Philly’s Fighting Fletcher Brothers to Miss Their Call to the Hall

Being inducted into the hall of fame, any hall of fame, is and should be a signal honor for a boxer. On Sunday afternoon, at Romano’s Caterers in the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia, two of the city’s three fighting Fletcher brothers – former middleweight contender Frank, nicknamed “The Animal,” and former lightweight contender Anthony, known as “Two Guns” – will be inducted with appropriate fanfare into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. The third brother, Troy, a bantamweight, also was on the ballot, but he failed to get the requisite number of votes, preventing an unprecedented family hat trick in the same year.

“I was hoping all three would make it,” said John DiSanto, chairman of the PBHOF, which is administered by Ring One of the Veteran Boxers Association. “Troy definitely got some votes. He’ll eventually get in, I’m pretty sure.”

But while the occasion of this year’s induction ceremony, the 60th annual such affair, will largely be an acknowledgment of the Fletchers’ contributions to the rich history of Philly boxing, with a number of relatives, including Troy, expected to be in attendance, the two guests of honor will be noticeably absent. Frank Fletcher, 64, one of the most popular TV fighters of the 1980s, has major health issues that will prevent him from soaking up applause one more time from those who fondly remember his exciting, constantly-attacking southpaw style that brought him within an eyelash of a shot at the title held by the great Marvin Hagler. Anthony, 60, has another long-standing engagement that takes precedence as he remains on Death Row for first-degree murder, a conviction that has drawn the attention of those who are convinced he was and is the victim of tainted justice.

In addition to Troy, family members on the guest list include are Frank’s and Anthony’s mother, Lucille, a remarkable character in her own right, Frank’s son Hassan and Anthony’s daughter Antoina. But the celebration of what the Fletchers accomplished in the ring is sure to be a cause for some debate within the wider world of boxing as to just what does or should constitute a particular candidate’s consideration for a hall of fame. Frank, a wild child who spent time behind bars and freely admitted that he deserved his periodic stretches of incarceration, and the long-imprisoned Anthony likely did not receive the support of certain PBHOF voters who could not get past their checkered personal lives.

“We don’t screen anyone for out-of-the-ring stuff,” said DiSanto. “If someone is on the ballot and some of our electors have an issue with it, they can exercise their objection by not voting for that person. Personally, I’ve always felt that the foremost consideration should be what you did in the ring. That said, this isn’t rocket science or brain surgery. We all have our opinions and biases.”

Fair enough. And if Frank Fletcher’s career is viewed only within that context, there is little question that he merits inclusion among those fighters who have been officially immortalized in his home state. Although “The Animal’s” record of 18-6-1, with 12 KOs, is not especially eye-popping at first glance, it must be taken into context. He was arguably one of the most popular television fighters of the 1980s, winning the ESPN middleweight tournament and appearing regularly on national telecasts, where his go-for-broke recklessness mirrored his experiences on the street, where he forever seemed to be tap-dancing along the edge of disaster.

“I’ve had so many problems in my life that I’ve often thought the only place you can get peace of mind is in a graveyard somewhere,” he once said. “For 15 to 20 years, I was in and out of jail. Jail was my second home. There was nothing to do. I didn’t like working for nobody. I didn’t want to get a job. I was stealing, taking things. I guess it was more fun stealing than letting somebody buy things for me. Why do most people stay in trouble? Because they like it.”

Little Frank became well-accustomed to getting in trouble, starting at around nine years of age. It was a pattern that would be repeated with unnerving frequency, so much so that local police must have had Lucille’s telephone number of speed-dial.

“I think I broke into a car or something like that,” Frank said of the first time he got pinched and went before a judge with the authority to have him locked up. “I was always breaking into something or getting into fights when I was a kid. I don’t know why I was doing it. But my mother was always coming to get me out of the police station up at 65th and Woodland or 55th and Pine. After a while, I guess she just got tired of coming to get me.”

Lucille was no one to mess with, either. A feisty 5-foot-2, she grew up listening to Joe Louis fights on the radio and drew such inspiration from the Brown Bomber’s successes that she joined up with friends Gloria Thompson and Rosetta Long to form an all-girl street gang called Glo, Ro and Lo. One of Lucille’s brothers, Dick Turner, a pretty good welterweight who compiled a 19-2-1 record with 11 victories inside the distance, said it was Lucille who taught him to fight.

Although Lucille might have wearied from getting calls from cops regarding Frank’s multiple transgressions, she was his No. 1 and very vocal supporter whenever he stepped inside the ropes. An excitable chain-smoker, she wore the same outfit for virtually all of his fights – a cream-colored suit with white ruffles, all the while clutching a white teddy bear clad in an orange T-shirt bearing Frank’s likeness.

The ubiquitous Lucille became a fixture on those national telecasts, too, but the star of the show was always Frank. “Ferdie Pacheco (the `Fight Doctor’ who then did color commentary for NBC’s boxing telecasts) absolutely loved him,” recalled J. Russell Peltz, Frank’s promoter. “In ’81 and ’82, even into ’83 when he fought (Wilford) Scypion, he was as popular as any TV fighter. He was making more money than some world champions were making. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hold onto it.”

Peltz had already negotiated a deal for Fletcher to get a career-high $250,000 payday to challenge Hagler, but that went by the boards on Feb. 13, 1983, when he relinquished his USBA 160-pound title to Scypion, who instead got the gig against the Marvelous one. Maybe it’s a good thing that things worked out that way; Scypion was brutally stopped in four rounds by Hagler three months later, and Frank, perhaps used up after all those searing trials by combat, came up short in three of his final five bouts after the points loss to Scypion, all by knockout or technical knockout. His farewell bout, not that anyone knew it then, was a third-round stoppage by Curtis Parker on Feb. 4, 1985.

A little more than a month later, Fletcher said goodbye as only he could. A Philadelphia Daily News sports writer, Elmer Smith, was on his way to the airport to cover heavyweight champion Larry Holmes’ March 15 defense against David Bey when he got a call from “The Animal,” who again was being sought by police on various assault charges and for parole violation. He requested that Elmer accompany him when he turned himself in. Smith found him in a bar, leisurely eating a cheesesteak, which wasn’t apt to be on the menu when he returned to prison.

“I’m on the lam,” Fletcher informed my colleague, “but I wanted to announce I’m retired from boxing.”

In a history of Atlantic City boxing I authored for the PDN in its Dec. 15, 2009, issue, I had Frank as the fifth-most influential fighter ever to fight along the boardwalk, his 14 appearances there including hugely entertaining scraps with Ernie Singletary, William “Caveman” Lee and James “Hard Rock” Green. No. 6 on my admittedly subjective list? Somebody named Evander Holyfield. Nos. 1-4 were Mike Tyson, Arturo Gatti, Bobby Czyz and Matthew Saad Muhammad.

Anthony Fletcher, also a southpaw, was “night and day” different from Frank, according to Peltz. For one thing, Anthony was taller (5-9½ to 5-7), significantly leaner and much more of a technician than his older brother.

“He beat Livingstone Bramble (the future WBA lightweight champion),” Peltz said of what might have been the highlight of Anthony’s career, in which he posted a 24-4-1 record with eight KOs. “It was a close call (an eight-round majority decision on Aug. 31, 1981), but still. Health issues helped beat down Anthony. He had a severe case of Bell’s Palsy, for one thing.”

For another, there was the death of Vaughn Christopher, who succumbed to two gunshot wounds 12 hours after he was rushed to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. Fletcher claimed it a case of self-defense and that it was Christopher who pulled the gun, which went off as the two men struggled for control of the weapon. The Philly District Attorney’s Office maintained it was Anthony who was the assailant, and built much of its case built around the testimony of a female witness with a dubious background.

“We never found any proof, but we believe the shooting was drug-related and involved the JBM (Junior Black Mafia),” a police source indicated at the time. That assertion was denied by Fletcher, who knew the perils of having grown up on some of the meaner streets of Southwest Philadelphia, having previously being stabbed during a 1989 altercation and shot in an incident that claimed the life of his best friend, Eric Hurst. Fletcher, who suffered wounds to his left thumb, right forearm, neck and side, said it was a case of mistaken identity.

“The police see a black guy in the BMW and they think he has to be dealing drugs,” Fletcher said. “They stick that label on you, man, and it’s there to stay. Everybody in Southwest Philly knows I’m not that kind of guy. Not that I’m a saint. Nobody’s perfect. But I am not a member of the JBM or any drug-dealing organization, and never have been.

“Do I know people who are (in the JBM)? Of course. You can’t live where I do and not know who they are. But they know who I am, too, and if they had wanted they could have gotten me any time during the two years I was training at Slim Jim Robinson’s Gym in South Philly. You come out of that place at night, it’s pitch black.”

In the two-decades-plus that Anthony Fletcher has been on Death Row at SCI Greene Prison in Waynesburg, Pa. – where his boxing nom de guerre, “Two Guns,” must now seem cruelly ironic – his cause has been championed by any number of advocates, among them noted boxing writer Ivan G. Goldman, who has chronicled the case in his book, Sick Justice: Locking Up Millions in the Land of the Free.

The PBHOF 2018 Hall of Fame inductee even more renowned than the Fletcher brothers is the late former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, a 1990 charter inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who was 90 when he passed away on Feb. 25, 1994. Walcott’s delayed entry into the Pennsylvania Hall, in the Old Timers Category (first bout before 1940) owes to the fact he was not born in or was a resident of the state, although he was born in Pennsauken, N.J., and died in Camden, N.J., both in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The near-Pennsylvanian did have 13 fights in the state, 12 of which were in Philly.

Other inductees in the Modern Boxer Category (first bout after 1980), which includes Anthony Fletcher, are featherweight Tony “Dynamite” Green (23-6-1, 15 KOs); middleweight Mark Holmes (, younger brother of heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, 38-1, 17 KOs); super middleweight Marvin Mack (18-8-1, 10 KOs) and junior welterweight Mike Stewart (48-8-3, 25 KOs).

Joining Frank Fletcher in the Vintage Boxer Category (first bout between 1940 and 1979) are welterweight Angel Cruz (26-6-2, 7 KOs), *middleweight Johnny Morris (27-11, 16 KOs), middleweight Ernie Singletary (26-6, 8 KOs) and *flyweight Larry Torpey (14-4-2, 6 KOs).

Inductees in the Non-Boxer Category include promoter Mike Acri, *trainer Pop Bates, ring doctor George Bonner, *cut man Stan Maliszewski and trainer Willie Reddish Jr.

(*-Posthumous inductee)

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