Past, Present, Future: Youth meets success at the Downtown Boxing Gym

by John G. Rodwan, Jr.

It takes determination to excel in boxing, and David Davis has it. He had it as a small ten-year-old who wanted to learn how to box in order to defend himself against bigger kids who picked on him. He persuaded his reluctant mother to let him start working out at the Downtown Boxing Gym in on Saint Aubin in Detroit and competing in amateur boxing tournaments. He displayed it again three years later in fall 2011, when he became the 85-pound champion at the 2011 PAL Nationals in Toledo, Ohio.

David envisions more accomplishments for himself. In the short term this means fighting in more tournaments, finishing up at Nichols Middle School and then attending high school (at Cass Tech, he thinks). In the long term, this means turning professional and eventually becoming a promoter.

His grades are “good but could be better,” David says. They have improved since he began boxing. His trainer, Khali Muhammad, asks him and the other kids he works with to show him their report cards. If his grades weren’t good enough, David told me, Khali would make him “do more push-ups” and work with the tutors in the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that aims to use the social, physical and competitive aspects of boxing to cultivate qualities – discipline, commitment, tenacity, self-reliance, respect – to encourage success outside the ring as well as in it. Like the Police Athletic Leagues that stage amateur competitions, the program perpetuates a long tradition of belief that boxing can be beneficial not only for individuals but also for communities.

In addition to his schoolwork, David undertakes research projects of his own. While he admires current-day boxers like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Victor Ortiz, David is also a student of boxing history. He looks up fighters on the internet in order to learn their moves. He likes Mike Tyson because he was “strong, competitive and always came forward,” and admires Muhammad Ali’s quickness. He sees posters of Ali every day at the gym, and has one on the wall at home.

David admits that he doesn’t especially like to train but goes to the gym Monday through Friday because that’s “part of the sport.” What he does like is hard fights, he says. He also likes that in boxing he doesn’t have to depend on teammates and only has to depend on himself. But he’s quick to praise Khali, his “great coach,” because he “doesn’t want to take all the credit.” Khali, founder of the Youth Program, not only teaches him and makes sure he exercises; he also arranges for him to travel, picks him up and gets him to where he needs to go. Indeed, many young fighters from have had the opportunity to travel to other states because of their participation in the program.

Every sport is dangerous, David concedes. Yet he’s never been injured in a fight, he claims, though he has been hurt (but “not bad”) in sparring. He believes (as Ali did) that football is more dangerous than boxing. He much prefers boxing to mixed martial arts, which he thinks is far more harmful than boxing. “You can really get hurt in UFC,” he says. “Boxing will always thrive,” he confidently states. “It’s the past, present and future if you ask me.”

His mother, Sheba McKinney, can accept David’s involvement in the sport in the present, but isn’t sure she’ll want to watch him in the ring when he and his opponents are bigger. “You don’t have to box,” she tells him. “You could become a commentator.” With what he’s learned at the gym, David could probably achieve whatever he sets his mind to doing.

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