For all the undeniably positive things that have happened in boxing in 2017, one of the best years for the sport in recent memory, there also were corresponding moments of sad reflection. The Grim Reaper is the one opponent that even the toughest and most resilient practitioners of the pugilistic arts cannot stave off forever, and his scythe cut down several legendary figures whose lives and careers are apt to be commemorated well into the future.
Others who have passed from the scene this year also had their shining moments, but the spotlight dimmed more quickly and their hold on history proved to be less enduring. For every Hall of Famer or world champion who took their final 10-count in 2017 – Jake LaMotta, Lou Duva, Sugar Ramos, Rodrigo Valdez and Terry Downes – there were others who made their mark in pencil rather than in indelible ink. Which is not to say that those passers-by, with names like Jozef Grudziev, Dieter Kottysch and Tony Madigan, were any less deserving of our admiration as they permanently left this mortal coil. Those who have sipped from boxing’s chalice of spilled blood are and shall forever be part of a fraternity, if you will, whose membership must be earned in the crucible of the ring and whose entrance requirements can only be imagined by those who merely observe from arena seats or on television.
So let us acknowledge the life of times of those who gave so much of themselves, beginning with the most recent departees:
Dick Enberg: Died Dec. 21 at age 82. A sportscasting legend, Enberg won 13 Sports Emmy awards during a career that began in 1956 at a radio station in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The astoundingly versatile Enberg covered all manner of sports and that included boxing. In 1980 he was hired by NBC as the lead anchor for a series of “Friday Night Fights.” Fifteen years earlier he was the blow-by-blow man when LA powerhouse KTLA Channel 5 launched a series of weekly shows from the Olympic Auditorium.
David “Tornado” Sanchez: Died Nov. 19 at the too-young age of 25. The Mexican super flyweight had posted a 31-4-2 record with 23 KO victories when he and his brother Jonathan perished in a car crash in northern Mexico. For a time in 2015, Sanchez was the WBA interim 115-pound champion.
Ferdie Pacheco: Died Nov. 16 at 89. The “Fight Doctor” was the personal physician of Muhammad Ali for many years, and after the two amicably parted ways following Ali’s fight with Earnie Shavers he kept his hand in boxing as a television boxing analyst for NBC, Univision and Showtime. A true renaissance man, Pacheco also was an accomplished artist and spent much of his post-boxing life painting.
Doug Jones: Died Nov. 14 at 80. A onetime contender at both light heavyweight and heavyweight, Jones is best known for the scare he threw into an up-and-coming Cassius Clay on March 13, 1963, a bout which was witnessed by 18,732 spectators in Madison Square Garden and on closed-circuit TV at 40 theaters around the country. Although Jones lost a close 10-round unanimous decision, he did beat Clay – that would be Philadelphia’s Von Clay, a pretty fair fighter in his own right – three times. At light heavy or heavy, Jones – who posted a 30-10-1 (20) career mark – was nobody’s pushover. He defeated among others, the illustrious likes of Zora Folley and a still-developing Bob Foster, but lost both of his shots at world titles, to light heavyweight and future Hall of Famer Harold Johnson and WBA heavyweight titlist Ernie Terrell.
Rafael Garcia: Died Nov. 13 at 88 of complications of leukemia. A fixture on the Las Vegas boxing scene for decades, Garcia was best known as Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s cut man and hand wrapper. Instantly recognizable by his pin-festooned beret, Garcia, born in Mexico, worked with 35 world champions in all, including Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez and Rafael Marquez.
Tony Madigan: Died Oct. 29 at 89. An Australian boxer and rugby player, Madison represented his homeland in three Olympiads: 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, and 1960 in Rome. After twice finishing fifth on the Olympic stage, Madigan finally made it into the medal round on his third attempt, taking a bronze in Rome after losing to a brash young American light heavyweight named Cassius Clay in the semifinals. A 2010 inductee into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in the Veterans category, the strikingly handsome Madigan, who never turned pro, later had a successful modeling career in London and New York City.
Terry Downes: Died Oct. 6 at 81. The United Kingdom’s oldest world champion at the time of his passing, the London native, who posted a 35-9 record with 28 KOs as a pro, was the middleweight titlist – at least the version recognized by Europe, the states of New York and Massachusetts and The Ring magazine – for 10 months, from July 11, 1961, to April 7, 1963. In the second segment of his three-bout championship series with American Paul Pender (he lost the other two), Downes scored a 10th-round TKO victory when referee Ike Powell waved things off with Pender bleeding badly from cuts above his eyes. In his final bout, Downes, who had moved up to light heavyweight, was stopped in 11 rounds by Willie Pastrano. He later became an actor, appearing in a number of British films, often cast in the role of a villain, from 1965 to 1990.
Jake LaMotta: Died of complications of pneumonia on Sept. 19 at the ripe old age of 95. There have been middleweight champions more accomplished than the “Bronx Bull,” but many more who weren’t nearly as good. Blessed with an indomitable spirit and cast-iron chin, LaMotta was forever immortalized in arguably the best boxing movie ever, 1980’s Raging Bull, with Robert DeNiro earning the Academy Award for Best Actor in the lead role. LaMotta, who was 83-19-4 with 30 wins inside the distance, is best known for his six bouts with Sugar Ray Robinson and, although he only won their second meeting, a 10-round unanimous decision on Feb. 5, 1943, it marked the first loss for Robinson, who went in 40-0 (29), disproving the notion of the magnificent Sugar Ray’s invincibility. LaMotta, a 1990 charter inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, also took seven wives, a matrimonial marathon of ups and downs to rival his legendary rivalry with Robinson.
Benny Alperstein: Died Sept. 16 at 102. A two-time NCAA champion, during a time when college boxing was a big deal, Alperstein took the lightweight title in 1937 and the featherweight title in 1938 while representing the University of Maryland, and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Boxer in ’38. An Army Air Corps major during World War II, he served 30 years on the Maryland State Athletic Commission and for a time was the chairman of the Washington, D.C., commission.
David Bey: Died Sept. 13 at 60 after being struck by a steel sheet while on a construction job in Camden, N.J. The Philadelphia native began his pro career with a heady run, going 14-0 with 11 KOs, including victories over future world champions Buster Douglas and Greg Page, to earn a shot at IBF champ Larry Holmes on March 16, 1985. Floored twice and stopped in the 10th round by the “Easton Assassin,” Bey lost confidence and career momentum, never regaining contender status. He retired from the ring in 1994 with an 18-11-1 (14) record, but continued putting his hands to good use by working 37 years in the construction trades as a pile driver for the Local Carpenters 179 union.
Joe DeNucci: Died Sept. 8 at 78. A star attraction in the Boston area with 23 appearances at the fabled Boston Garden, DeNucci, particularly popular with Italian-American fans, was a Massachusetts Golden Gloves champion at 16. He turned pro while still in high school and defeated such notables as Ralph “Tiger” Jones, Joey Giambra and Denny Moyer en route to a 54-15-4 (27) career mark.
Sugar Ramos: Died Sept. 3 at 75, from cancer. A 2001 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Ramos might not have been quite as sweet as that other Sugar, Robinson, but his ring nom de guerre tripped off the tongue much easier and fit him better than his given name at birth, Ultiminio. Born in Cuba, Ramos fled to Mexico City when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. With an exciting style, he quickly became a fan favorite in his adopted country as well as the United States, winning the featherweight title with an 11th-round knockout of Davey Moore on March 21, 1963, in Los Angeles. He retired in 1972 with a 55-7-4 (40) record.
Danny McAloon: Died Aug. 2 at 74 at a hospice in Portland, Maine, where he was battling Alzheimer’s disease. A sound technical boxer with negligible punching power, “Irish” Danny retired in 1981 with a 29-15-1 record that included just six wins inside the distance. He was clever enough, however, to have gone the distance with four former or future world champions – John H. Stracey, Emile Griffith, Vito Antuofermo and Billy Backus.
Eddie “The Animal” Lopez: Died July 14; age unknown, but believed to be in his early 60s. A heavyweight of some repute who never quite broke through to the top tier, Lopez, a Los Angeles native, posted a 25-4-2 record with 17 KOs. He fought Gerry Cooney to an eight-round draw in 1979 and had a 10-round draw against Leon Spinks, three fights after “Neon Leon’s” rematch with Muhammad Ali, a bout Lopez would have won had he not been docked a penalty point for a head butt.
Marlon B. Wright: Died July 6 at 51 from melanoma (skin cancer). A promising welterweight who won 10 of his 11 pro bouts, the Jamaica-born, Montreal-based Wright was recognized as one of Canada’s best referees, serving two decades-plus as the third man in the ring for world title bouts in Europe, Asia and North America. One of his more notable assignments came in London, where he worked middleweight champion Gennady Golovin’s fifth-round TKO of Kell Brook on Sept. 10, 2016.
Tim Hague: Died June 18 at 34. A former MMA fighter who switched to boxing, Hague succumbed to a brain injury suffered in his hometown of Edmonton in his fourth professional bout. Edmonton city fathers subsequently imposed a one-year moratorium on combat sports in the Canadian city.
Jozef Grudziev: Died June 17 at 78. A two-time Olympic medalist (taking gold as a lightweight in Tokyo in 1964 and silver in the same weight class in Mexico City in 1968), Poland’s Grudziev is another might-have-been case of a boxer trapped behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War who never had the opportunity to demonstrate what he might have been able to do as a pro. He did, however, live long enough to see several later Polish fighters claim world titles in the punch-for-pay ranks.
Errol Christie: Died June 11 at 53 from lung cancer. One of seven brothers, Christie took up boxing at eight and was soon identified in his native England as something of a prodigy. In 1982 the Guinness Book of World Records noted that he was the first British boxer to win all 10 of the United Kingdom’s national amateur titles. Christie, a middleweight, turned pro that same year and won his first 13 fights, 12 inside the distance, but he could not fulfill all of his early promise and finished 32-8-1 (26), later working as a stand-up comedian, stock broker and white-collar boxing trainer.
Rene Monse: Died June 8 at 48 after a lengthy illness. A southpaw in the super heavyweight weight class, the German placed third at the 1995 World Amateur Championships in Berlin, losing to some guy from Ukraine named Vitali Klitschko. Monse represented Germany at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but failed to advance to the medal round. As a pro, he was 14-2 with seven KO victories, both losses coming to Kosovo-born, German-based Luan Krasniqi in bouts for the European Boxing Union heavyweight title.
Herbert Nkabita: Died April 29 at 36, a day after suffering a head injury in his bout with South Africa’s Willers Baloyi. The possibility of a disabling, or even lethal injury, is always there in boxing, despite ongoing efforts to safeguard its participants. Nkabit, a super lightweight from Botswana, brought a 10-3-1 record into his fight with Baloyi in Carnival City, South Africa. But Baloyi – who did not have a reputation as a fearsome puncher with a 5-7-2 (3) record going in – floored Nkabita with a crushing uppercut. Rushed to the hospital, he died the next day.
Angel Espinosa: Died April 12 at 50. How good was the Cuban southpaw as an amateur? Good enough to knock out Meldrick Taylor at the 1983 World Junior Championships and to win the junior welterweight division at the 1986 World Amateur Championships. Olympic stardom seemingly awaited him, but he did not compete in 1984 in Los Angeles or in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, Games which were boycotted by his country. Espinosa – who also had three amateur victories over future world professional champion, Henry Maske of Germany – eventually defected and he made his Olympic debut as a light heavyweight in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain. Never a pro, he was found dead under mysterious circumstances at a gym in Miami.
Dieter Kottysch: Died April 9 at 73. The West German middleweight competed in two Olympics, failing to place in 1968 in Mexico City and taking gold in his home country in 1972 in Munich, the tragedy-marred Games in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Black September terrorists.
Rodrigo Valdez: Died March 14 at 70 of a massive heart attack. In 2003, The Ring magazine had the two-time middleweight champion from Colombia at No. 29 on its list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time. Those who saw him register 42 knockouts, many of the devastating variety, in his 63-8-2 professional career are apt to agree as to his worthiness for such a ranking among boxing’s biggest hitters. Valdez won the vacant WBC 160-pound title on a seventh-round KO of Bennie Briscoe on May 25, 1974, lost a close decision in a unification bout with Argentine great and WBA titlist Carlos Monzon on July 30, 1977, and won both vacant crowns following Monzon’s retirement with another victory over Briscoe on Nov. 5, 1977, this time on a unanimous decision. More than a few Valdez supporters find it perplexing that their man has yet to be enshrined in the IBHOF.
Lou Duva: Died March 8 at 94 after a lengthy illness. One of the fight game’s most colorful characters, the patriarch of one of boxing’s most illustrious families often was compared to cartoon caveman Fred Flintstone (because of his rotund shape and sense of humor) and baseball legend Yogi Berra (because of his many malaprops). “He had a funny line for just about every situation,” recalled Shelly Finkel, a longtime Duva associate who managed many of Main Events’ fighters, including the bumper crop of 1984 U.S. Olympians that included Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs. Not much of a fighter in his youth – he was 6-10-1 with no knockouts as a welterweight – Duva was inducted into the IBHOF in 1998 in the Non-Participant category for his work as a trainer and peerless raconteur.
Ricardo Dominguez: Died Feb. 22 at 31 of colon cancer. A world-rated Mexican lightweight who twice fought for world titles (losing to WBC champion Humberto Soto and IBF titlist Miguel Vazquez), Dominguez fell victim to the dread disease that was detected too late to save his life.
Jan Szczepanski: Died Jan. 15 at 77 after a long illness. The Polish lightweight, who never turned pro, took the gold medal at the ill-fated 1972 Munich Olympics.
Jeffrey Freeman contributed to this story.
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