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December 20, 2014

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Ron Kantowski:

A card, gala with a cause

When boxing legends are honored in December, retired fighters down on their luck will benefit

Image

Steve Marcus

Ex-boxers Jeff Fenech, left, and Aaron Pryor pose at a Tuesday news conference at Paris Las Vegas about upcoming “World’s Greatest Ever Boxer” events.

If You Go

  • What: World’s Greatest Ever Boxer, a celebration of boxing
  • Where: Paris Las Vegas. Events include an awards night and black-tie dinner to announce the results of an Internet poll to determine the World’s Greatest Ever Boxer in the traditional eight weight classes; a memorabilia show; and a USA vs. The World fight night, featuring offspring of some of the world’s greatest boxers, including Aaron Pryor Jr. and Ronald Hearns, sons of Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns.
  • When: Dec. 11-13.
  • Boxers committed to attend: Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Aaron Pryor, Joe Calzaghe, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Jeff Fenech, Emile Griffith, Bob Foster, Michael Carbajal. (Many more are expected.)
  • Tickets: Fight card tickets begin at $65. World’s Greatest Ever dinner tickets begin at $250.
  • On the Web: greatestever.com

I went to the “World’s Greatest Ever Boxer” news conference at Paris Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon, mostly to hear what Mike Tyson thought about being one of those so nominated.

Iron Mike didn’t show. A rumor that had him paying his debt to society — or at least to Sheriff Joe Arpaio — in Phoenix for possessing cocaine and driving under the influence in Sheriff Joe’s jurisdiction was neither confirmed nor denied.

So Aaron Pryor, wearing a cobalt blue suit and matching cobalt blue cowboy boots, got to talk a little longer about how this evening and the Internet fan vote really weren’t necessary, because everybody knows he is the World’s Greatest Ever Boxer.

Jeff Fenech of Australia, who has had Azumah Nelson’s fist surgically removed from his chin since their fighting days, also spoke. Fenech was sort of dressed like Crocodile Dundee, only without the big knife. He seemed just as thankful as Pryor to be considered one of the Best Ever at beating people up, only he expressed it with a tad more humility.

“I think I may be one of the lucky guys who’s still got some of the stuff I earned throughout my career,” said the three-time world champion. “But there are a lot who haven’t been (lucky). That’s the one thing about boxing and boxers: We haven’t always been blessed with the skill of putting our hard-earned money away and to save it for a rainy day.”

That was a jab that Alex Ramos, the third former prizefighter seated at the dais, didn’t mind walking into. Unlike Pryor and Fenech, Ramos was never a multi-time world champion. He wasn’t even a one-time world champion. But he’s not done fighting. Not by a long shot.

His Retired Boxers Foundation (retiredboxers.com), which Ramos founded 11 1/2 years ago, is the official charity of the World’s Greatest Ever Boxer weekend set for Dec. 11-13. A portion of the proceeds will be turned over to the foundation. Based on the fact that I could find no mention of the foundation among the copious handouts in the press kit, one might conclude the portion might not be nearly enough.

But as Ramos knows, every little bit helps.

As Rocky Lockridge knows, every little bit is better than no little bit.

Lockridge wasn’t one of the World’s Greatest Ever Boxers. But he is a former world champion. He knocked out Roger Mayweather in just over a minute — with just one punch — to capture the WBA junior lightweight belt in 1984. But that belt won’t keep the lights turned on in an apartment that makes Rocky Balboa’s place in “Rocky (I)” look like a town house on Park Avenue. It won’t keep you warm on a bitter cold night spent in the streets of Camden, N.J., which is where Ramos found him.

Lockridge is estranged from his wife. Estranged from his twin sons. Estranged, really, from a normal, functioning life.

It’s a story that Ramos has heard far too many times. Hell, it’s a story that Ramos had written himself. You think Tyson could punch? Trying going 15 rounds with the Twin Demons, alcohol and drug addiction. Ramos did. He is one of the lucky ones. He managed to keep the lights turned on.

Now his Retired Boxers Foundation is doing what it can for Lockridge. Maybe a check and a warm bed to sleep in will help Rocky turn his life around. There’s no guarantee. Not that long ago Ramos also reached out to Jimmy Young, a skilled heavyweight from Philadelphia who had fought Muhammad Ali, fought Earnie Shavers, fought Ken Norton, fought them all.

Young reached back, but not nearly far enough. He suffered from pugilistic dementia. Ramos said he could help with that. He could not, however, help Young beat the Twin Demons unless Young wanted to help himself.

“I knew we were going to lose him when I talked to him,” Ramos said. “I think Jimmy gave up ever thinking he could have a life without the pain and the hurt he had in his heart. Jimmy turned to drugs and alcohol to bury that pain.”

Maybe it will turn out better for Lockridge. Maybe it won’t. If the Twin Demons don’t get him, there’s probably a triplet lurking just around the corner. If you think boxing is a tough business for a guy in his prime, you should see the toll it takes later in his life.

One of the organizers of the World’s Greatest Ever Boxer told me he had a heck of a time finding the great Joe Frazier, to invite him to the dinner and the memorabilia show and the night of live boxing featuring the offspring of some of the World’s Greatest Ever Boxers and all the other events that will celebrate the sport that made Smokin’ Joe a household name.

Turns out Smokin’ Joe was sleeping on a dusty old couch at his dusty old gym. Maybe that was his choice. Maybe it wasn’t.

On Tuesday afternoon Alex Ramos approached the microphone with a noticeable limp. With his broad shoulders and cropped gray Afro, he conjures an image of Jackie Robinson, after the baseball pioneer’s playing days.

Ramos started telling the story about Rocky Lockridge. Tears welled in his expressive blue eyes. He backed away from the podium. (Standing eight-count.) He returned to the podium. Tears welled in his eyes again.

“Eighty-seven percent of fighters leave the sport with a little bit of damage,” Ramos said. “I left with a little bit of damage. I still have it. But I’m OK. Now I want to be able to take care of some of my brothers.”

Suddenly, that seemed a lot more important than anything Mike Tyson might have had to say.

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