters to improve their striking games. With the amount of experience and information he’d obtained over three decades worth of boxing, Davis Jr. knew he could have a major impact on the former wrestlers, MuayThai fighters and kickboxers who sought out his teaching.
“When I first was introduced to MMA, oh man I couldn’t wait for them to get up off the ground so they could start striking, but the striking at that particular time was horrible,” Davis Jr. said. “As you see now the striking is getting better and better. The fighter’s I.Q. for the sport continues to get better. Once you start doing something for a long time, and pay attention to the other fighters that are developing faster, a good fighter will adapt and start taking those things and adding their own little pieces to it.
“Everything about the sport is getting better. The training, coaches, management—every aspect of the sport is improving because once you get experience and knowledge of something; you will improve on it. That’s an aspect of life.”
The next step for Davis Jr. came when he accepted the role of Boxing Director for American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. With ATT being hot spot for both seasoned and emerging talent, there was plenty of work to be done. He worked in the trenches with veterans like Jeff Monson and Din Thomas, whom Davis Jr. calls “The Ghost” for his hard-to-hit maneuverability, just the same as he helped shape surging fighters like future WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown and eventual UFC welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves.
And while his training at ATT was rolling on, his efforts elevated when the former Olympian was tapped to assist former light heavyweight champion and future Hall of Fame fighter Chuck Liddell during his coaching stint on Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter. Following his time as a trainer on the reality-based fighting program, Davis Jr. would also go on to assist Liddell for what would become the final two fights of “The Iceman’s” career.
While Davis Jr. would eventually vacate his role at ATT in 2011, the South Florida transplant wasn’t willing to trade in his year-round sunshine for the beastly winters of the Northeast. During his time in the “Sunshine State,” he had fallen in love, married and settled in with his family, and he could find no reason to uproot and return to Long Island.
And as it would turn out, thanks to his wife, Karla, Davis Jr. would soon be starting an entirely new chapter in his life in combat sports. It was by chance they decided to attend a local MMA show together, but it would change their immediate trajectory in both life and business as Karla became inspired by what she saw taking place all around her.
From the action going down inside the cage to the scores of hungry fighters striving to make a name for themselves on that particular night, Karla took in her surroundings and knew this was what they needed to be doing. And while Davis. Jr. wasn’t quite sure what that meant, he could sense the passion and energy that was consuming her and jumped in headfirst. It wasn’t long after the initial moment of inspiration that Fight Time Promotions was born, although there was a whirlwind on life’s roller coaster in between.
“Believe it or not it was my wife,” Davis Jr. said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a funny story. We were dating at the time, we’re married now, and I had a fighter fighting in Orlando. I was cornering Rich Attonito, and after he fought I went to sit down next to my wife and watch the rest of the show. Then she just blurted it out, ‘We can do this.’ She screamed it out and I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said, ‘This,’ and I was still trying to figure out what ‘This’ is.
“She had the idea we could promote shows. I didn’t know what she meant and really didn’t take it seriously at the time, then a couple of months later I had to train Chuck Liddell, so I flew out to California and stayed there for almost three months. I trained him for his fight, then after the fight I flew home and my wife had all the paperwork done. She had the name of the company and I was very impressed how well she had put everything together. She was serious and motivated about this.
“We had to wait because other things were happening. We got married, had a baby, and an hour after I helped bring the baby in, I was on a plane to go train Chuck again for another fight. When I came back that’s when we started the company. It was important for me to go out and get a sponsor, so I went out and got a sponsor, then six weeks later we have our first show.”
In August of 2010, Fight Time Promotions hit the ground running in South Florida, and over the past five years, it has become the most proficient organization in a region that has become a hot spot for developing MMA talent. The family-owned operation has constantly pushed to further the quality of their product, and things took a step to the next level of visibility when they signed a distribution deal with CBS Sports Network earlier this year.
Having a major network deal is a savvy step for a promotion that has continued to take a maverick approach to the way it handles business. The televised product is an example of how they see presentation, as Fight Time Promotions uses a post-production model in their deal with CBS. This allows Fight Time to make sure the best of what they have to offer is put together in one slick package and guarantees they will deliver quality entertainment to CBS.
The promotion launched its first effort in early March and will put forth its next event with seasoned MMA veteran Jeff Monson anchoring the card for MMA Kings on April 3.
“I’m very proud to be working again under the CBS Sports banner,” Davis Jr. said. “I worked with them in 1977 when I signed a 12-fight deal with CBS Sports. They were a great network then as they are now. I’m so happy to be working with them again. Fight Time does things a little bit different than most promoters. Our show is mainly done in post-production. That enables us to showcase the best fights, lock everything in and really put a good show on. We had our first show air a few weeks ago and it was amazing.
“Sometimes when you watch a live event you get stuck waiting for the best fights because you may watch a few fights that really aren’t that good. By going this route, we have the luxury of putting the best fights from the night on television. I was amazed by the final product of our first show on CBS Sports. We have a great editor who put it all together and told a good story. We showed some behind the scenes footage that was different and quite unique.
“I’m looking forward to doing it again and we have a great card coming up at Fight Time 24: MMA Kings. We have Jeff Monson defending his title, Deuce Garner, and a couple of other fighters who are making their television debuts. We have some great local fighters and we are very proud to be doing this for the last five years. I’m very excited about what we are doing.
2010—the year Fight Time Promotions was founded.
2015—the year the promotion became broadcast partners with CBS Sports.
28—the years that have passed since Davis Jr. last worked with CBS Sports.
4—the number of decades Davis Jr. has been involved in combat sports with no end in sight.
At 59 years old, Davis Jr. has spent the majority of his life in and around combat sports. He fell in love with boxing as the eldest of the 10 children in his household growing up in Long Island, New York, and he was trained by his father for many years throughout his time competing inside the ring. This set an affinity within the Olympic medalist that runs deep and effortlessly, and will remain with him for the rest of his days.
That said, Davis Jr. is a man who doesn’t move without passion in his stride, and his new focus falls on a sport that is still very much in its early stages of growth. Where boxing has had time to ingrain itself in popular culture and develop a vast history filled with unique and interesting storylines, MMA is still a bit off from establishing the type of aura that only time and success can provide. Still, Davis Jr. knows a thing or two about longevity, and he fully believes the best days for MMA are yet to come.
“Boxing has been around for hundreds of years—longer depending on which versions you look at—and it’s had time to really develop a rich history,” Davis Jr. said. “Martial arts have been around for thousands of years, but this sport of MMA is still a relatively new thing. Now there are rules and sanctioning bodies, and over time—and we have to give it time—but I think it will be just like boxing in that sense. Of course there will need to be experience and a learning curve to accomplish longevity, but if those things happen then you’re going to have something good in the future.”
Time in itself is both elusive and guaranteed. Dates and moments will arrive, but it’s the fashion in which the latter is captured that determines whether prosperity is achieved. Davis Jr. and many other athletes have and are chipping away and molding themselves to obtain greatness when the opportunity arrives so that they can capitalize on that one perfect moment where they rose above all things.
But the biggest question becomes: What comes next? And therein lies the push.
Where some take that one great thing and hold on to it for the rest of their lives, and others attempt to parlay it into other opportunities…very few athletes who achieve greatness can carry it long after their days of competition are over. Memories and glory fade and give way to what comes next, as the shining moment of something amazing dims as time carries on.
Nearly 30 years have come and gone since Davis Jr. had the gold medal draped around his neck and dedicated it to his beloved mother, but the same sparkle in his eye of a job well done—one no other 132-pound boxer in the world but him accomplished in 1976—still exists today. And it’s obvious that will remain with every step he takes onward.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.