In 2014, the noted baseball writer Bill James conducted a study where he determined eight factors that indicated "younger player" skills vs. "older player" skills. Those with "younger" skills had more triples, more stolen base attempts and a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. Players with "older" skills had better command of the strike zone, less speed and more grounded into double plays.
A key part of James' study was an examination of players who were the same age to see if those with "younger" or "older" skills would go on to have a better future. Prior to the study James had a belief that players with younger skills would do better and the results of his study validated his opinion. Those with younger player skills did in fact do better than those with older ones. Although the differences weren't stark, they were present in the data.
Similar to baseball, I believe that boxing has certain components that would suggest younger vs. older skills, irrespective of the actual age of a boxer. For instance, I would suggest that boxers with "older fighter" skills have a more developed punch arsenal and their knockout percentage starts to go down. (I know that many in boxing like to say that power is the last to go, but I believe this aphorism is erroneous. Consider those top fighters who stuck around into their late 30s and 40s. The knockouts start to evaporate. Think about Mayweather or Pacquiao or Hopkins or Ali. Compare their knockout percentages in the last five years of their career to an earlier point. Even the great Juan Manuel Marquez only had three KOs in his last ten fights, same with George Foreman – three out of his last ten).
Other older fighter skills include more poise in the ring, a clear ring identity and a more economical punch volume. Now some of these factors can be studied numerically and others are observations I have drawn over my years of watching boxing. If you disagree, I would welcome your comments as to why you believe differently.
And what are "younger fighter" skills? Much more movement. More reliant on knockouts. Boxers with younger fighter skills don't have as defined a ring identity. It's less clear how they want to try to win. They have a more limited punch arsenal. Their athleticism is more advanced than their ring craft.
All of this is prelude to specific feelings I have about Keyshawn Davis. Davis is one of the most unusual young fighters I have seen in my time covering boxing. He is preternaturally poised. Nothing seems to bother him in the ring. He's not in any type of hurry. He places his punches patiently and expertly. Although he has a respectable 60% KO rate in his ten pro fights (I'm counting his recent "no-contest" against Nahir Albright in this data), I don’t think that he’s a huge puncher. He already has a developed ring style as a patient counterpuncher. He throws every punch in the book.
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
But what is most interesting to me is his energy level as a young fighter; he wastes no energy. Everything he does is purposeful. He's not punching himself out or fatiguing himself, which many young fighters do when they first face initial resistance. But as a corollary to that, he doesn't seem to have those additional top gears that many young fighters possess. He hasn't had to go to the well in his career, but he also doesn't try. What is in his reserve? Does he have a reserve?
What I suspect is that Keyshawn Davis will not have a better career moving forward than that of his frequent sparring partner, Shakur Stevenson, despite Davis being two years younger. To me, Stevenson still has many of the young fighter skills that would suggest a longer and better future. His athleticism is top tier. He still moves a lot. His reflexes are as sharp as they can be. He continues to add to his offense, not just in the types of punches he throws but also his temperament in the ring. He's still discovering things about himself in the ring. And Shakur has the ability to turn it up when needed.
With the stipulation that both fighters stay out of trouble, I would take the next ten years of Stevenson's career over Davis' without any hesitation. I can still see areas where Stevenson can continue to refine, but what Davis may lack are factors associated with youthful zeal. He may already be close to his finished product even though he's just ten fights in.
In his last fight, Davis only threw 331 punches in ten rounds, averaging just over 33 punches a round, a troubling number for a young fighter without true knockout power. That result, a majority decision victory, was subsequently overturned after Davis failed a drug test (the early scuttlebutt was marijuana). In the fight before, he threw 465 punches over ten rounds, a much better number, but certainly not an overly active total in the lightweight division. In his fight against Omar Tineda in 2022, he again failed to reach 40 punches per round.
As a point of comparison, Stevenson threw close to 50 punches a round against Oscar Valdez and was well above the 50-per-round mark against Jamel Herring. And those two opponents were of much higher quality than anyone who Davis has fought. Stevenson also doesn't set punch volume records, but as he has become more offensively oriented, he has increased his punch volume considerably, demonstrating his significant athletic reserves, a key trait of younger fighter skills.
Now I don't believe that Davis will become a bust, but I do think that he will have an earlier peak than many fighters. I have no doubt in his ability to win a world title in the next two to three years. I just don't think that he will be the guy to hang around into his late 30s. I'm not sure that he has the athletic reserves or the temperament to compete for that long. I believe that his future is now. I don't see a long decade-like reign on the pound-for-pound list.
Now it's possible that I will wind up with egg on my face. And I'm prepared to accept that. Maybe Davis will incorporate a different strength-and-conditioning regime. Perhaps his self-perception of how he wants to fight will change, leading him to increase his tempo and urgency. But based on what I've seen to this point, I wouldn't expect him to suddenly turn into an offensive dynamo in the ring.
For several fights, something hasn't sat right with me while watching Davis and I think that the Bill James older skills vs. younger skills rubric helped me realize what it was. We are watching a very advanced fighter in the ring. Davis is 24 right now, but if you think of him as 29 or 30, I think that's far more appropriate. He may only have three of four more prime years left.