Bronx Bomber Still Fighting For His Peers – Alex Ramos Interview

boxing30.07.08 - Inteview by Tony Nobbs: He was once a “Tomorrow's Champion”, one of a group of outstanding US prospects coming out of the early eighties, but today Alex Ramos is a hero to many of yesterday's Champions who have fell on hard times after their money earning nights in the ring.

New Yorker Alex, who's lived in Southern California since the late 80's, is president and founder of the Retired Boxers Foundation (RBF), an organization he set up in 1995 after his storied ring career ended and he himself hit “skid row” through alcohol and substance abuse. The RBF is very much a “hands on” operation which helps almost one hundred ex fighters of every caliber a year.

In March 1999, the week of the first Holyfield-Lewis heavyweight unification at MSG, an already convicted rapist(in 1985) who had impersonated Alex and continued to do his “trick” when released from prison, was arrested for rape and part of the official press release from police read “Alex Ramos, 38, was charged last night with rape and sodomy of a woman in a Manhattan hotel.. Detectives suspect the man may have targeted other woman who may not have come forward”. In the week of one of the major fight in his city of birth, this was a crushing blow for Alex, who was home - across the other side of the US - in California!

A fighter, the “Bronx Bomber” picked himself up and dusted off. Through his work with the RBF, he's set a great example to his peers and today is one of the more respected people in the boxing industry. He retired in 1994, his final bout being a belated first up world title shot.

On May 4's De La Hoya – Forbes telecast, commentator Bob Sheridan gave Alex, who was in attendance, a huge wrap, saying the RBF is the only organization he knows where all of the money goes straight to the fighters.

The 47 year old former USBA middleweight champion recently took the time to answer the following questions.

Tony Nobbs: Firstly Alex, tell us about your early life, inspirations and how you got into boxing

Alex Ramos: I was born in Manhattan, New York but grew up in the South Bronx, an impoverished area of many immigrants that Time Magazine called (in 1980) the “Beirut of North America”. It's there that I witnessed my first homicide at the age of eight. My mother and father were from Puerto Rico. My mother was a teacher and my father had been a carnival fighter and an awnings mechanic as a young man. My father loved boxing and would drag me away from my sisters to watch boxing on television. I was only mildly interested in boxing until I realized I shared the same birthday, January 17, with Muhummad Ali. I then became fascinated with Ali – his talk and antics in the ring. By the time I was ten my dad had taken me to a gym and by eleven I knew I was going to be a boxer. By thirteen I was knocking out 23 year old grown men. Still a child I boxed at Gil Clancy's Solar Boxing Gym, where Emile Griffith trained. Jerry Quarry gave me a pair of Adidas Boxing shoes and I was so honored. I also trained at the Bronxchester Gym where my mentor Luis Camacho trained me and became a second father to me. When I fought, Luis was in my corner and so was Lenny DeJesus. Whenever I won, Luis would buy me as Many Big Mac's as I could eat. For a poor kid from the Bronx, this was a real treat. The major liquor store also gave me a bottle of champagne every time I won. This would be the beginning of a very bad habit that would eventually nearly destroy my life, but at the time I was a kid caught up in the celebration of victory.

TN: What were the high lights of your amateur days?

AR: I won four New York Golden Gloves, knocking out some superb boxers who would become more famous than myself. I beat several recognized boxers and I also credit Mike “The Bodysnatcher” Mc Callum with saving my life. Mc Callum was with me in the 1980 New York semi finals and had I not beaten him I would have been on the flight carrying the USA Boxing Team to Warsaw Poland. The plane crashed, killing so many great fighters, trainers, corner men, all of whom were my friends. (Ramos stayed in NYC to contest the final that he won beating Ramon Nieto). In addition to the NY Golden Gloves, I won nearly every tournament I entered, including the Empire State Games, PAL, AAU etc. My amateur record was 189 fights with nine losses, two draws. I won 132 by knockout. My amateur career ended in 1980 after President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics. I was favored to win the Gold Medal and it was devastating to all of us to miss. Had I been able to win the Olympic Gold Medal I would have had a very different career. As it was I signed a contract with Top Rank, negotiated by my manager Shelly Finkel. I was Shelly's first fighter. He went on to manage Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whittaker and many other great fighters.

TN: High points - and low points if you want - of your pro career?

AR: The highlight of my pro career was the day I turned pro in the company of those who would be known as “Tomorrow;s Champion's”. They included Tony “TNT” Tucker,Tony Ayala, Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus, Bernard Taylor, Davey Moore, Chris McDonald, Mitch “Blood” Green and myself. My mother and father were in attendance at the very posh Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. My signing bonus was $25, 000, which by today's standards in very insignificant but to a boy from the South Bronx, it was a lot. I won the USBA in 1984 against a very tough opponent from Philadelphia, Curtis Parker who was in the top ten middleweights in the world. I was supposed to fight (Marvin Hagler challenger) Wilford Scypion but he backed out at the last minute. It was a very tactical fight but one that I clearly won...My professional career took a turn for the worst in what some called my “Battle with Cupid”. I was in love. I was young and I was stupid. To get me way from my latest paramour my manager sent me to Scottsdale, Arizona to train under the watchful eye of Janks Morton who trained Sugar Ray Leonard alongside Dave Jacobs and Angelo Dundee. Janks was a tough disciplinarian. He took no crap from anybody and he worked me like no other but my first trainer Luis Camacho was just like my dad and the trainer I forever wanted in my corner. Even though I was at my peak physically, I was mentally and emotionally distracted by my love life. Shelly Finkel came unglued when he found out my girl had moved to Scottsdale. Honestly? I was a young man in love and on top of the world. I had no idea how the combination would be the one to take me out of my game. My career faltered and I followed a path that would lead me to the darkness of drugs and alcohol. I was able to revive myself for momentary attempts to win but my professional career ended with 39-10-2 , 24 KO's. The lowest point came when I went to Argentina to fight Jorge Castro, the toughest middleweight in the world at the time. I went alone. No trainer. No manager. No corner. I never felt so despised-the lone American there to fight the Argentinian hero. I was knocked out with a liver shot that stunned me from the top of my hair to my shoes. It paralyzed me and I laid on the canvas not even hearing the count. That was my last fight.

TN: What fight was Alex Ramos at his best?

AR: When I won the USBA Middleweight Title. I was in perfect condition, physically and mentally. I also refused to use my jab so I could prove I could fight on the inside (against a traditionally tough Philly brawler).

TN: What was life like in the immediate years after you retired?

AR: After I retired in 1995, I was depressed and damaged., although not fully aware of the damage I'd suffered. I was anxious and angry. I consoled myself with alcohol and drugs and eventually ended up on the streets of Hollywood.

(At first) The streets never totally got me though as I continued to find a place to shower and eat and work odd jobs. Eventually, I even helped with a fund raiser for Actress Sharon Stone and her sister Kelly's charity, Planet Hope, for homeless mother's with children. I felt like I had a mission to look after the boxing community and would be involved in a fund raiser in Las Vegas, during the (third) Holyfield – Bowe fight. I learned everything I could and the seed was planted for the Retired Boxers Foundation. (In the end) The streets did get to me and I lost in complete darkness of alcohol and drug abuse. My last night on the streets I woke from a nightmare and I knew then I didn't want to go out a homeless loser. I wanted to go out a winner and restore dignity in the lives of the great warriors of the ring who risked their lives only to end up damaged and even homeless like me. I would begin the long walk to sobriety, slipping a few times before I got it right. In 1998 I met Jacqueline Richardson, who would be my partner in setting up a proper foundation for retired boxers. She put to paper my hopes and dreams. She helped me set up a non – profit organization and recruit a prestigious board of directors.

Most importantly, she and her family helped me get sober. They provided me a place to live and work and we are still together ten years later.

TN: Do you want to tell us what impact the Alberto Lugo case had on you?

AR: Alberto Lugo got what he deserves. Beginning in the mid 80's “Spooky” Lugo was using my name to lure women into his web of deciept. He was arrested, convicted and sent to prison. He got out and I heard from friends he continued to secure hotels in Atlantic City, using my name. In fact one of my friends (Randy Gordon) came down to the lobby to see who he was told was me, only to see a stranger standing in front of him. “Spooky” caught on and told my friend “I” had been in a bad accident and had plastic surgery. My friend caught on straight away and knew the guy was a fraud. Lugo came from my neighborhood. He was a hanger on and listened to the talk every time I went back. At the time of the first Holyfield-Lewis fight he was up to his old tricks. He met up with a young woman at Starbucks (night club) and told her he was me. He said he was getting ready to fight for the world middleweight title at MSG and that he wanted to hire his own ring card girls. He offered her $3,000 . Anybody in boxing knows a ring card girl is lucky to get $100 on a regular card , maybe $300 at the Garden! She bit and he even told her that she'd have to meet his manager Shelly. He also said that she looked like Shelly. Guess it never occurred to him that Shelly was a man. The real bad part was that he could only make that introduction at 2 am at a seedy hotel. Needing the money she took the subway down town. He gave her a coke which they suspect was drugged. The rest of the story is terrible but “Spooky” was finally arrested for rape. Everyone in boxing was in New York and it was all over the news that Alex Ramos, former middleweight champion, was arrested for rape! It was devastating to me. By this time I was on fire. I was running a non profit foundation and I was being portrayed a rapist. Jacquie wrote dozens of letters to the NYPD chief, the Governor, who ever she could think of.

Finally the case went to trial and I was asked to testify. In court I was shocked that they were calling this rapist “Mr Ramos” during his trial. It was explained to me that in New York, whatever name you give to the arresting officer, they use in the trial. During my testimony I told the D.A to “put me in a room with that bastard and the REAL Alex Ramos will be the one coming out and it won't be him!” Lugo got 148 years in prison for this crime. There are still people who think that I'm the rapist, in spite the fact that this story on National TV and Jacquie and I were on Court TV. Can you believe how offended I was when the judge refereed to Lugo as “Mr Ramos”? It's just not right.

TN: Tell us about the RBF, it's goals and some of the fighter's it's helped

AR: We knew from the beginning it'd be hard to raise money for our efforts as boxing had a bad reputation for corruption. Our first call was top a man who responded “you're gonna have to prove this is not just another washed up fighter looking for pocket change”! I was angry, but Jac explained that this man did us a favor. He called it as it was and ewe knew we'd have to walk the talk with the little money we had. We had to be innovative. Our first board member was Ron Shelton, a prolific writer, producer and director of films like White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup, Play it to the Bone. He gave us $10,000 a year for the first five years to cover our operating costs. Instead we used the money to help fighters. Jac went back to work for a local elected official so that she could afford to cover operating costs. We helped Bobby Chacon, Tommy Harrison, who was a sparring partner of Rocky Marciano. Tommy had perpetuated a lie that he was Bob Satterfield and eventually his story made it to the big screen in 2007 in “Resurrecting The Champ” (Samuel L Jackson played Harrison). The most memorable case was for me was Juan Antonio Lopez, the guy who introduced JC Chavez to world. We received news that Juan had leukemia and would die sooner than expected as he couldn't afford his chemotherapy. We contacted him and arranged to wire transfers for his monthly chemo fee. At the same time I was corresponding with WBC president Jose Suliaman. Within months the WBC agreed to take over the charges of Juan's $600 a month chemotherapy fee. Unfortunately Juan died eleven months after we began helping him. We didn't save his life but we gave him eleven more months to spend with his family without worrying about where he'd get the money. I also spend time trying to help those who resist it. A perfect example is Jimmy Young. We worked for many months with a public defender to keep Jimmy out of jail on a minor complaint of loitering and public intoxication. We worked day and night to find a rehab facility for Jimmy and eventually succeeded but Jimmy disappeared. He was later found dead. I think Jimmy wanted to escape his life and when a man is at that point no one can break through. We help fighters through referrals to rehabilitation, medical care, housing and counseling. We developed personal relationships with social workers, drugs counselors, HIV/Aids advocates and created an awesome medical Advisory Board, which is our most important asset consisting of a Rehab Specialist, Neurologists, Neuro-Surgeons, Neuro-Behavioral Scientists, University researchers, experts on traumatic brain injury. We also help at least two retired boxers a year receive Supplementary Security Income, a benefit for the indigent. They are allowed a small income of about $850 a month, access to free medical care and subsidies for housing.

TN: Do you support a National Boxing Commission?

AR: While I firmly believe that any time government interferes, they take over, this may be our last resort. If we have a need for a National Commission it'll be because the state commissions haven't done their job overseeing what could be a dangerous endeavor. In a perfect world the Commissions would look after the safety of fighter, first and foremost and not be looking to please promoters. They would not allow pitiful match ups and poorly skilled fighters to enter the ring and end this horrible trend of putting “opponents” in to build up another fighters win ratio. In a perfect world fighters would be able to read and comprehend their own contracts. We have personally seen a manager pay the for the boxing license for a local gardener to fight his son, providing another win. We have seen a small unrecognized sanctioning body change the name of the opponents score card to reverse the reality. This particular fight had a Commission providing oversight but somehow the sanctioning body's rep had all the score cards given to her rather than the Commission's rep. We have seen many atrocious incidents. Being a man from the Bronx with a big voice I've had to make demands I find hard to believe needed my voice. As long as these circumstances continue I support a National Boxing Commission but ONLY if it has the power of enforcement. I would also need to see that the Commission is made up of at least one retired professional boxer and people who know boxing. Part of the problems with the state Commissions is they are made up of people who are receiving nothing more than a political favor and are useless to thesport of boxing.

TN: In your time in boxing, who is the greatest fighter you have seen?

AR: Muhammad Ali was clearly the greatest and this is an opinion shared by many. I also admire Roy Jones Jnr and today, Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

TN: Finally, how would you compare current fighters with those of the 80's and who of today's stars would you have wished to meet in a “dream fight”?

AR: The fighters of the 80's clearly had more amateur experience than today's fighters. They also fought tougher opponents. I never recall seeing fights put together for one man to win. They were competition and we were all proud to be the last man standing in an evenly matched fight. Some of todays fighter fight twice a year, even less. We fought every month. We were also able to develop fans by having our fights regularly televised on Network TV. I honestly think we were less pampered. We didn't have nutritionists or conditioning experts on our team. We did it old school, which is not much different than what these guys are paying for. High protein and high carbs before a fight does not take a high priced nutritionist. I am most proud that my generation did not experiment with steroids and even those of us who had substance abuse or alcohol problems did not imbibe during training. We respected the sport too much. My personal dream fight would be against Jermain Taylor or Kelly Pavlik.

We thank Alex for this interview and wish him and the RBFevery success in future endeavors.

Article posted on 31.07.2008

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