The vast majority of Olympic hopefuls will continue on for the Tokyo Games in 2021. The U.S.’ top boxer at last year’s world championships said he might not.
Such is the conundrum in boxing, the rare sport where going pro usually means giving up an Olympic dream.
Keyshawn Davis, the world silver medalist in the lightweight division, remains undecided whether to start fighting professionally or wait another year for what would likely be his one and only Olympics.
“The Olympics is most definitely huge, I’m not going to lie,” Davis said earlier this week on BBC Radio. “My whole life, you can basically say I’ve been training for the Olympics. Because all my life I’ve been amateur and fighting amateur. The biggest pedestal [in amateur boxing] is the Olympics. Since I almost got there and had it taken away from me [in 2020], it’s most definitely a big life switch, a life-changing moment, honestly.”
Davis said then that he was 70 percent sure he would turn pro. Later on Thursday, he preferred not to put a percentage on his decision. He plans to announce his decision early next week, perhaps as early as Monday, on his Instagram.
“I’ve been talking to my family about it,” Davis said by phone Thursday. “The decision probably wouldn’t take that long.”
Davis, a 21-year-old from Virginia, was to fight to qualify for the Olympics in Buenos Aires this weekend. That Americas qualifier was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic that halted global sports and postponed the Olympics until next year.
Davis is the middle brother in a set of fighters (older Kelvin and younger Keon). His silver at worlds matched the best Olympic or world finish for a U.S. male boxer since 2007.
Boxing’s biggest names fight no more than a few times per year. That kind of life conflicts with amateur boxing. Davis fought five times in eight days at the world championships in September. While boxing opened a qualification path for professionals in the last Olympic cycle, the world’s top fighters didn’t cross over.
A FiveThirtyEight study using statistics from Olympedia and the OlyMADMen showed 87 percent of Olympic boxers do not return for a second Games. Only soccer has a higher one-and-done rate. Olympic men’s soccer is largely restricted to under-23 players, meaning veteran World Cup stars typically do not compete in the Olympics.
“A whole ‘nother year, man. I don’t feel like I have to wait for that, honestly,” Davis said. “I feel like within that time frame, if I do turn pro, I can give myself four to five fights within that year. With a big signing bonus, so I can be way more comfortable than what I am now. I feel like the Olympics, it can put you on a higher pedestal, but not that much higher.”
Davis said he is not struggling financially. And he also can’t predict when professional boxing will return, clouding his decision-making.
One of his role models is 2016 Olympic bantamweight silver medalist Shakur Stevenson. They’ve known each other since their early teens. Stevenson brought Davis to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as a sparring partner before the Rio Games.
Stevenson, the 2013 World junior champion at 16 and the 2014 Youth Olympic champion, said he considered going pro rather than a Rio Olympic run. Though Stevenson tearfully lost the Rio Olympic final, he doesn’t regret it and believes that it helped his career in the long run.
But a one-year delay?
“That’s a whole different type of situation,” said Stevenson, who is 13-0 as a pro and the WBO featherweight champion. “It’s hard to tell what I would do in that situation. … That’s a real difficult decision. Only thing I will say is that even pros right now, they’re not even really getting fights. Even going professional probably would be a decision that’s not too really smart right now.”
Stevenson had a fight planned at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago that had to be canceled.
“Whatever decision [Davis] makes, he’s going to be straight,” Stevenson said. “He’s a hell of a fighter.”
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