September Friday nights in Houston belong to a Texas frenzy called high school football, so it was not surprising that there were plenty of empty seats last week in the Summit where lightweight Howard Davis, one of the U.S. heroes of the 1976 Olympics, was scoring a bloody 10-round decision over highly ranked Termite Watkins. This didn't bother Davis. He has played to half-empty arenas before.
Overshadowed by the more flamboyant exploits of Olympic teammates Leon Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard and, lately, John Tate, Davis' development as a professional has been steady yet relatively unspectacular. Though that approach has been rewarding both financially and in terms of his maturation as a fighter, it has cost him in celebrity.
People expect more of their heroes, especially Olympic gold-medal winners who have $1.5-million contracts with CBS. It is not enough that Davis wins. Knights must fight great big dragons—little dragons don't count. Nor has it helped that Davis has chosen to be less active than Leonard, who has had 24 fights. Davis turned pro on Jan. 1, 1977 and the Watkins fight was only his 12th.
Davis has had his brilliant moments. In his fourth bout he knocked out Dom Monaco, a tough club fighter who hadn't been stopped in his previous 33 fights. His next match was against Arturo Pineda, who had fought Ishimatsu Suzuki of Japan, then the WBC lightweight champion, to a draw in a world-title bout. Davis stopped Pineda in three.
Giancarlo Usai was the Italian lightweight champion and was ranked No. 2 in the world by The Ring magazine when he met Davis. In more than 40 fights Usai had been knocked out only once, by Ken Buchanan, the former world lightweight titleholder, in 12 rounds. Davis stopped him in the third round. And in the bout before the one with Watkins, Davis knocked out Jose Hernandez, the Mexican lightweight champion.
"Heck," says Hank Kaplan, a noted boxing historian from Miami. "If Davis had been fighting in the pretelevision days, the experts would have hung his managers for throwing him to the wolves. Compared to the great fighters from that era, Davis' progress has been nothing short of spectacular."
In making Watkins his 12th victim, Davis was beating the WBA's No. 4 lightweight contender and the WBC's No. 6. According to both the WBA and WBC Davis was No. 9.
Davis was paid $225,000 for the Watkins fight—$185,000 by CBS and $40,000 by the Houston promoters. He has three more fights remaining with CBS, each calling for $185,000, on a contract that runs until September of 1980.
CBS gave Davis $50,000 just for signing with it in 1977. The contract also called for him to receive $40,000 for each of three six-rounders; $50,000 for each of six eight-rounders, and $185,000 per fight for six 10-rounders.
After Davis' sixth fight it was decided that he was ready to move up to 10-rounders ahead of schedule, and the contract was rewritten, giving him $100,000 for each of his first three 10-round fights. And there was a clause stipulating that, should Davis be injured either in or out of the ring, CBS would pay him $4,000 a month for the life of the contract. But after some pressure from a House subcommittee that was examining television's growing involvement in boxing, CBS dropped its exclusive rights to Davis' fights, leaving him free to box on any network. Obviously, Howard Davis is a wealthy young fighter with a lot of earning potential, considering that he has had only 12 pro fights.