The last place Howard Davis should have been on Saturday was in a fistfight with Hector Camacho at Convention Hall in Atlantic City. Weakened by the flu—and given no better than an even chance had he been healthy—Davis was no match for Camacho's speed of hand and quickness of foot. Two judges gave him three rounds, another two, and that was generous.
With time running out on his quest for a championship, Davis was desperate. The fight was only a 10-rounder, but the winner had been promised a shot at Terry Marsh, the IBF junior welterweight champion. Of the five American boxers who won Olympic gold medals in Montreal in 1976, only Davis has not graduated to a world title. He had already failed twice, against Jim Watt in 1980 and against Edwin Rosario in 1984.
Moving up from the lightweight ranks, which he ruled as the WBC champion, and unbeaten in 31 bouts, Camacho, 24, was hungry too. Davis wants a title; Camacho, who already has two (he was the WBC junior lightweight champ), wants respect.
"I don't know what people want from me," Camacho said before the fight. "I've won two championships. I am unbeaten. I'm cute. I win that third title—and then a fourth—and people will know how good I really am."
For the moment, Camacho has put Marsh on hold. He has been offered $2 million to fight Ray Mancini, the retired former lightweight champion, who has been hinting at a return to the ring if the opponent is Camacho. "But I'm not hanging around for Mancini to make up his mind," Camacho said. "I'll give him just two weeks to put his name on a contract, and then I'm gone. I'm the only guy who can make him any money."
Mancini claims no one has offered him anything. "Camacho must be silly from taking too many punches," he said. "He needs me; I don't need him. I'm the guy he'll make big money with."
If a match with Mancini isn't made, Camacho will fight Marsh. "And then Rosario," growled Camacho, who decisioned the now WBA lightweight champ in a title defense last June. "People say I'm moving up because I'm afraid of fighting him again. I couldn't make 135 pounds now if I cut off a leg." Indeed, Camacho had trouble making 141 for the Davis fight.
Pound for pound, Camacho and Davis may have the fastest hands in eight-ounce mittens. "But not this time," warned Davis, who entered the fight with a 29-3-1 record but just 12 knockouts. "Maybe you'll see speed from him, but from me you'll see power. There is a monster inside of me, and it is telling me I am going to knock him out. And everybody knows I never predict a knockout."
Apparently with good reason. Standing tall and flat-footed, Davis abandoned his trademark style of track-meet combat and went for the quick ending. The strategy was sound; the result was the same as if he had tried to throw a saddle on a thoroughbred in full gallop. The afternoon air took a fierce beating.
Camacho amassed points with commando strikes, starting with a right jab, a quick move inside and then a wicked barrage to the body before darting out of harm's way. By midfight, Camacho had Davis covering up and making little or no attempt at a counterassault. Davis won the 10th round on two of the three judges' cards, but by then it was too late.
"No, I am not about to give up," said Davis, his face gaunt but unmarked. "I feel I am still destined to be a champion. Nothing has happened to make me lose that belief in myself."
Davis still has time. Yes, he is 31, but a young 31. He will have no trouble finding top-quality people to fight. With two losses and a draw in his last four bouts, he now qualifies as an "opponent." But he's also a household name that all the hot young guns would like to put on their resumes. Of course, some of them might not like the way it reads after they fight him. One thing is sure: Camacho is the last guy who will ever catch him coming out of his sickbed.
Davis could do little but protect himself against a hail of Camacho combinations.