The respect, admiration and love that fighters have for one another was no more evident than it was this weekend. A number of former world champions came together to attend Ring 10 Veterans Boxing Foundation of New York's second annual fundraiser at Marina Del Rey in Bronx, New York yesterday. With no union, health benefits or assistance from the boxing establishment, Ring 10 has become a source of strength and support for former fighters in need.
Fans were treated to an afternoon with a very gracious and approachable group of boxing celebrities. The Master of Ceremonies, HBO's unofficial ringside judge Harold Lederman, introduced Carlos Ortiz, James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Livingstone Bramble, Donny Lalonde, Aaron "Superman" Davis, Iran "The Blade" Barkley, Michael "The Silk" Olajide and Doug Dewitt. Actor Holt McCallany, who stars in the FX drama series "Lights Out" as a retired fighter facing similar struggles encountered by those being supported by Ring 10 and portrayed trainer Teddy Atlas in the 1995 TV movie "Tyson", was also in attendance. Former amateur fighter and recipient of the 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Dewey Bozella, rounded out the special guest list.
The festivities began with the singing of "God Bless America" by five-year old Conner Delatorre, a first grader who attends nearby Villa Maria Academy. The tiny boy who stands roughly 3' was flanked by the monstrous 6'4" Smith and the 6'1" Barkley for some good natured protection and encouragement as the young man gently sang the patriotic tune.
"These champions give their names and souls to be here. Anyone who steps in a ring is a fighter and gets our respect."
Some optimistic news was shared by WBC Supervisor Chuck Williams, who announced that the sanctioning body would be partnering with Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot to design a limited edition set of watches. The watches, designed for such legendary champions including George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Jeff Fenech, will be auctioned off to fund a pension for fighters estimated to be valued at $1 million.
As each former champion took their turn speaking at the podium, they echoed a common theme of mutual respect, support and commitment. Although not all of the men have faced similar struggles, each of them share the same goal of wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow fighters.
Former WBA welterweight champion Superman Davis indicated he was fortunate that a family member made him plan for his future by setting up an annuity while he was still fighting, a positive influence he is fully aware most fighters do not have during their career.
"A lot of fighters don't have the right people or managers around them. One day it can be all over. Plan for a good future so you never go broke," advised Davis during his speech.
Lalonde, who held the WBC light heavyweight title from 1987-1988, spoke of his initiative "Taking Care Of Our Own" (TKOOO) which is aimed to enhance a boxer's health and overall quality of life through the use of natural medicine. Having experienced positive results when he used the treatment when training for his May 1987 fight with Mustafa Hamshu, the Canadian Lalonde is teaming up with Ring 10 to bring the products to troubled fighters so they can live healthier lives.
Upon introduction of Bonecrusher Smith, Lederman chided that since he was one of the judges for the big heavyweight 's fight with Mike Weaver in April 1986, it worried the former champion and drove him to get a first round knockout so as to avoid an unfavorable decision on the scorecards. Thus, Lederman joked, he should be credited for the victory.
Deeply committed to helping impoverished fighters, Smith, who is the first heavyweight champion with a college degree, expressed his intention to spearhead a project that would fund a profit sharing pool that he referred to as a "Legends Pool". This includes building a boxing Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach where boxing legends will be invited to attend at least once a year and Smith is convinced their presence will attract paying visitors.
"Once we become a champion, we are living legends. We should work together and do special things," Smith told the group.
Smith shared a story stemming from a call with Don King when he was only given a week's notice to accept a title fight against Tim Witherspoon in 1986. Instead of staying angry at the promoter with whom he was having legal battles, Smith instead told himself that mad stands for "'make a decision". He decided to accept the fight and knocked Witherspoon out in the first round.
In that vein, Smith announced at the event that he was making a decision to donate a portion of book sales to Ring 10 when he returns to Madison Square Garden for the 26th anniversary of his WBA championship victory over Witherspoon on December 12, 2012. It was then his turn to chide Lederman by asking him to have HBO document the story and give a part of the proceeds to Ring 10, giving the applauding crowd a good chuckle.
That wonderful announcement was followed later in the afternoon by a video of Bozella whose personal story of courage, determination and integrity left the audience in awe. Convicted in 1983 for a crime he did not commit, Bozella served 26 years of a 20 year-to-life sentence behind bars while steadfastly maintaining his innocence. Refusing any plea deals that would have enabled him to be released sooner, the former amateur fighter found strength in boxing while fighting for his freedom. Justice finally came in October 2009, when the conviction was overturned after Bozella was proven innocent upon discovery of new evidence.
"I watched all of their fights and they gave me the inspiration to never, ever, ever, ever give up even when you get knocked down," exclaimed the passionate Bozella to the roars of an adoring crowd.
He went on to say, "It's not about me. They need your help. It's about saving them."
World renowned and highly respected referee Joe Santarpia, who worked over 75 championship fights, was honored with the 2012 Arthur Mercante Service Award. The 92-year old Ed Gersh, long-time trainer, manager and oldest living Golden Gloves champion, received the 2012 Ring 10 SALDA Award for his lifetime dedication to the sport that spans 70 years of service.
Those in attendance also enjoyed a silent auction that included signed boxing gloves, photographs and other boxing paraphernalia. In a closely contested live auction, a fan won the bid for a pair of boxing sneakers worn by Livingstone Bramble that the former lightweight champion happily signed for the winner.
It was a memorable afternoon for all involved. The ongoing efforts of Ring 10 and the champions who unite to help their fellow fighters are the things legends are made of.
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