Outside the Ring: Boxing’s Highs and Lows

22.09.05 - By Craig Parrish: Boxing has always had the reputation of golden opportunities. It is a sport that gives chances of dazzling success to Men who otherwise may have had very limited options. We have seen time and time again how these fighters achieve the greatest of all prizes in sports, a world Championship belt. Fame and fortune inevitably follow. Then, there comes a choice. Now that you’ve reached the top of the heap, what do you do with the rest of your life? How do you deal with the pressures of sustaining success, and also trying to give something back? Are you a role model? What are your responsibilities? What is next? These must be tough decisions to have thrust on a person who has spent their entire life focused on fighting.

Some Boxers have responded with incredible achievements outside the ring, which has added an extra luster to the sport, an air of respectability that goes beyond what they can do with their fists.

Others, unable to respond to the pressures of fame and success have fallen farther than one can imagine. I have collected a list of individuals that give examples of both categories. I have narrowed the list to Fighters who have been prevalent during my lifetime, and I’m sure there are many, many other examples that I am unaware of.

The Highs:

1.) Muhammad Ali: Ali transcended boxing. He became a political figure involved in Civil Rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. He ignited controversy wherever he went, as well as united people with his mesmerizing personality. His fights became world events, with people clamoring to see “The Greatest”. While he had his flaws, Ali demonstrated his convictions by standing up for what he believed again and again, even going to jail for it. Although he stayed in the game far too long, he remains today one of the most popular figures in sports in the world. Ali took the success he gained in the ring and used that clout as a force for change. He is “The Greatest” in many respects, not just for
being the brilliant fighter he once was.

2.) George Foreman: While Big George has not had the kind of social impact Ali has, he has shown the world what a person can do if he believes. It has been an amazing transformation that George has gone through since the early days, when he was the most feared fighter in the world. After his initial fall from grace, Foreman pulled himself out of a spiraling depression to become a Minister, a successful businessman, and oh yes, the oldest Heavyweight Champion of the World when he regained the title at age 45. If you look at the menacing young man who destroyed Joe Frazier and the joyous, charismatic personality of today, it is hard to believe that they are the same person. George has shown that, through faith, one can achieve greatness in more ways than one.

3.) Alex Ramos/Gerry Cooney: I put Ramos and Cooney together because they both had a common goal: To help former fighters after they retire. Ramos started the Retired Boxers Foundation, and two years later he and Cooney started the FIST foundation, which helps boxers get jobs after they have retired. With no boxing union, these organizations are sorely needed, and Alex and Gerry should be applauded for their efforts.They truly exemplify “giving something back."

4.) Oscar De La Hoya: “The Golden Boy” certainly has the Midas Touch. Oscar has parlayed his ring fame into Promoting, and his “Golden Boy Promotions” has been wildly successful. Ever the businessman, Oscar looks past rivalries, hiring former foe Bernard Hopkins to run the East Coast branch of his business. Whether he fights or not again remains to be seen, but Oscar has many other irons in the fire in the meantime. Oscar is also a grammy-nominated singer for his first album, the self-titled “Oscar De La Hoya”. Oscar founded the Oscar De La Hoya Foundation in 1995 to provide athletic and educational opportunities to the children of East Los Angeles.

5.) Sugar Ray Leonard: Although “The Contender” might not have been everyone’s cup or tea, you have to admire Sugar Ray and Stallone for trying to help thrust boxing back into the mainstream by creating a primetime network show. The show has been picked up for a second season by ESPN, and hopefully it will draw more fans to the sport. He also has his own management company, started the Sugar Ray Leonard Youth Foundation, and is heavily involved with D.A.R.E. America, which are anti-drug and anti-violence organizations for young people.

The Lows:

1.) Ike Ibeabuchi: Although there are others that have probably committed even more heinous deeds, I rank Ibeabuchi # 1 because of the sheer waste of talent and potential. This Fighter had the ability to rule the Heavyweight Division for years, but instead decided to commit rape on a stripper. Currently in prison.

2.) Paul Spadafora: This is a classic case of alcoholism. Spadofora basically knew two things, how to fight and how to drink. “The Pittsburgh Kid” would go on tremendous benders between fights, which culminated in shooting his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach because she accidentally flattened the tires on his SUV.

3.) Clifford Etienne: Some Fighters learn boxing in Prison and it saves their lives. Some fighters learn boxing in Prison, get out, are mildly successful, and then go back to prison. That’s where the “Black Rhino” currently is, after robbing a check cashing establishment and firing a shot at a Police Officer.

4.) Tommy Morrison: Apparently, Morrison has cleaned up his act, but what a fall from grace it was. After holding a Heavyweight Championship belt, Morrison was diagnosed with HIV and banned from boxing. After that his life was a chaos of drugs, bigamy, and prison.

5.) Mike Tyson: The worst part about Tyson’s antics, apart from the deeds themselves, was the coverage they got. Tyson continued to give the sport a black eye again and again, from his rape conviction to his road rage incidents to his bizarre statements and dirty fighting. Hopefully Mike has settled his Demons and will live a quiet life outside the ring. In his prime, one of the greats.

Article posted on 23.09.2005

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