As far as former heavyweight contender Renaldo Snipes, who was born, raised and still lives in Yonkers, New York, is concerned, he was the heavyweight champion of the world for all of four seconds. Although he was an overwhelming underdog, he knocked WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes to the canvas with a perfectly timed right hand in Pittsburgh in November 1981.
Holmes, who never knew what hit him, laboriously rose to his feet and miraculously continued. He later stopped the more inexperienced Snipes in the 11th round. To this day, however, Snipes, and others, insist that Holmes received the benefit of a long count and that Snipes should have been declared the new champion.
“It only takes 10 seconds to win a title, but it took Larry 14 seconds to keep it,” said Snipes. “I walked out of that ring with my head high and my pride intact. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Not winning the title might have kept me grounded. I’ve always surrounded myself with well-rounded people. Hopefully they wouldn’t have let the victory go to my head. But you never know.”
To this day Snipes is asked about that fight, wherever he goes. He doesn’t mind answering the questions because he realizes how close he came to changing the course of history. Holmes is, of course, one of the most respected heavyweight champions of all time.
“I can’t get caught up with all that hype,” said Snipes. “I fought a lot of champions and all those fights were important. My fight with Gerrie Coetzee was controversial because he was from South Africa, had come to my hometown (actually nearby Tarrytown), and a lot of people thought he beat me. Then I beat Trevor Berbick when he was the number one contender. That was a big fight for me. I don’t know if I set a record, but I fought a lot of world champions and held my own against them all.”
In compiling a record of 39-8-1 (22 KOs) between 1978-93, Snipes, who will turn 49 on August 15, beat such championship caliber opponents as Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (W 10), Coetzee (W 10), and Berbick (W 10). Besides losing to Holmes, he lost on points to onetime titlists Tim Witherspoon, Greg Page, Ricky Parkey and Orlin Norris. He donated his entire purse from the Parkey fight to the St. Jude’s Children’s Center in Memphis.
“I don’t think anyone can say I ducked anybody,” said Snipes, who never married and has no children. “That’s why I’m so happy and proud of my career. Even though I was in a lot of wars, I can still carry on an intelligent conversation. I was always in superb condition, which definitely helped.”
Not only is Snipes intellectually sound, his body is still hard and muscular and his face is relatively unmarked. He seems to have an inner peace about him, even though life has been far from perfect for him since he retired from the ring after a November 1993 tenth-round TKO loss to Jorge Luis Gonzalez.
He was fired from his job with the New York City Housing Authority, where he worked as a community coordinator. Snipes says that “petty politics” was involved, but his employer charged him with insubordination and failing to show up for work. He was also lambasted by the New York press for appearing at a trial for the late gangster John Gotti Sr. The press inferred that Snipes, who looks a lot gentler than he does mean, was there to intimidate the jury pool.
“I never threatened anyone in pro boxing, and that was how I made my living,” said Snipes incredulously. “Why would I do it in the courtroom where people knew who I was? John Gotti was a big boxing fan and a big fan of mine. I got to know his whole family over the years, from them coming to my fights. I found him to be a gentleman and he treated me like a gentleman.”
Snipes was also good friends with Mickey Mantle, another man he met through boxing. It was Mantle who introduced him to what is now his favorite drink, a Vodka martini. He also met five United States presidents, none of which would have happened if he wasn’t involved in boxing or if he was involved in less than altruistic endeavors.
“Boxing is only part of who I am,” said Snipes. “I’m a good person who likes to help people and help society. If you show me love and respect, you’ll get it right back. What I used to do for the city – help kids get their GEDs, counsel them on jobs, and help them with their problems – I’m doing that now except I don’t get paid for it. After the 9/11 attack, I was at Ground Zero for six months helping out on the pile. I’m not bitter about anything that happened. I’m happy about life. I might not have won the heavyweight championship of the world, but I feel like a champion and a lot of people make me feel that way too.”