The biggest battles facing some of our former world champions and the brave fighters who entertained us over the years often take place well after their careers are over and promoters have long cast them aside to make room for the next generation of revenue generating superstars. With no union, health benefits or governmental assistance, their ability to pursue a normal life outside of the only one they know within the ring is extremely challenging and difficult. The efforts of Ring 10 Veterans Boxing Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by former middleweight fighter Matt Farrago, help give these men a fighting chance.
In this two-part series, Boxing 101 highlights the efforts of Ring 10 and the fighters they currently support.
Farrago, known as the "Beta Bomber" during his seven year career in the 1980's (25-2-1, 11 KO's), formed Ring 10 in October 2010 after having spent 20 years with Ring 8, a similar boxing related charity. Dissatisfied with the mission of Ring 8, Farrago was determined to create an organization dedicated solely to helping impoverished former fighters. This includes providing food, shelter and/or medical necessities to ensure their basic needs are met. The ultimate goal of Ring 10 is to help these men get back on their feet and become self-supporting.
Ring 10 currently helps a number of fighters, including former three-division world champion Wilfred Benitez. Benitez was a boxing prodigy, becoming the youngest world champion in history at the age of 17 in 1976. The Puerto Rican star was a graceful, intelligent tactician who fought such legends as Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns.
Today, the 53-year old Benitez suffers from post-traumatic enchephalitis, a degenerative brain condition caused by the blows he took in the ring. He resides in the same small three bedroom, three bathroom home he was raised in back in Puerto Rico and requires constant care by his family. In addition to the $1,600 per month he receives from the government, Ring 10 provides Benitez with a monthly stipend of $300 to help towards the cost of food and very costly medication.
Aside from dedicated boxing fans, the general public is not aware of the extent of the great Benitez's severe situation.
"Nobody publicizes it," says Farrago. "Everybody thinks, 'Yeah, Wilfred Benitez. Oh, he made a lot of money and lives in some castle up on the hill.'"
Former WBO and WBC middleweight champion Gerald McClellan is another fighter supported by Ring 10. The good-looking McClellan was a hard-hitting puncher in the prime of his career, quickly disposing of John Mugabi and Julian Jackson for the middleweight titles in the early 1990's. With a record of 31-3 (29 KO's), including 14 consecutive early round knockout victories, McClellan was one of the most dominating middleweights during that time.
In an action packed 1995 super middleweight title fight against Nigel Benn in London that was ironically promoted as "Sudden Impact", the 27-year old McClellan collapsed after returning to his corner following a tenth round knockout at the hands of the British champion. He was taken from the ring in a stretcher and required emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. He was found to have suffered extensive brain damage after regaining consciousness from a coma, leaving the now 44-year old blind and almost completely deaf with limited ability to walk and profound short-term memory loss.
Like Benitez, McClellan requires 24-hour care which is provided by his sister. In an attempt to continue caring for her brother at home, McClellan's sister was forced to sell his WBC belt last year for funds needed to update their house to adapt to his changing needs and pay for additional nursing. McClellan’s medical insurance coverage does not extend to catastrophic injuries sustained inside the ring.
Ring 10 provides the former champion with a $200 monthly food credit. Farrago hopes to raise more funds to increase this stipend and assist with payment of electricity bills or other necessary utilities.
"The sport gives him nothing," exclaims Farrago, who also serves as Ring 10 President. "Don King stood next to him and said 'This guy will never need a dime for the rest of his life. I will take care of him.' Then 30 seconds later he was gone and nobody saw him again."
King and fellow promoter Frank Warren did donate $25,000 each to McClellan at a London fundraiser in February 2007. These funds have long been spent on McClellan's ongoing care while his family continues to incur a lifetime of medical expenses.
The WBC has recently reached out with a $5,000 donation and efforts to raise funds to support McClellan. This includes institution of a special pension and payment of monthly contributions following recent news of the fallen champion's need for colon-removal surgery.
McClellan has been suffering from a variety of medical issues for 17 years.
Similar to the efforts being made by the NFL, Farrago is working with the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Clinic in Boston to heighten awareness about the effects multiple concussions and other forms of head injury have on boxers. This includes voluntary donation of the brain upon death for valuable analysis and research.
This issue has been highlighted by the NFL with a good deal of media attention. Although the public would certainly expect concussion and brain injury to be even more prevalent in the combat sport of boxing, the actual cases of those who suffer from it are rarely publicized.
Emile Griffith, one of the all-time greatest middleweights in boxing history and a five-time world champion, is currently destitute in a nursing home in Hempstead, New York. He suffers from advanced dementia, living in a catatonic state where he is sporadically lucid for a limited amount of time throughout the day.
"This is what could happen and we understand that," Farrago said. "That is where the CTE Clinic comes in. If we could figure out what happens to these guys, maybe we could figure out a way to slow it, reverse it, who knows? Who knows what we could do?"
Ring 10 will be sponsoring its second annual fundraiser event on August 18 at Marina Del Rey in Throgs Neck, New York from 11:30 am – 4:30 pm. Celebrities who will be in attendance include past world champions such as James “Buddy” MicGirt, James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Livingstone Bramble, Donny Lalonde and several other notable boxing figures.
Farrago is hopeful that the funds raised from this event, which will include a silent auction of one-of-a-kind boxing memorabilia, will enable Ring 10 to increase the level of contributions currently being made to fighters in need.
Additional information can be found on the Ring 10 website.
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Tags: Boxing, Don King, Frank Warren, Gerald McClellan, Matt Farrago, Wilfred Benitez