“I've been travelin' on this road too long
Just tryin' to find my way back home
But the old me's dead and gone
Dead and gone.” - T.I. 2009
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By the time I enter the Wick Café, in Hackney’s Felstead Road, borough native Ohara Davies is safely back in his seat at one of the many wooden tables, picking at the remains of a late English breakfast. It’s past Midday but the super-lightweight contender is not a conventional man. He chose not to linger long in open sight, perhaps wary of autograph hunters. Or snipers. This is a fighter, after all, who built his name – or rather his profile – as Britain’s most hated boxer.
But that was the old Ohara Davies, not the one relaxing here amid an eclectic mix of workmen, hipsters and students, all surrounded by vibrant colours in a large eatery ominously framed by metal bars over the outside of its windows. These contrasts embody the diverse, trendy Hackney of 2018, a far cry from the perilous neighbourhood in which our subject was moulded, an urban jungle in which he routinely sold drugs and robbed innocent people. The “OD” character was an extension of his juvenile precursor, a venom-spewing heel that accrued column inches and fan opprobrium in equal measure. Think a less charming version of Eminem’s Slim Shady. It was however a persona that proved resilient, even surviving the 2017 capitulation to fast-rising Josh Taylor on terrestrial TV, thus far Davies’ only professional loss.
The last time Ohara and I spoke in depth, almost a year ago, he had admitted his brash, often offensive behaviour was mostly contrived – influenced by the WWE of the Attitude Era during which he grew up – though showed little inclination to consign it to history. And why would he? The occasional blip aside, Davies’ disrespect had kept him more relevant than many boxers with superior talent and achievements. He thus sauntered on, ignoring the many warning signs and without a care in the world, until December 29 2017, the day the line was crossed.
Engaged in a war of words with potential opponent Tommy Coyle on Twitter, Davies believed he was using his rival’s antipathy towards The Sun against him, when he declared he would give his “favourite newspaper” a post-fight interview after vanquishing the Hull man. Given the publication’s disgraceful reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy and resulting pariah status in Liverpool, added to Davies’ perpetual public needling of that city’s residents, many observers put the pieces together and decided “OD” had gone way too far this time.
“Charlie Sims, my manager at the time, sent me a text: ‘Tommy Coyle sent out a tweet saying he’s looking to get a fight, so why don’t you call him out, try and say something that’s gonna provoke him?’ Davies tells me now, the passage of time and a still-developing degree of maturity lending perspective to his recollections. “I thought, ‘I’m the perfect guy for that, I’ve been doing that throughout my whole boxing career.’ I remember Coyle said in a tweet that he doesn’t like The Sun because they exposed that he had employed a few criminals to work with kids in his gym. But, to be honest, I’d never heard of Hillsborough, I’ve said it time and time again.
“I started getting the backlash straight away but I wasn’t sure why. I knew the fans in Liverpool didn’t like me but coz Tommy Coyle is from Hull, it’s nothing to do with him. I couldn’t link it together. In Derry Mathews and Tom Farrell, I’d knocked out two fighters that Liverpool fans loved. They’ve always disliked me.
“Charlie Sims sent me a text, three or four hours after the tweet was sent. He asked me if I could take it down, then he sent me a message: ‘Sky Sports are unhappy with the tweet that you sent. Also, have you ever heard of the Hillsborough incident?’ Before I responded to the text, I Googled it and it was on Wikipedia. I was like, ‘Okay…’ but I still didn’t get the connection.”
Davies nonetheless disseminated a pair of apology videos the following day and while promoter Matchroom and Davies’ management team both agreed he had acted in ignorance, the former still officially suspended him, the latter removed the fighter from their February show and, on the surface at least, he was prevented from using the Matchroom gym where he had long trained under Tony Sims, Charlie’s esteemed father.
As 2018 began, all parties waited for the dust to settle. Davies insists he was never actually banned from the gym but agreed to stay away from the facility for a brief period to give the impression he had been sufficiently punished. The young, naïve Ohara remained hurt that his then-manager had not fought harder on his behalf.
“He had told me to put out a tweet to provoke Coyle in the first place,” an indignant Davies reiterates, scooping up his elusive baked beans with increasing urgency. “Then he didn’t defend me in any way, shape or form. I was thinking, ‘Are you not gonna be there for me? Are you not gonna say anything in my defence?’ The ‘suspension’ was all a front because they wanted to look a certain way in public. They phoned me and said if it looks like they condone what I’ve said they’ll lose their ‘friends up north’, they won’t sell any tickets in Liverpool, because the people up there are huge boxing fans. They wanted to play both sides.”
The disillusionment with Sims grew insidiously as, coincidentally, the end of their contract drew close. Ohara’s two brothers felt he could no longer trust his manager, that the man responsible for their sibling’s best interests had unforgivably let him down. Responding to this sentiment, and aware that leaving Sims would also likely mean splitting from his father and finding a new trainer, Davies entered into talks with management powerhouse, MTK Global, finding their straightforward approach distinct from his altered perception of Sims.
“I didn’t trust him 100 per cent,” Davies says, sensibly treading carefully. “And I knew eventually I would have to leave Tony also. Tony Sims is an honest man, a really good man, used to encourage me to go to church and invest my money, sometimes he didn’t take any cut from my fight purse. But Charlie, I’ve got my doubts. The most obvious example is when he asked me to send a tweet then threw me under the bus when it backfired.
“After I spoke to MTK, I met Charlie, Tony and Eddie Hearn. Charlie texted me the next morning and advised me to stay with them but said ultimately it was up to me. I let a day go past then texted him, ‘Thank you for your help, I’d like to continue with my boxing career elsewhere.’ He said, ‘Me and dad would like to thank you for your time with us and we wish you the best for the future.’ That’s the last time I spoke to Charlie Sims, as he unfollowed me on all social media platforms, being the bitter guy that he is.”
Having severed ties with the Sims duo, who work exclusively with Matchroom fighters, Davies’ future with Eddie Hearn’s promotional behemoth looked tentative at best. Ohara states that Hearn did show a desire to keep him in the fold, albeit, crucially, only after he had entered into negotiations with rival Frank Warren.
“I didn’t want to leave Matchroom but after I split from Charlie and Tony, I sent Eddie Hearn a text saying, ‘I’d like to continue and could you let me know if that’s going to be an issue,’ and he didn’t respond to me,” Davies recalls, his memory for detail improving with his plate finally cleared. “I didn’t text him back, but I know he saw the text, so me and MTK started looking at Frank Warren. Matchroom was my first choice only because I had already been there for years but we was never under contract.
“A few days before I was meant to meet Frank to finalise everything, Eddie sent me a text, saying, ‘Give me a call when you can.’ This guy’s been ‘airing’ [ignoring] me all this time and I was like, ‘Damn’… so I phoned him. He said, ‘I heard you and Frank Warren are in talks and if you wanna go there, that’s fine, but we’ve been working with you for years, we’ve built up a decent working relationship, given you a platform and you’ve been built on our channel. It would be a shame for that to end.’ He offered me basically the same deal as Frank; the first show was going to be on the Dillian Whyte-Lucas Browne card in March. Then I spoke to MTK and said, ‘Eddie’s waited all this time to get back to me and only has now because he’s heard I’m in talks with Frank.’ I wasn’t too sure if Eddie just wanted to get one up on Frank, like, ‘Ohara would only go with you if we said no and you’re the second option,’ because that’s Eddie’s mindset. I told him I’d already verbally agreed a deal with Frank and, as a man and because I do respect Frank, I wasn’t going to turn back on a deal I’ve agreed to.”
Our interview takes an unscheduled break when Davies receives a call from his mortgage advisor. The 26-year-old is close to securing his first property, a two-bedroom apartment in Grays that offers the coveted permanence he has yet to find in his personal life. Davies has become accustomed to change, however unsettling. As a young child, his father abandoned the family, his mother was an intermittent influence due to mental health issues and Ohara and his three siblings were first separated then bounced around between various foster homes. Davies has since unsurprisingly gravitated towards strong male role models, but most of these partnerships have foundered. He still confides in his former amateur coach and saviour Tony Cesay, as well as first pro mentor Tunde Ajayi, although they are not as close as was once the case.
Latterly, Tony and Charlie Sims, swiftly followed by Hearn, have each fallen by the wayside. Intimate influences – and, in some cases, surrogate father figures - have frequently entered and exited his life.
“I feel like Tony Cesay, Tunde, I know that I can phone them at any time, but it’s not like it was before, still,” he reflects. “One thing I’ve learned about boxing is that it never lasts; they all leave. You’ve gotta say hello and you’ve gotta say goodbye. I would like something permanent in my life, even with girlfriends I’ve never had something that’s lasted over seven months. I’ve always wanted something to last. It’s a curse of life for me but now maybe I like it, subconsciously, being a bit of a loner.”
Assets may not be friends, but Davies’s current position as a key fighter for Warren and BT Sport should at least allow him to add to his portfolio and increase his bank balance, signs of prosperity both he and “OD” have always appreciated.
His Leicester main event opposing undefeated left-hander Jack Catterall on October 6 is Davies’ third bout under Warren and a pivotal one. It could prove redemptive or may ultimately confirm the worst things his critics say about a supposed ‘quitter’. Of some concern is that, despite a fresh regime implemented by current coach Miguel Dapenticul, Davies confesses he has lost his affection for the sport, ahead of the most important fight of his life. What remains in its place is a certain dogged determination, born of a nagging need to avoid failure, safeguard his lifestyle and, in doing so, keep proving the many doubters wrong.
“I’ve fought 19 times now, 19 camps, 19 different interviews, 19 weigh-ins, done it all time after time after time,” he says, wearily. “I’m very tired of it now. The buzz goes, the love for the game, it’s gone. But it’s a job and one I like. It pays for my lifestyle. I get some hot girls through this job, I get to do nice things, I’m going to buy my first flat and that’s all through boxing. I feel like I can maintain this lifestyle as long as I win and that’s what motivates me every morning, to get up and to run. I’m all about making progress in life, and boxing, to me right now, is a means to an end. I came from nothing, I came up hard and I’m coming for real.
“This is gonna be a really hard fight. He’s a good fighter, but I’m a great fighter, especially in the shape I’m in. I’m not gonna lose this fight; I’m gonna win. I’ve made up my mind to win this fight. When I make up my mind to win, I win. I don’t need to trash-talk, I need to put all of my energy into training.”
And, as if to underscore the point, he signals his intent to depart and get some much-needed rest, before making the long drive across to Wales for sparring with 7-0 southpaw JJ Evans, having already completed several rounds with Akeem Ennis Brown, unbeaten in 11 and the WBC Youth champion, plus 2-0 portsider Alfie Price and others.
Whatever the result against Catterall, he intends on an extended hiatus from boxing, affording himself some time to get to know the real Ohara Davies. The rest of us will presumably have to wait a little longer. As he climbs into his sleek Audi A5, grinning with something like pride, I perceive remnants of the venal Londoner that for a lengthy period sought only to anger the boxing world, but it’s no more than a passing shadow. Regardless of what the future may bring, we agree that “OD” can, now and forever, rest in peace.