Halifax boxing icon Dave Downey is looking forward to a special celebration at Casino Nova Scotia on Aug. 11, where friends and fans can come together to pay tribute to the man who made the Canadian middleweight boxing title his own personal property in the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s.
The amiable Downey, now 75 years old, had heard that part of the expected large crowd — for a night of speeches, reminiscing, good food and dancing — will include figures from his boxing past whom he hasn’t seen for a long time.
He only hopes he won’t be too emotional when so many great memories return with the appearance of old ring foes and friends.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Downey about going back in time to discuss the highlights and meet many of the interesting characters in a pro career that, according to boxing website BoxRec, saw him make his pro debut in 1960 and retire in 1977. The Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame lists his pro record as 38-4-2.
“This could make me break down (in tears),” he laughed. “I’ll see so many people I haven’t seen every day.”
Downey, a talented multi-sport athlete who pondered chasing a career in pro baseball before settling on boxing, was always lauded for his boxing skills. They were good enough to land him in both the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame and Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
He doesn’t talk much about regrets, such as periods of ring inactivity or the inability to land the prized international title bouts.
When it comes to discussing the decision to do most of his fighting out of Halifax before generally large crowds, instead of on the road chasing international titles, he is very matter of fact about the need to maintain a full-time job.
“I was working here with the government,” he says of the days when his career was at its peak.
“There was no one here to fight me, I had beaten the best in Canada (he says of the inactivity periods). What I had wanted to do was get a world title shot here. My biggest regret was not getting a British Commonwealth or a world title shot. So, I came back here and fought here.”
Whether intentional or not, Downey became a role model for plenty of Halifax boxers, especially African Nova Scotian boxers.
For example, when Downey was hot, a Halifax kid named Ricky Anderson was one of those closely watching Downey’s career.
“Growing up as a boxer, I thought Downey was a larger-than-life character,” said Anderson, who later rated near the top in his world amateur class and also went on become a Canadian professional champion.
“He focused on the (Canadian) title and Halifax. He’d get 4,000 or 5,000 people (fighting in Halifax).”
Anderson is a great example of what the tribute night represents. He attended university while pursuing his international amateur career, and after pro boxing he had a lengthy career working in social services. He was the type of athlete who today would possibly be a candidate to be helped with his education costs by proceeds from the tribute night.
“A boxer or someone in the athletic field who is going to secondary school who needs financial help” will be the beneficiary of the night of tribute, said Shawn Parker of CeaseFire Halifax, a group that works with African Nova Scotia youth.
“It could be an athlete or anyone,” said Parker of future beneficiaries.
Parker said there was no doubt that Downey fit the criteria around which to hold a tribute night to help raise the funds.
“It wasn’t easy back in those days,” he said of the racial situation in Halifax when Downey was boxing. “The city was divided. He (Downey) broke the barriers. He didn’t fight for a race, he fought for a community and a province.”
“Sports was such a good healer for us,” said Downey of race relations in Halifax. “(Through sports) we had to meet everybody and learn to cope with everybody.”
Downey said he agrees with the goals of this project.
“That’s the reason I’m doing this, to support and help someone.”
To buy tickets for the Dave Downey tribute, click here.