Much is made of the role of the coach in boxing – and rightly so. In the sport, many trainers and coaches pride themselves on expertise in a certain aspect of the sweet science. Cus D’Amato’s name became synonymous with the peek-a-boo style deployed so effectively by a destructive Mike Tyson; Freddie Roach’s with basic improvements of a fighter’s fundamental strengths – particularly in offense; Angelo Dundee’s with a focus on balance between all aspects of attack and defence, as well as a sixth sense for what an opponent will do next, allowing the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman to have such success in the sport.
Ben Davison’s ego — an ego that he recently stated is crucially “left at the door” of any boxing gym he walks into — wouldn’t allow his own name to be within striking distance of any of those legendary names, but the youngster is fast proving many of the critics wrong who questioned his springboard onto boxing’s frontline just three years ago.
The story of how Ben Davison became Tyson Fury’s trainer is as bizarre as it is brilliant; an early indication of the enjoyment both men experience in their fighter and coach relationship. “I went down to Marbella and saw Ben training some boxers,” Fury told the Sunday Times.
“I was impressed with the way he worked and told him that he would be one of the world’s best trainers within five years.”
Tyson, being Tyson, didn’t deem this statement enough to see Davison through to the next round of his hypothetical interviews.
“Now I like to test people’s limitations, see if they’re game and confident. If you’re going to train somebody like me you have to be confident.”
“I was having coffee with Ben down at Puerto Banus and there were two very attractive girls walking down the front in bikinis. So I said, ‘Ben, if you go up to those girls and ask for their number, if you get it, you can be my trainer.’
“He was straight up and after them. Two minutes later he was back, waving a piece of paper, saying, ‘Here, I’ve got their number.’ I said, ‘Deal done, you’re my trainer.’”
A trivial tale of what is becoming one of boxing’s most infamous partnerships, perhaps, but the undercurrents of their newly-formed friendship were clearly the catalyst for change in a Tyson Fury who was on the edge – battling demons outside of the ring in a fight that looked to be going the distance.
Davison’s role is transparent as much as it is diverse. Speaking to the Telegraph, the former amateur boxer underlined the plethora of hats he has to wear when working with the “lineal” heavyweight world champion.
”On the one hand, I’m organiser, PR man, commercial manager, partly his manager, partly his adviser — every single part of his world I play a part in. But I’m a friend, trainer, psychologist, too. Tyson puts his trust in me. He trusts my opinion on things large and small.”
This is a side to the sport that has buried in ignorance for years. Earlier this year I wrote a piece entitled “Mental health in boxing: Fighting the longest, hardest fight” which highlighted the issues the sport has always struggled to tackle. Injury has always been known as physical, rather than encompassing all that goes on between the ears.
Davison oversaw Fury lose an incredible 10 stone in their first year of working together. As much as losing that amount of weight sounds physical, Davison’s ability to get Tyson willing to start the process mentally was the biggest challenge – one that I’m certain he still has to battle against daily.
Davison told the Telegraph: “For him to get to where he is now was not just a physical transformation, but more of a mental one. What you see physically is only a fraction of the transformation that took place.”
“The key is that I’m not a ‘yes’ man. People make that assumption simply because of the age difference. There are times when he wants to train and I’d like him to rest. But I knew if I said no, he’d be in a bad mood going into the next day. Training is his medicine. Knowing what’s best is part of having a relationship and gelling together.
“I’m aware of the influence I can have on him. But he’s got a flamboyant style and personality. That shows in his performances, his ring walk and media work. It’s just him expressing who he is in and out of the ring. It’s just Tyson. It’s all natural. To see where’s he’s come from, though, is unimaginable.”
Davison’s willingness to learn and adapt is a huge string to his ever-growing bow. Freddie Roach joining Fury’s camp prior to the Deontay Wilder fight would have put many trainer’s noses out of joint – not Davison’s. He is appreciative of any knowledge he can acquire in this ever-changing sport, however, unbeknownst to him, Davison may well be spearheading this modern hunger to tweak aspects of a fighter’s game inside and outside the ring. In modern sport, there is an increasing appetite for finding marginal gains.
Davison has assisted Fury to fall back in love with boxing; back in love with competition; back in love with life. If we are slowly beginning to realise that the mental side of this sport is just as important as the physical, then the rewards a positive mindset can allow a fighter to enjoy should be harboured by a trainer.
Davison is in the infancy of his new career, but his unique blend as a modern coach should not be overlooked, nor underestimated.