Kery Davis leaving HBO Sports

In a major shake-up at HBO Sports, senior vice president Kery Davis, who for more than a decade was the primary negotiator for the major fights the network aired and was crucial in the decision-making process about its boxing franchise, is leaving the network.

Davis, 54, has been at HBO since 1997, beginning as a director of programming and business affairs after being hired by Lou DiBella, who left the network in 2000 and is now one of boxing's leading promoters.

When DiBella left, Davis, an African-American and one of the highest-ranking minorities at HBO, was promoted in 2000 to his current position and was directly involved in putting together the biggest fights in boxing, including those involving stars such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins.

"Watching some of the best fighters in the world at their peak -- to sit ringside and watch Roy Jones and see him lose maybe one round in about seven years, to see Mayweather at his best, Bernard Hopkins, De La Hoya -- it's been quite a run. I had a ringside seat for all of it," Davis told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Among the first fighters that Davis signed to an exclusive contract with the network was Mayweather, who recently left to take a mega deal with rival Showtime/CBS. He also spearheaded Pacquiao's arrival at the network.

Davis denied, however, that he was forced out at HBO. His departure comes 16 months after Ken Hershman, who previously ran Showtime Sports, took over the role as president of HBO Sports, replacing longtime president Ross Greenburg, who was forced to resign.

It also comes on the heels of Hershman's failed negotiations to keep Mayweather and his decision to banish Golden Boy Promotions' fights from the network. Davis is very close to Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Mayweather and Al Haymon, Mayweather's powerful adviser, whom some critics accused Davis of being too cozy with.

"The details of who said what to whom as far as my leaving is irrelevant, but I sat down and talked about it with Ken," Davis said. "I wanted to make sure that the timing was OK for him as well as for me. Ken has been terrific to me through the process."

Davis said he put his exit in motion about a month ago after being approached for another opportunity, which he declined to discuss, although he said it was not boxing-related.

"These last 16 years have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life," Davis said. "I remember the first day I took the (senior vice president) job, after watching Lou do the job, that I thought I can do this for five years or so, and now it's 14 years later. I thought it was the right time for a transition.

"I have 10 years left in my working life where I'll be in the job market and I'm looking forward to accomplishing some other things. The reality of it is I thought I would have stopped doing this a long time ago. If this job wasn't so fulfilling and rewarding, I probably would have left earlier. I've done this longer than anything in my life except for my marriage to Samantha."

Davis said he likely will remain with HBO through the end of the month.

"For more than 15 years, Kery Davis was a major contributor to the HBO boxing franchise, focused on delivering the finest in boxing programming to our subscribers," Hershman said in a statement given to ESPN.com. "We wish him success with all of his new endeavors."

Davis said his most lasting memories of the job were not specific fights, rather opportunities to meet "two of my bucket list people:" Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. He visited Mandela's home in Mozambique when HBO was there to interview the lifelong boxing fan and former South African president for a feature on the broadcast of the 2001 heavyweight title fight between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman in South Africa.

"To shake hands with Nelson Mandela and sit down and talk to him about Naseem Hamed's next fight? I'm shaking hands with him and instead of talking about everything he has done, which I would have loved to talk about, he wanted to talk about [former featherweight champion] Naseem Hamed," Davis said.

With Ali, he had come to HBO's New York offices for an event and "a friend of mine from human resources called me and said, 'Ali is here,' and I ran upstairs to a room with like 10 people and he was doing magic tricks. It was great."

Davis said he would miss the big events and the fighters.

"Being part of those big events is going to be something I'll treasure," Davis said, naming such fights as Lewis-Evander Holyfield, Lewis-Mike Tyson, Hamed-Kevin Kelley and Mayweather-De La Hoya among his most memorable.

"But it was also about watching the perseverance of the human spirit, like with [Arturo] Gatti and [Micky] Ward or [Erik] Morales and [Marco Antonio] Barrera or [Brandon] Rios and [Mike Alvarado], when they wouldn't give an inch or quit. The most satisfying thing was finding young, unknown gems and introducing them to our subscribers and watching them grow into stars.

"I remember sitting in London [last month] at the [Carl] Froch-[Mikkel] Kessler fight thinking that if this was going to be my last one, this is a good one to go out on. The job takes its toll and I am ready to move on, but it's been a privilege for me to work for this company and rewarding to work with this department and people you'd want with you in a foxhole. These are foxhole colleagues."