Keyshawn Davis began 2021 not of the belief that he would not join the U.S. boxing team in Tokyo.
He is now the nation’s best shot at a Gold medal.
The blue-chip prospect and number-one ranked American lightweight edged Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov to advance to the men’s lightweight final Friday afternoon at Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
Davis won outright 29-27 on two cards, and was the preferred winner on three cards that had the bout even 28-28 after three rounds. Per Olympic rules, any fight that does not end with a majority winner requires judges who score the bout even to select an overall winner.
With that, Davis is the first American lightweight since 1992 to take a shot at Gold. The last to do so was Oscar De La Hoya, who won it all in Barcelona.
Davis jumped out to a strong start, cleanly outboxing the aggressive Bachkov in the opening round of the lightweight semifinals between two pro boxers. Davis swept round one in the eyes of all five judges and with one more like it putting him in the final round.
That dream would have to wait at least another three minutes.
Round two saw Davis deducted one point for holding, which Bachkov found a way to cut off the ring. The Armenian's come forward style became increasingly more difficult for Davis to solve, as reflected on the scorecards with three of the five judges scoring it in favor of Bachkov.
The fight was still on the table in the third and final round. Davis returned to what works best—power shots from the outside and then using his superior hand and foot speed to not allow Bachkov to seize momentum. It was more than enough to sweep the final round, forcing three of the five judges to then pick an overall winner.
Davis was initially kicked off of the team after not reporting to mandatory training camp earlier this year. The U.S. was prepared to only send two men and five women to Tokyo, with Davis turning pro where he holds a record of 3-0 (2KOs).
With the cancellation of the Pan Am Olympic Qualification tournament came a change in the manner in which amateurs from The Americas were allotted Olympic berths. Through his ranking with the Olympic Boxing Task Force (BTF), Davis was granted a slot along with fellow pros Duke Ragan and Troy Isley.
Four Olympic wins later, Davis is now fighting for Gold. His advancement to the lightweight final gives the U.S. team three boxers guaranteed Silver or better, the nation’s best Olympics haul since the 1988 squad that dominated Seoul, South Korea.
Davis opened the tournament with a three-round shutout of Netherland’s Enrico La Cruz. The win was followed by his repeat win over France’s Sofiane Oumiha, the number-two seed who Davis stopped inside of two rounds in the Round of 16. A narrow win over Gabil Mamedov (ROC) sent Davis into the medal round, giving the U.S. four total medals to match the total of the 2000 team that fought in Sydney.
Awaiting Davis in the Gold medal round is longtime amateur nemesis Andy Cruz, who is 3-0 in their series.
Cuba's Cruz dominated Australia's Harry Garside in their semifinal bout, sweeping every round on all five cards. Cruz put on a boxing clinic throughout the contest, forcing a standing eight count in round three in effortlessly advancing to the final round.
Garside joins Bachkov in claiming Olympic bronze.
Davis-Cruz takes place August 8.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox