AJ and Ben Davison — the new Haye and Booth?

March 10, 2024
2 mins read

Anybody who thought Anthony Joshua was going to carry Francis Ngannou for nine rounds, this weekend, as Floyd Mayweather Jr did with Conor McGregor back in 2017, was sorely mistaken. You don’t get paid for overtime in this sport, as the Watford man likes to remind us.

In Ben Davison, following stints with Robert Garcia and Angel Fernandez, Joshua has clicked with a trainer for the first time since leaving Rob McCracken, whose services were terminated after AJ’s first loss to Usyk. Davison has grown his reputation as a calm, analytical and personable trainer who hones in on maximising his fighters’ natural talents. He told IFL TV after the Ngannou fight:

“It has always been all AJ. We did not have a magic wand or anything; I just helped him select the right tools for the job.”

In 2018, Davison gained recognition for helping Tyson Fury lose a significant amount of weight following his extended period out of the ring, no doubt contributing to the ‘Gypsy King’ famously rising off the canvas in the 12th round to secure a controversial draw with Deontay Wilder, the perceived biggest puncher and most feared man in the sport at that time.

Davison was in Josh Taylor’s corner three years later when the Scot powered through José Ramírez to become Britain’s first undisputed world champion in the four-belt era. Speaking to Talksport after the victory, Taylor acknowledged Davison’s vital role in his success, saying:

“Coaching-wise, he is a really good coach. I think he is one of the best coaches in the world and he has got it spot on. The way he breaks fights down and watchers fighters to break it down and make a game plan into styles and the way I want to box.”

Arguably the London-born cornerman’s most notable achievement to date, however, is transforming Nottingham native Leigh Wood’s fortunes. Once seen as a boxer on the slide, Wood has enjoyed a stunning run of form that began during the pandemic with a victory over big puncher Can Xu in Eddie Hearn’s back yard at ‘Fight Camp’. Since then, he has triumphed in thrillers over Mick Conlan, Mauricio Lara, and Josh Warrington to become a two-time world featherweight champion.

In the lone bout that Wood lost during this period, his first encounter with Lara, Davison’s prescient decision to throw in the towel after a nasty knockdown earned him praise, ensuring Wood could come again.

Invariably, some sections of the public here become uncomfortable when our sporting representatives reach certain heights, so you still occasionally see Davison referred to as “Boxercise Ben” in YouTube’s comments section. This outdated barb stems from the time a 25-year-old Davison was thought to have been hired by Fury primarily for moral support, rather than his insight and coaching abilities. This view was implied by people such as Shane Fury, Tyson’s brother, who told IFL TV, “I could train Tyson myself” in the aftermath of the bout.

Davison addressed the online abuse in a video with Boxing UK last year, saying:

“The reality is I get results. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can make a judgement on coaching abilities. It’s probably to do with certain things I say or have said, which people take personally. Their judgement is made off their opinion of me as a person. But it’s part and parcel of the game – everybody gets criticised. I think my track record is proven.”

In this sense, Davison’s pairing with AJ, who has arguably received more undue criticism than any other boxer in recent memory, is one that suits both men. With an “us against the world” mentality, much like the one that Adam Booth and David Haye possessed during the Bermondsey man’s ascent (Booth said as much on Simon Jordan’s ‘Upfront’ podcast), AJ and Davison are more than the sum of their parts — and a frightening prospect for the rest of the division.

Of course, Joshua’s critics will point to the level of his last three opponents and, ultimately, the king of the heavyweight division will be decided when Fury and Usyk go toe-to-toe on May 18. Whoever that will be, there is a renewed feeling that, with Davison by his side, Joshua just might be able to steal their crown.

This post was originally published on my Medium.

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