Lifestyle choice: Ohara Davies interview
Ohara Davies feels fortunate to have found boxing and, he tells Mark Butcher, he's following the Mayweather blueprint for success: hard work, dedication - and a dash of self-promotion...
With hard work, dedication and an astute sense of self-promotion, Ohara Davies is aiming to follow the Floyd Mayweather blueprint to success. The Londoner backed up some strong pre-fight rhetoric with an impressive three-round dissection of Derry Mathews in March, underlining his status as a dangerous man at 140lbs, and will next face Josh Taylor in July in a fascinating domestic tussle.
Davies’ outspoken persona may not be to everyone’s taste, but his boxing mindset was heavily influenced by watching Mayweather in his formative years and the strategy is working.
“When I was young and first got into boxing, Floyd was the one I would always watch - the money, the cars, the lifestyle. Whenever I watched HBO 24-7, I only looked at Floyd’s part. Not the opponent’s,” Davies (15-0, 12 KOs) told BM over the phone. “Floyd would be all about living the highlife, living the good life. The opponent would just be a normal humble man. Living at home with his wife and kids. Not doing anything flash. That wasn’t eye-catching for me. I used to fast forward until their part was gone until Floyd’s part came on. I became such a big fan of Floyd that I tried to imitate him in the ring. I watched him for so many years that kind of rubbed off on me. “
Mayweather’s ‘hard work, dedication’ mantra has been instilled in Davies as he angles for a world title shot in the coming year. “I’m in the gym all the time,” he told BM. “After a fight, I might have a week, week-and-a-half off and then I’m always right back in the gym. Boxing is a lifestyle. I feel that you have to love the game to survive in it. I love the sport so I’m always in the gym. For me, this isn’t work – this is fun. This is what I would be doing in my spare time if I was an average working man. Now I have the opportunity to make boxing my full-time job, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
As a youth on the Kingsmead Estate in Hackney, Davies dreamed of a better life. Temptations were many and rewards too few, but the young Londoner chose to channel his hunger into boxing as lesser talents fell by the wayside.
“[Life] was really tough. Back in those days there weren’t many opportunities in Hackney. So it was either become a sportsman or you become a rapper or you sell drugs,” recalled Davies. “There wasn’t really much options where we were from so a lot us ended up getting into gangs, others selling drugs. I felt fortunate that I got into boxing. I’m one of the lucky ones who managed to find something that I loved doing and focused on it.”
Having chosen the fight game over the street life, Davies soon realised that he could make it in boxing at a high level. “It dawned on me after I had five amateur fights. I realised I could actually be good at this game,” said Davies. “When I first got into boxing, I wasn’t special. I wasn’t better than the other guys in the gym, but I was more consistent. As I trained, week in, week out, month in, month out, I found myself getting so much better and better until I surpassed the other fighters. I became the best in the gym. I used to spar the pros there and win the spars. From there, I realised I could become good at this game if I stayed focused.”
Confidence and arrogance are often confused. In these judgmental times, with a social media uproar a mere click away, some have pigeon-holed Davies in the latter category, but the Londoner claims he is bristling with self-belief rather than bombast.
“I’m a confident person. But I’m more outspoken with my confidence,” Davies told BM. “I didn’t have people encouraging me [early on] or the financial help others may have had so I had to struggle more than the average boxer. For me to keep my focus [as an amateur], I had to tell my self every single day that I could be good at this - that I could be the best, that I could be great because that was the only way to have faith, to keep that belief in myself. That’s a trait that hasn’t left me. Other fighters might not have the confidence or they’re not outspoken with their confidence. But I’m very confident and outspoken and, because of that, people can think I’m arrogant though I think that’s the last thing that I am.”
After exchanging social media insults with Mathews, Davies entered his rival’s backyard to stir emotions in a heated press conference that ruffled a few feathers but sold the fight.
“That press conference was amazing,” remembered Davies. “From when I was young, I always had a dream of me standing on the [dais], talking about my opponent just like my boxing idols in the past. How they used to speak then get abused by fans. I used to love that. I watched them get booed and they never used to back down. I would say to myself I want to be in that position one day and that became real in my last press conference in Liverpool. I was getting booed by the fans and still holding my own. I achieved a dream in that press conference though I’ve still got a lot I’ve yet to achieve. But every fight I’m getting closer and closer.”
In the fight itself, Davies backed up his words with an imperious display sweeping the seasoned Mathews aside in three, dominant rounds. With his deceptively long arms and uncompromising style, Davies’ right hand work, in particular, was notably destructive. Still, the quick-fire manner of his victory came as a shock to the rising Londoner.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” he admitted. “Because – to be honest – in the morning of the fight I had never been so nervous. This was by far my biggest test. I spoke a lot in the build-up so I felt the pressure was on me to back up all my talk.
“Derry Mathews is a good fighter. He’s very experienced and been in there with the best. He’s achieved a lot in the sport of boxing. I felt like it was going to be such a tough fight. My coach [Tony Sims] thought it was going to be tough and, for that camp, he was so hard on me. When the fight ended early, I was really shocked but it let me know what level I’m on, to be able to do that to Derry Mathews who has achieved so much.”
Britain’s 140lbs scene is currently brimming with talent with Davies’ stable-mate Ricky Burns leading the way and young guns Josh Taylor, Jack Catterall, Tyrone Nurse and Robbie Davies Jr among the chasing pack.
When BM spoke to Davies his assignment against Taylor was yet to be announced and he declared: “Josh Taylor, Jack Catterall and Tyrone Nurse – I think are all good contenders. Those three are really good, but I feel at this minute I’m [headed] to world level. Nurse is the British champion, but he’s been there for so long. I don’t think a fight between him and me sells now. It doesn’t make business sense.
“The Catterall fight? There hasn’t been much hype about that. People haven’t really been putting my name and his name in the same sentence so I doubt that will happen any time soon."
Davies then added, in words that turned out to be somewhat prophetic. "I would be really interested in Taylor because that is a big money fight and makes business sense. Even though he’s not at world level yet he’s got such hype behind his name and I believe that fight will sell. I would take it any time. The fight could happen right now. I could fight Taylor next as long as the money is right.”
Moving up from lightweight has added strength to Davies’ skillset though the Londoner has also benefited from regular spars with three-weight world champion and gym-mate Ricky Burns. The Scot serves as a daily inspiration and the perfect measuring stick to gauge Davies’ aspirations.
“Having Ricky Burns in the gym is so good for me,” said Davies, who has never tasted defeat as an amateur or a pro. “To watch him train every day and see how he’s still so focused, so dedicated in each camp, that inspires me. It really motivates me because it lets me know I can’t slack.
“After I win another title or I get another payday, I can’t start thinking I’m the man because when I look at Ricky Burns he still listens to [our] coach every single day and pushes himself so hard. Let’s say we’re all doing five laps, he might do extra, do six laps. He always wants to push himself as hard as he can. That just lets me know how hard I have to work to get to the level that he’s on. Having him in the gym is a pleasure and a great thing. I have learned a lot from him in and out of the ring, just from his mindset, how he thinks, to how he trains and how he fights.”
After breaking into the 140lbs world rankings in 2016, Davies credits trainer Sims with his rapid improvement and feels the Essex taskmaster is guiding him to future glories.
“Tony Sims is a great coach. He is not easy on me, but my relationship with him is a really good one because we’re both on the same wavelength,” said Davies, 25. “Tony wants to work me hard and I want to be worked hard. I don’t complain when he tells me to do five laps if I feel like doing four because I know he has the blueprint of how to make a champion. I wouldn’t want a coach who is easy on me and let’s me have my own way. I know if I listen to him I can become a champion.
“I watch one of my fights every night before I go to bed. Even though the camps have got much harder, I can see the difference in each fight and that it’s evident that my coach is doing the right job. I can see a massive improvement since I’ve come to his gym.
“I want to go right to the top,” continued Davies. “I want to become a world champion, but I don’t want to become just a world champion. I want to get there and be consistent. I want to maintain it. I want to be great at the sport. Also I want to make a lot of money in this game because boxing is ultimately a business. Those are my two goals - to make a lot of money and become a great world champion.”