A week out from his ninth professional fight, Keyshawn Davis finds himself in the middle, and at the forefront of a lot of different conversations.
Training in Colorado Springs, his old Olympic stomping grounds, the silver medalist works alongside Terence Crawford, as Crawford prepares for his highly anticipated clash with Errol Spence Jr. The two share a trainer, Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, who tends to schedule their respective sessions at the same time in the gym so the two can feed off of one another, and perhaps more importantly, so Davis can learn from Crawford. “Bud” has become a mentor figure to Davis, as has Shakur Stevenson, who is also often on-site sparring and aiding him. Davis, who is often referred to as boxing’s top prospect, is decidedly third fiddle in a circle that includes one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and one touted as potentially its next dominant star.
Under the learning tree has always been a cozy spot for Davis, one that shades him from the bright lights that could distract him, and cools him as the heat of criticism intensifies as his renown increases. In fact, some of Davis’ earliest days in the boxing gym were alongside Pernell Whitaker, a fellow Norfolk, VA, native, who would step in and coach Keyshawn and his brothers Kelvin and Keon on days when they were in the gym alone.
Davis distinctly remembers the first time he met Sweet Pea—in fact, it was the first celebrity he’d ever seen in real life. He and his brother Kelvin were at an amateur tournament in Virginia, and Kelvin was warming up on the focus mitts. Whitaker walked over unprompted and studied Kelvin as he went through the routine. Afterwards, he gave him words of encouragement, telling him that he had the natural talent to go places in the sport if he dedicated himself. In Keyshawn’s words, in that moment he felt that “if Sweet Pea sees it in my brother, then that sh!t must be in me too.”
“I wish I could (get) those days back, for real. I remember showing up hoping, expecting Sweet Pea would be there. I learned how to be in front of a camera, I learned how to be who I am today. Back in the day, I was a really quiet kid, didn't really talk to you. I was in my bubble. When he came around, I kind of opened up a little more just to learn a little bit,” said Davis. “I remember him always telling me, just stay behind your speed and your jab, that's what makes you great. Being around him, it just made things easier. I just knew damn near whatever he said, I was like yeah you're right.”
Whitaker was indeed right, about Davis’ skill level and about what his calling cards would be as he rose through the amateurs into the pros. Davis captured silver at the 2020 Tokyo Games and the 2019 World Championships, falling to the great Andy Cruz in both cases. The Olympic success came after a three-fight stint in the pros, where he returned with a Top Rank contract and was so impressive in 2022 that many outlets considered him the Prospect of the Year. For many, the scouting report Davis is that his actual skill level and place on the developmental map far outpaces the 8-0 record next to his name.
On Saturday night, Davis faces Francesco Patera, a 28-3 veteran as the co-feature beneath George Kambosos-Maxi Hughes in a card broadcast by ESPN. The fight lands smack in the middle of a news and gossip cycle that heavily features him, in relation to names he’s either called out or is inherently tied to. Frank Martin, whom Davis has repeatedly mentioned wanting to fight, was in action last weekend, edging out a decision win over Artem Harutunyan. On the same night, his amateur conqueror Cruz, made his professional debut in defeating Juan Carlos Burgos.
As a result, there have been comparisons aplenty, with seemingly everyone watching either fight visualizing how a fight between them might play out against Davis. But it isn’t just Martin and Cruz whom Davis gets compared to or fantasy booked against. Given his status as a top-flight prospect verging on contender, Davis finds himself mentioned by, or on behalf of, fighters everywhere from the prospect realm to the top of the 135-pound division.
“A lot of fighters that feel like they're ahead of me,” said Davis before stopping to stress the last line. “Feel like they're ahead of me. They're saying stuff, he's still this, he's still that, he needs to do this, take his time here, take his time there. I just feel like in reality, me knowing me, those guys can't f--- with me now, and when it comes time to actually fight them, they damn sure can't f--- with me then. I'm gonna make them eat their words.”
Davis’ self-assuredness is buoyed by the mentors he’s had in the past and ones he has with him in the gym to this day. But it’s also anchored by the knowledge that he’s battled through things much more difficult to handle than attention or criticism from the boxing audience. The 24-year old has been open about his mental health battles, which hit their apex when he was in high school. Davis admitted to experiencing suicidal thoughts, and was admitted to a mental health facility where the strings from his shoes and hoodie were taken from him—“you know why,” he's said. During that time, Davis encountered other children, some younger than him, dealing with similar struggles and found inspiration in their bravery. From then on, he committed to being an inspiration for others.
“The worst battles are the ones with yourself. I went through that before all this fame, all this glitz, all this glamour. So all of this is like, I know where I came from. I can have all of this and still be where I came from. After all this, after the door closes and I go home, after a fight I'm sore as sh!t and I'm back to reality, it's all about just being who you are, carrying things, being who you are and what makes you happy,” said Davis. “This is like a bonus. I'm in my element. If I'm giving them nothing to talk about, then who am I?”
“People can call me a rookie, people can call me a prospect, people can call me trash, people can call me Andy Cruz's father, son, people can call me whatever they want. I don't care. I'm winning a world title next year. Tell them I said that.”