Charles Mooney knows all too well that there is a thin line between fame and obscurity. As a member of the much lauded 1976 Olympic team that competed in Montreal, Mooney went home with a silver medal while teammates Sugar Ray Leonard, Howard Davis, Leon and Michael Spinks, and Leo Randolph all took gold.
Right out of the gate, Davis, who won the Val Walker Award as the tournament’s Outstanding Boxer, received a lucrative television agreement with CBS. Leonard went on to become a bonafide crossover star, and Leon Spinks won the heavyweight championship by beating Muhammad Ali in only his eighth pro fight. Brother Michael reigned supreme as the light heavyweight titlist for many years before making his mark as a heavyweight and twice defeating Larry Holmes, among others.
Mooney, who never turned pro, went on to serve 22 years in the U.S. Army, where he retired as a staff sergeant in the late nineties. While working with Darnell Wilson, who was fighting Owen Beck as a prelude to the Zab Judah-Carlos Baldomir/Jean-Marc Mormeck-O’Neil Bell championship doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on January 7, I asked him if he had any regrets about not parlaying his near Olympic glory into a professional career.
“Hell, yeah,” he proclaimed. “I saw guys that I stomped in the amateurs getting big fights as pros. Willie Pep offered me a deal where he said I’d make $100 a round. In 1977 that was decent money, but my wife said it wasn’t enough.”
Then 28, Mooney was older and more mature than most of his teammates. He was also married and had already been in the Army for a couple of years. Unlike many of his teammates, he wasn’t reckless with money.
That is what gives him the most regret. While some of his teammates squandered what money they had made, Mooney knows that it would have provided him and his family with more of a comfort zone than they have now.
“I was used to managing money, and I wouldn’t have lost it,” he explained. “Whatever I would have made, I’d probably still have today. And those guys made serious money.”
There were other differences between Mooney and his teammates, several of whom he stays in touch with to this day. While Leonard, Davis and the Spinks brothers had engaged in hundreds of fights en route to the Olympics, Mooney competed with only 32 bouts on his resume.
“I always trained for conditioning,” he said. “I was scared like a cat. If you connected on me, with my nervous energy I would hit you back six times.”
As dazzling of a boxer that Mooney was, he concedes that his teammates were much more rugged than he was, and recalls some of them fondly.
Heavyweight John Tate: “He was a simple man. A nice person, but a simple man. He couldn’t read and Howard (Davis) would read to him. I would try and teach him things and sometimes as a joke he would just pick me up. What happened to him really hurt me. I was sad for a long time.”
After Tate’s boxing career was over he became a drug addict, served several stints in jail, and eventually died in a vehicle accident while high on cocaine.
Howard Davis: “We are still the best of friends and talk a few times a week. I once saved him from drowning. He slipped on a rock and was going under. I managed to pick him up with just two fingers.”
Leon Spinks: “We were drinking buddies. He took it a little too far, which was a shame. The way he lived didn’t allow him to be a world champion for long.”
Sugar Ray Leonard: “A great, great fighter. I watched him develop and just knew he was going to be a great fighter, one of the best ever.”
The 55-year-old Mooney realizes now that he could have been a terrific pro, but concedes that he didn’t realize it then.
“I was surprised to even be representing the United States at all,” he explained. “But if I had not been married, I think I definitely would have turned pro, even though I didn’t have enough knowledge of the sport to recognize what I could have had. Willie Pep being interested in me should have told me something.”
Instead, Mooney soldiered on in the armed services. The day after he left military service, he walked into a job teaching military service – Junior ROTC – at Eastern High School in Washington, D.C.
He also began running the Charles M. Mooney Academy of Boxing in Laurel, Maryland, where he resides with his wife of 31 years. They have three children, five grandchildren, and another grandchild on the way.
Mooney, who will soon move to Orlando, is happy with the way his life turned out. He teaches a number of solid pros, including heavyweights Wilson, Wayne Hampton, and Adele Olakanye, as well as white collar warriors, doctors, lawyers, and children.
“I got a great mixture of adults and kids at my gym,” said Mooney. “Sometimes I wonder what could have been. Who wouldn’t? But the way I look at, God writes the plan. We just do it.”