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American Top Team fighters at UFC 195 reflect on Howard Davis Jr.'s legacy

Howard Davis won a gold medal in boxing at the 1976 Olympics.
Howard Davis won a gold medal in boxing at the 1976 Olympics.
Tony Duffy/Getty Images

LAS  VEGAS -- Remember when Mike Brown punished opponents with his fists during his heyday as WEC featherweight champion?

That was in large part Howard Davis Jr.'s doing.

Brown, a native of Maine, found his groove as a fighter when he relocated to Coconut Creek, Fla., and joined the American Top Team in 2005. With Davis as his boxing coach, Brown went on a 10-fight tear and finished Urijah Faber at the peak of his popularity to win WEC gold back when that belt signified the best in the world at 145 pounds.

"That was him, man," Brown said. "I owe so much to him. He was my boxing coach and it's no accident the strides I made with him."

Davis, a 1976 Olympic boxing gold medalist who had a long affiliation with ATT, passed away Wednesday at age 59 after a battle with lung cancer.

And with both headliner Robbie Lawler and undercard competitor Dustin Poirier representing the Top Team on Saturday, memories of Davis were on everyone's mind at Thursday's UFC 195 media day.

"Many people are saddened by this, he touched a lot of people," said Brown, who is now a respected trainer at the gym. "He was just fun to be around, man. He's always joking, always having a good time, a great person."

Davis was named Most Outstanding Boxer at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal after winning the gold medal at lightweight. He went on to a standout pro career in which he fought for four world titles and finished with a record of 36-6-1.

And while many in the boxing game were resistant to the nascent sport of mixed martial arts in the early days, Davis embraced MMA, joining with ATT in 2002, not long after Ricardo Liborio and Dan Lambert founded the school.

"That's a credit to Dan Lambert and Liborio when they made the team, being smart enough to bring him on," Brown said. "They knew what the team needed, a world class boxing coach and you got Howard Davis. Who knows boxing more than that guy? Not many. He loved it. He worked hard and appreciated everything, it showed."

Davis left ATT in 2011 and went on to promote events in South Florida. Brown, for his part, appreciates that in his later years, Davis gave young fighters a platform to get noticed.

"When he left the team, he started branching off, he started promoting his own shows, creating a niche," Brown said. "He gave a lot of fighters homes and places to show their skills and build and get to a show like this."

For his part, Poirier, who meets Joseph Duffy on Saturday, arrived in South Florida after Davis ended his formal affiliation with ATT. But Poirier has a strong friendship with Davis' son, Dyah Ali Davis, who is a boxing coach at the gym.

Because of the death of his father, Davis won't be in Poirier's corner Saturday night, the first time that's happened since he joined the gym. Poirier is dedicating his fight to the Davis family.

"I met Howard a few times, I'm really good friends with his son," Poirier said. "He's my boxing coach, he's been in my corner every fight since I've been to American Top Team. Howard's been a huge part of American Top Team, an awesome guy. It's been a sad day."

Poirier recalled that Davis the elder did make time for him, even though he was no longer an official part of the team. They worked out once together and Davis instantly latched on to the fact he felt Poirier, who was fighting at featherweight, belonged back at lightweight, advice Poirier finally followed this year.

"He sat down with me and we talked about my weight cut to '45 and all kinds of stuff," Poirier said. "He was telling me I should go up in weight. We just sat in a boxing gym and he kind of drilled me with questions, the first time I met him, kind of feeling me out. Right away he drilled me about being at '45."

Lawler, who defends his lightweight title against Carlos Condit in the main event Saturday, had the least amount of interaction with Davis among those in Las Vegas this week. But his words still resonated about the respect Davis commanded.

"I came in after he left," Lawler said. "But when someone has an impact like Howard had on the gym, it's there even after they leave. He had an impact on the gym and a legacy that lives on."