Howard Davis Jr. grew up in Glen Cove and developed into an Olympic gold medalist who was regarded as one of the greatest amateur boxers of all time.
While he will be remembered by the public at large as winner of the Val Barker Trophy as most outstanding boxer at the 1976 Montreal Olympics — ahead of the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson — his wife, Karla Guadamuz-Davis, said those closest to him will recall most of all the humble gentleman who treated all he met with respect.
Davis died Wednesday night at the age of 59 after a 10-month battle with lung cancer, his wife said Thursday.
A spokesman for Glen Cove mayor Reggie Spinello announced that all flags at town municipal buildings will be flown at half-staff through the weekend in memory of Davis.
“I’ll never meet a man like him again,” said Karla, who met her husband more than eight years ago, was married to him the past seven years and is the mother of their 5-year-old daughter, Samiha. “He’d give a homeless man $5 even when he had nothing. He had the mentality to give back to people because he was so selfless.
“Everybody talks about the Olympics. But we don’t take our gold medals to heaven. He was an amazing human being and a wonderful father.”
In 2009, Glen Cove named a street after him. Davis moved to South Florida in 2003 to train mixed martial arts fighters and has worked with stars such as Chuck Liddell, Thiago Silva and Thiago Alves.
Guadamuz-Davis said she met her husband when he was recommended to her to train an MMA fighter she was promoting, but that she never had heard of his storied past as a boxer.
Davis was introduced to boxing by his father, Howard Sr., who trained him to a record four straight New York Golden Gloves titles (1973-76). Davis made one of the greatest-ever U.S. Olympic boxing teams, which included Leon and Michael Spinks as well as Leonard, and compiled a phenomenal amateur record of 125-5.
“To make that Olympic team, Howard went through a ‘murderers’ row’ of [future professional world champions] Thomas Hearns, Aaron Pryor and Hilmer Kenty all at 132 pounds,” said matchmaker Ron Katz, who worked with Davis on his last pro bout against Dana Rosenblatt in 1996. “There were very high hopes for him coming out of the Olympics. He was the first to sign a network deal with CBS. Everyone thought he would be a can’t-miss champ.”
Davis went 36-6-1 with 14 knockouts as a professional, but he was a pure boxer whose style was better suited to the amateurs. He lost all three of his attempts to win a world lightweight title, including a unanimous 15-round decision to WBC champion Jim Watt in 1980 in Glasgow, Scotland, a 12-round split decision to Edwin Rosario for the WBC belt in a 1984 fight in Puerto Rico and a first-round knockout by fellow Long Islander Buddy McGirt for the IBF title in 1988 at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden.
“As a person, there was none better,” Katz said. “He was friendly to everyone, always smiling.”
Davis also was known for his healthy lifestyle, never smoking or drinking, so it was unexpected when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer the week before he turned 59 last Valentine’s Day. By that time, Davis had given up his work training Liddell and other MMA fighters to form an MMA promotions company with his wife in Florida.
“It was a shock,” Karla said. “We held each other in the hospital and he said he was going to fight, and he did. It’s been a long road with doctor’s appointments and researching to see if we were doing the right thing.”
After undergoing full chemotherapy, Davis chose to try alternative therapies, but because the disease was so advanced, the treatments were palliative in nature. “If he had more time, I think he could have beaten it,” Karla said. “But we found out too late.”
While undergoing costly treatments, the family formed the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation. Guadamuz-Davis asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to howarddavisjrfoundation.org to assist with outstanding medical expenses and to fund future research into alternative cancer therapy.
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Another memorial service is planned for Glen Cove at a date and time to be determined.
In addition to his wife and their daughter, Davis is survived by sisters Debbie, Kathy, Shirley, Cheryl and Keisha and by brothers Kenny and Sylvester. Davis also is survived by sons Howard Davis III, Diara, Dyah Ali and Khamali and by daughters Anikah, Amira, Imaan, Yaasmeen and Myrium.