After withstanding a nightmare, boxer Keyshawn Davis is living two dreams at once (2023)




COLORADO SPRINGS — Keyshawn Davis bounces around the gym with the joy of a man living two dreams at once. He shakes hands with visitors, hard, and reminds them to pay attention because the boxer in front of them soon will be standing on a platform in Tokyo with a gold medal around his neck.

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The rare Olympic boxer who has three professional fights to his name, Davis is back with the USA Boxing that once cut him, thanks to a rule quirk resulting from the pandemic.

“A win-win,” he calls the circumstances that have given him another shot at a goal he thought he had been forced to surrender.

He sees it as a promotional dream because Olympic boxers almost always have extra intrigue when they turn pro and he will emerge from the Olympics already 3-0 as a professional. He proudly declares that he has no agent — “I rep myself” — and won’t have to use a promoter until after he’s world champion. Because, of course, he is sure he’s going to be a world champion.

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Technically, his mother, Wanda, represents him, with advice from a lawyer familiar with the sports business. But already two of his three fights have been on Canelo Alverez cards, the most recent coming before 73,126 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.


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“I could just do partnerships [until then] because the Olympics could put you on that level of promotion that you could skip your building up years in professional,” he says.

Davis, who will compete at 63 kilograms, is so ecstatic, so thrilled, that it’s jarring when his voice goes low and his face drops. He has a story to tell, he says. He wants to talk about the time when his life got dark.

Out of place

Davis was 17 when he left his hometown of Norfolk, where he had spent his whole life, learning to box at a gym in a park near his house, along with his two brothers.

At USA Boxing’s top camps, he often sparred with 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson, and not long after the Rio de Janeiro Games, Stevenson and his coach Kay Koroma encouraged him to train with them in Alexandria. Though Davis still had a year left in high school, Wanda reluctantly allowed him and his younger brother, who also boxed, to move in with his older sister, Shanice, who had just been hired as an elementary school teacher in the Washington D.C. suburb.


Almost immediately, Davis felt out of place at his new school. Alexandria was a cosmopolitan community with people from all over the world. His Norfolk neighborhood had been almost completely Black. He couldn’t relate to his new classmates and struggled to meet people. He refused to ride the school bus back to Shanice’s apartment, instead taking long, lonely walks home.

“I was like shutting down mentally and just carried me to a deep, deep, deep, dark-state-of-mind depression,” he says. “And it was like, ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody any more.’”

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Shanice could tell something was wrong. Even though Keyshawn was younger, he always had felt like the family’s protector, the one who kept everyone smiling and laughing. Suddenly, he was quiet and withdrawn. He started missing boxing practices.

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He started spending time in the office of his school counselor, Jess Terry, just to sit, saying little. Terry sensed that he was asking for help but didn’t know how. She encouraged him to write down his thoughts. One day he showed her what he wrote. His words alarmed her. She called Shanice, who urged Keyshawn to go to a hospital, where doctors began asking him questions.


“Do you see things?

“Do you wish you were dead?”

“Are you suicidal?”

“Are you homicidal?”

He says he answered “yes” to all of them, though he also says he didn’t necessarily feel all these things. But it was late at night, and he was confused and despondent and not exactly sure what was going on. When Wanda was called, the hospital recommended putting Keyshawn in what she calls a “behavioral center.” At first, she resisted, hoping he could enter therapy, but the hospital workers worried he might harm himself.

So early the next morning, Davis was taken to a facility near Newport News. The ambulance drivers strapped him in a gurney for the 2½-hour drive. He spent a week there, mostly in sessions with children less than half his age. But he learned strategies for how to handle what he now calls “an anxiety attack.” When he moved back to Alexandria two weeks later, he wasn’t completely his old self, but he was significantly better.

“While this sounds like a sad story, it has a bright outcome,” Shanice says. “It definitely benefited him. He took off. He’s so confident now. He learned a lot of skills to manage his emotions.”

A dream restored

Keyshawn Davis sees that time as “a blessing.”


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“I know this is what God wanted me to do because I feel like all that happened for a reason,” he says. “He had me go through a mental breakdown before I even started my career. So when I get into my career, I know how to be strong mentally in certain areas. I know how to cope with things. I know how to do this.”

Not long after leaving the hospital, he went back to the gym. He won the Elite National Tournament in consecutive years and finished second in the 2019 Pan Am Games. That same year he made the Olympic team. Then came 2020.

For the first few months of the pandemic, USA Boxing kept planning tournaments only to see them canceled. The team called training camps, but it was hard for Davis to get excited for camps that weren’t going to lead to tournaments. Back home, Wanda had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Keyshawn took time away from boxing to help her, frustrating USA Boxing officials who wanted him at their camps.


When he did come to camps, he violated pandemic rules by leaving the campus a couple of times, two people with knowledge of the situation say. At the end of 2020, USA Boxing decided to cut him.

“Oh, that was difficult,” says U.S. coach Billy Walsh, who finds Davis “very intelligent and very driven.”

But then the pandemic that postponed the Olympics also forced the cancellation of the April qualifying tournament that would decide the five slots in each weight class that North and South American countries would get at the Olympic boxing tournament. This forced the Boxing Task Force that runs Olympic boxing to use rankings to fill those five slots from what is called the “Americas” region. Because of the pandemic, Davis’s replacement on the U.S. team hadn’t fought in any tournaments, so he didn’t have many points.

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A five-year old rule that allows professionals to box in the Olympics offered USA Boxing an opportunity. Because Davis would have had enough points built up in international amateur tournaments before his dismissal to qualify for one of the Americas spots, he could be added as an at-large, meaning he could be an Olympian after all.


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Walsh and a USA Boxing executive called Davis to tell him just as he was entering a camp before his last fight.

“So what are you saying? I can come back to the Olympics? I can get back on the team after I basically got kicked off?” he says he told them.

The reversal was so sudden, Davis took a few days to consider whether he wanted the spot. But the Olympics always had been a dream, even if one he had given up on. And there was also Cuba’s Andy Cruz.

No fighter has tormented Davis more than Cruz, the 25-year-old, two-time world amateur champion. They fought three times in 2019, and Cruz won every time, though most everyone around USA Boxing is sure Davis should have won at least one of those fights. The way Davis sees it, his time as a professional has taught him a lot. He is a smarter fighter now, more patient. He wants Cruz one more time almost as much as he wants a gold medal.


“He ain’t comfortable,” Davis says of Cruz realizing he’s back in the Olympics. “Trust me: He’s not comfortable.”

And then Davis laughs again. He makes fists with his hands. He almost seems ready right now, ready for the Olympics, ready to go back to being a pro, ready for life. He has told Terry he would like to talk to kids who are struggling with their own anxiety and depression but can’t express those thoughts.

“He can have this platform where he can talk about mental health,” she says. “What a role model he will be.”

“Keyshawn can be whatever he wants to be,” Walsh says.

As the events of the past month have shown, that includes being an Olympian and a professional at once.

More about the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics have come to a close.

  • The Closing Ceremonies brought the Olympics to an official end much the same way the international spectacle began: in a near-empty stadium. It was a fitting end to a complicated Games.
  • Up next: The Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4, 2022. Here’s an early look at the next Games.
  • Fewer and fewer cities want to host the Olympics, columnist Barry Svrluga writes. That should tell the IOC something.
  • The United States finished the Tokyo Olympics with 113 total medals, including 39 gold. China was next best with 88 total and 38 gold. Here’s the complete medal count.

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