Column: Surrounded by drugs, death and prison, Gervonta Davis and Calvin Ford saved each other

Calvin Ford was in the middle of a conversation when his phone rang. He looked at the caller ID.

“One of my co-defendants,” he joked.

Ford laughed.

He is now 57 years old, more than three decades after the blackmail and conspiracy charges that sent him to federal prison.

Ford maintains a slim build and youthful appearance, and recently strolled around LA Live in a black beanie, blue hoodie, gray basketball shorts, and white leggings. He never took off his sunglasses, not even when he was indoors.

With a warm smile and a high-pitched laugh, he didn’t look much like the tortured fictional character that was based on him.

Gervonta Davis celebrates with a cartwheel after defeating Mario Barrios.

(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Ford, a former Baltimore drug man who became a boxing instructor for at-risk youth on the city’s west side, was the inspiration for Dennis “Cutty” Wise from the HBO series “The Wire. ”.

While “The Wire” was characterized by its realism, Ford’s story is defined by extremes. There is more anguish. More death. Also triumph.

One of the guys who trained with Ford while “The Wire” was being produced has become a world champion. His name is Gervonta Davis and he will defend his lightweight title at Staples Center on Sunday against Isaac Cruz of Mexico. Ford will be in his corner as one of his coaches.

Ford has a vision for Davis, 27, to transcend his sport and transform the crime-infested community in which he grew up.

“He has a purpose that we don’t know yet and that he doesn’t understand yet,” Ford said.

Like Ford did not know yours.

In the 1980s, Ford was the lieutenant of a Baltimore drug distribution network run by Warren Boardley and Christopher Burrows. While his alter ego on television was a mercenary, the real-life Ford was the brains of the operation. Ed Burns, co-creator of “The Wire,” was a police detective investigating Ford’s gang.

“I ran the business,” Ford said. “I had to make sure that everything worked properly and that everyone did what they were supposed to do. And he was the one who paid them ”.

One of the gang’s killers was Reggie Gross, a heavyweight boxer whose resume includes losses to Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno, and Razor Ruddock. Gross is currently serving a life sentence for three murders of which he pleaded guilty in 1989.

Ford was sentenced to prison in 1988. He spent the next 10 years behind bars. When he was released, he vowed to turn his life around, going from dishwasher to manager at Phillips Foods.

The search for a place where he could train his son, then a teenager, led him to the Herring Run Recreation Center. Under the direction of the Baltimore Parks and Recreation Department, the center’s boxing classes moved to its current headquarters in the Penn-North community. Ford was hired to run the show.

When Gurley moved to New Jersey with his mother, he told his father, “I need you to stay with Shorty. [Davis] because you will be a good role model for him ”.

“Since then, he’s been glued to my side,” Ford said of Davis.

Davis had gone back and forth in foster care and group homes, as his mother was a drug addict and his father was in jail. At the time he entered the Upton Boxing Center, he was living with his grandmother.

“Calvin has always been that male figure in my life,” Davis said. “I think that many children who emerged in the time that I emerged needed that father figure. I really didn’t have it at home. “

Gervonta Davis lands a punch against Mario Barrios.

Gervonta Davis lands a punch against Mario Barrios during the WBA super lightweight title fight on June 26, 2021, in Atlanta.

(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Davis wasn’t the most gifted fighter Ford mentored, but he was the most focused, an invaluable trait in a community where the streets are always distracting.

Ford reminded the boxers that he lost.

Ramone Manley, their first National Silver Gloves Champion, was assassinated. Ronald Gibbs, a national-ranking amateur with Olympic dreams, was stabbed to death while defending his sister. Angelo Ward, a super featherweight, was shot outside his front door.

“Remembering it makes me sad, even sitting here talking to you,” Ford said.

Tragedies marked Davis, who regarded these boxers as his older brothers.

“I was younger than those guys,” Davis said. “I just learned from his mistakes. I know what to do and what not to do. I’ve been traveling since I was 10, so I’ve seen things bigger than Baltimore. My mindset was a bit different from everyone else. Everyone else’s was to stay on the streets. I was very focused on getting out of the neighborhood and off the streets. My focus was boxing. That was my escape. I followed that path and stayed close to my coaches. Now we’re here”.

Especially painful was the murder of Gurley, Ford’s son. He was gunned down in New Jersey in July 2013, just a day after Davis knocked out Rafael Casias to improve to 4-0.

“His son trained me and I had a close bond with him,” Davis said. “His son was a great guy. I think I received that energy from his son and then it was transmitted from the son to the father ”.

As Davis spoke, Ford sat next to him and nodded silently.

Now 25-0 and 24 knockouts, Davis has credited Ford with saving his life. Ford said the reverse is also true, that Davis and others like him have saved his life.

“The guys have kept me focused,” Ford said. “I can’t tell a boy not to do something and do it myself. So I had to keep my head centered. “

His message to Davis is based on the perspective he gained throughout his unusual journey.

“Live your life to the fullest,” Ford said. “You’ve only got one life. Be nice while doing it.

“You want people to love you or fear you. I prefer that people love me than fear me, because if they fear you, they will do something to you ”.

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Column: Surrounded by drugs, death and prison, Gervonta Davis and Calvin Ford saved each other

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