For most of his life, Howard Davis Jr. has been a fighter.
The Glen Cove product was the first amateur boxer to win four consecutive New York Golden Gloves championships (1973-76) before winning a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. As a professional, he compiled a record of 36-6-1 with 14 knockouts.
Now, though, Davis faces the toughest battle of his life: stage 4 lung cancer.
Since being diagnosed in February, days before his 59th birthday, Davis said the cancer has spread to his liver and bones. Tumors in his lungs have recently shrunk with treatment. But Davis and Karla Guadamuz-Davis, his wife and biggest supporter, know the fight is far from over.
"This is between life and death,'' said Davis, who said he never once smoked or drank alcohol. "When I first got diagnosed, we cried, we hugged each other, then I looked at her and said: 'Don't worry, I'm fighting this with all my heart. I'm going to live.' ''
Davis is coming to Long Island on Wednesday for a comedy fundraiser at The Space at Westbury. The event is being put on for the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation.
Davis said he took up boxing at age 15 after being inspired by a Muhammad Ali documentary he saw with his father, also a boxer.
He won his first of two National AAU championships two years later, in 1973, fighting at 125 pounds. In 1976, he beat Thomas Hearns at 132 pounds.
Davis, who went 120-5 in his amateur career, was Olympic teammates with Sugar Ray Leonard and brothers Leon and Michael Spinks during the 1976 Games. As a lightweight, Davis won the gold medal.
He turned pro in 1977 and twice fought for the lightweight title, losing both times. In 1988, he challenged fellow Long Islander Buddy McGirt for the IBF junior welterweight crown, but lost by knockout.
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.
Liddell said he trained with Davis at American Top Team in Florida around 2008-09. He brought Davis on as one of his coaches on Ultimate Fighter.
"He's a great guy, I like him a lot," Liddell said. "Learned a lot of speed and trying not to get hit. I'm a brawler, I come at you and exchange punches with you till one of us falls down. He was elusive, a guy who was very hard to hit.
"He's a laid back guy, but when he gets in there and is training you, he's intense. He pushes you to do things right, he's a perfectionist. He wants you to do it fast and do it right."
Davis and his wife founded Fight Time promotions in 2010 and gave it their undivided attention.
Now, business is one of many concerns for the couple, along with health and raising their 5-year-old daughter, Samiha.
Davis said he sees a doctor five days a week for 4-5 hours each visit. He treats his disease with alternative methods such as low-dose chemotherapy combined with multivitamin cocktails and other medicines.
Karla said medical bills range from $2,000 to $3,000 each week since insurance doesn't fully cover alternative methods. She said Davis initially tried the standard treatment -- maximum doses of chemo -- but it wasn't working.
"I honestly thought I was going to lose him," Karla said. "After the second session, Howard wouldn't get out of bed. No energy, the spark in his eye was gone. And that's when he told me, 'Karla, I don't want to live like this anymore. I'm done with chemo.' "
Dr. Mark Rosenberg, Davis' oncologist for the last three months, said the treatment is not considered curative, but is designed to provide relief and improve life quality.
"Howard is an amazing man," Rosenberg said. "First of all, he's an intelligent person, a wonderfully kind person, and he's a fighter.
"I know a lot of other individuals with his amount of disease would be very down. Howard's got the nature to fight this disease, even though this is incredibly daunting.''
Rosenberg said Davis' cancer is stable, which means his body can handle more aggressive treatment methods.
Davis, who has lost 60 pounds since being diagnosed, said the next step is an operation to put a port in his liver so the chemo can be more focused. He already has a port in his chest for the same purpose.
With a taxing schedule, the fighter finds peace at home, playing bass guitar and watching television. It's some of the ways he copes through such a difficult time.
"You know, belief is a very strong aphrodisiac," Davis said. "If I didn't have belief, what would I have? I have to have belief in the doctors, in my wife and myself. I should say also, my faith in God. Those are the things I rely on."