COMPTON — When he was in high school, Joey Davis left his hometown in the inner-city for the suburbs.
He was a two-sport star at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Springs where he excelled in football as a speedy wide receiver and wrestling, where he won two state championships.
For college, he traveled even farther, attending Notre Dame College, not the university in South Bend, Indiana, but the college in South Euclid, Ohio, where he established himself as a championship wrestler while posting a 133-0 record in four seasons.
But last week, Davis was back in his hometown, appearing at the Compton Youth Academy for a meet-and-greet with local youngsters that was put together by the Compton Sheriff’s Station.
He is now Joey “Black Ice” Davis, a mixed martial arts fighter for the Bellator organization.
As a wrester and now an MMA fighter, Davis is an athlete in an individual sport. Growing up in Compton, he said there weren’t a lot of role models in individual sports.
In a phone interview, Davis said, “you’ve got basketball players, you’ve got football players, but you’ve got no kid who is doing it individually by themselves. MMA is a one-on-one sport. Wrestling is a one-on-one sport. All my life, my competition has been one-on-one.”
Outside of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, rap stars, former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kenny Landreaux and NFL defensive back Richard Sherman, Compton youths have had a scarcity of high-profile role models that they could emulate.
“Growing up in Compton, we have all negatives … bad people who are angry with their lives because they’re not going anywhere, so it’s hard to get motivated,” Davis said. “I don’t know what kid kept me motivated all these years. I guess it was just the winning in my sport that kept me motivated and kept people happy for me.”
Unlike some, Davis says he sees the upside of growing in Compton.
“Growing up in Compton was just truly a blessing. I was really one of those kids who grew up there, went to all the elementary (schools) around there, and it made me who I am,” Davis said. “I’m not angry. Growing up there, a lot of people bash it because they didn’t really have any good father figures or role model. I’m just blessed and fortunate that I had two father figures, which is my coach, which is my father. I’m still going every day, just moving forward and to be happy in life. That’s what’s it’s all about.”
“It’s huge to have someone like Joey Davis come back to talk to the youth of Compton,” said sheriff’s Deputy Daryll Harkless. “With what he’s done in his life, throughout his historic college wrestling career and now his professional MMA career, he’s a true inspiration to our youth.”
Harkless added that when youths around the city see individuals like Davis and Sherman become successful, it becomes a tool for them to pursue their dreams.
“When our youth get to see successful people who look like them and come from where they come from they begin to believe they can do it too,” Harkless said. “Joey Davis brings a message of hope to Compton. You can work hard, be a good person, follow rules and still fulfill your dreams.”
Davis is 3-0 in his young MMA career, fighting at the welterweight level. His last fight, in January, lasted all of 39 seconds, but MMA fighting is tough and there is plenty of competition. Davis is ranked 34th out of 185 active welterweights in California alone. He is ranked 76th out of 371 welterweights in the U.S. West.
To get to the top, Davis knows he must put in the work, something he learned in wrestling.
“It was hard going to [MMA], because I’m a lover not a fighter,” Davis said. “But it’s something that I’m good at, and if that’s the lifestyle that I want, nobody is going to chase the lifestyle you want. Everybody raps about that house on a hill … they rap about they got this girl and that girl. … I’m going to fight for that life, and I’m going to do it the right way.”