‘All the world’s a stage.’
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
It is received wisdom that a first impression takes just seconds to draw and, more often than not, time only confirms it’s accuracy. Fighters, who must exist in a world where self-belief is paramount, can often exude, or wear like a cloak, an exaggerated confidence. It projects a barrier of protection and is intended to unnerve the opponent. A virtual stand off, a falsehood before the actuality of the physical contest.
The manner or tone of this adopted persona is crucial, not only for its authenticity but also because of its impact on the profile of the fighter, their ability to generate interest and, from that essential metric, their prospects of upward trajectory. If one of the biggest sporting businesses in the world, Manchester United PLC, can sign players based on their Instagram following, it isn’t hard to understand the correlation between opportunity and popularity.
One fighter who has chosen the most precarious version of this script; to gamble on the longer odds of creating dislike and contempt to motivate people to watch him fight, is Ohara Davies.
For a modest Light-Welterweight from London, Davies has opted for a bold costume in his bid to be cast, beyond his training, into a starring role. There are threads of Davies’ cloak of unpopularity that have been worn and tried on before, in the performances of predecessors Eubank and Hamed, if the insertion of Davies name besides those two isn’t too contemptuous a concept. The difference with Davies, above and beyond the talent in play, is there is no charm to his rendition, no wit, no twinkle in the eye to embellish the otherwise unsavoury and provocative barbs he shares with the infinity of the social media world we all inhabit.
There were times in Prince Naseem’s rise, and his reign, when he could be cruel, where the humour was absent but, save his denouement at the hands of Marco Antonio Barrera, he was always able to back up the boasts with performances. Eubank Senior broke the ‘fourth’ wall of the soap opera of boxing promotion by revealing he didn’t like it, nor many of the actors in it. Despite those protestations and the pearl clutching of many who should have known better, he still carved a watchable persona from his disestablishmentarianism, a word I used because I like to imagine Chris would approve were he to read this and I’ve always wanted to.
In victory, Eubank became respected, in defeat, when leaping two divisions to face the thunderous Carl Thompson, who would later stop David Haye, he would become beloved. But with either imposter, Eubank always gave everything of himself and always fulfilled the warrior rhetoric he honed over a life time of punishing contests and promotional monologue.
On Saturday night, Ohara Davies faces Jack Catterall for a belt of sarcastic value to the pithy and strategic value to the vested, in a fight which represents an opportunity for him to wrest back momentum to his career and apply substance to the hollow schtick of his self promotion. It is a career, and brand development, that crashed into the buffers of schadenfreude when the infinitely more talented and well schooled Josh Taylor destroyed him in seven rounds a year ago. A bout perhaps broadly equivalent to Nigel Benn’s surprise defeat to Michael Watson a generation ago; which is a cautiously drawn comparison, for Davies is no Dark Destroyer.
My first view of Davies in the flesh, and when that first impression to which I allude was forged, was the 2016 slumber party with the Italian Andre Scarpa, a performance the hipster fan may attribute positively to the accumulation of experience and an ability to box to a plan. For those of us present for the tedium of the hour it took for him to win, it holds a different meaning. Scarpa, I suggested in my fight report, would not last 3 rounds with the same aforementioned Dark Destroyer, who happened to be ringside too. But then Nigel was 53 at the time.
In Catterall, Davies faces an antidote of sorts. Unbeaten, quiet and with the hardened edge so often evident in those chiselled from the downtrodden towns of the North. A hardness frequently over looked in the face of the myopic ‘mean streets of London’ narrative. Davies may have the swagger, but Catterall will prove a great truth finder as to whether his more recognisable opponent is merely a pastiche of sound bytes, haircuts and tweets or, in growing from defeat, something more meaningful. Both will relish the opportunity Saturday’s fight will offer them and for all my contempt for some of Davies’ actions and words since he first entered my boxing consciousness, here I am writing about him and not, it has proved, his clean-cut, arguably more deserving opponent.
Perhaps proving Davies to be many things, but not the fool of the piece one assumes him to be.