The Best Fighter l Ever Saw In The Gym

10.25.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - One of Boxings longest living stories is the one where one big name fighter got the better of another name fighter in the gym sparring. Or, a lesser name fighter bettering a name fighter while sparring. There are many stories involving past greats being bettered in the gym by a lesser known fighter, but few if any, beat as many great fighters in the gym as did Middleweight Curtis Parker.
Sparring in the gym and fighting with small gloves under the lights in front of a big crowd are a lifetime apart. Because fighter-A got the better of fighter-B sparring a few times, doesn't mean Fighter-A wins if they fought. Too many variables factor in on fight night, that don't exist in the gym. On top of that, fighters approach sparring differently. It's not the same every time out for a multitude of reasons.

In 1967, Joe Frazier went out to California to fight journeyman George "Scrapiron" Johnson. While out west, Frazier sparred Jerry Quarry. The story that filtered out as to who got the better of it, all had a common theme. Quarry got the best of Frazier. In fact the Quarry camp actually wanted to set up a fight between Jerry and Joe shortly afterward. The Cloverlay Corporation, which managed Frazier from 1965-74 wanted no part of matching Joe with Quarry at that time. Their thought was Joe wasn't quite ready and needed a little more time. And they felt a fight with Quarry would be there down the road, and for much higher stakes and money. And they were exactly right.

Jack McKinney, a very well known Philadelphia sports writer at the time was covering Frazier and was in the gym the day he sparred Quarry. McKinney is also known as an imminent Sonny Liston authority. He was the only sports writer Liston liked and trusted. In fact Liston and McKinney became close friends. McKinney is often seen being interviewed in many of the documentaries and specials on Liston.

I knew Mr. McKinney through a mutual friend of my uncle. During one of our conversations about Boxing, the Quarry-Frazier gym session came up. This took place in between the first and second fights between Frazier and Quarry. He said Quarry handled Joe that day, and had they fought anytime in 1967 or early 1968, he thought Quarry would've won. In June of 1969 Frazier 23-0 stopped Quarry 31-2-3 in seven rounds. Another example that sparring is not a good indicator how a fight will turn out between two fighters who have worked with each other. Frazier fought Quarry again in June of 1974 and stopped him in the fifth round.

When I was nineteen I went into the city and started training seriously, after training for a couple years in the suburbs. This is where I started to spar intensely and was exposed to some intense sparring sessions that I would've paid to watch. I saw Michael Spinks and Dwight Muhammad Qawi spar more than a few times before they fought for the undisputed Light Heavyweight title. For the record, the worst round they sparred was better than any of the 15 they fought in March of 1983.

At one time I thought if one fighter got the better of the other sparring, it translated into how a fight between them would most likely turn out. On a few occasions I came out of the ring feeling pretty good about myself after sparring Qawi and Spinks. Other days I came out thinking how can anybody be that good, and what am I doing here.

I remember one week watching Michael Spinks spar undefeated Middleweight Curtis Parker on Monday and Tuesday. During those two sparring sessions, Parker clearly got the best of it. In fact Spinks didn't train Wednesday or Thursday, which led to some speculating as to why.

I saw them spar after that, and it wasn't uncommon to see Parker routinely get the better of it. Parker only had one speed, on. He sparred like he fought, all out. Anyone who got in the ring with him to work, knew that they were going to have to fight him off. Based on the sparring I actually saw between them, I thought at that time Parker was going to be a better Middleweight than Spinks was going to be a Light Heavyweight. And if given the choice of which fighter whose future I'd rather own a piece of, I would've gone with Parker.

Think that's hard to believe? I also watched in the same ring, Parker take it to Dwight Muhammad Qawi, then known as Dwight Braxton. And if the rounds they worked were being scored, most of them would've gone in favor of Parker. Qawi and Parker had some vicious wars sparring, eventually leading to them not being allowed to spar each other, per Quinzel McCall, Qawi's trainer, and Willie Reddish, Parker's trainer.

I thought back then if Parker were to fight Qawi, based on their sparring sessions, he'd win. I remember thinking at that time, Parker was the force in the Middleweight division more so than Hagler. My thought was, if he can handle Light Heavyweights like Spinks and Qawi, he can definitely handle Hagler. And just as I felt Parker would be a better pro than Spinks, I felt he'd be better than Qawi too. Which made me 0-2.

Nobody kicked Parker's ass in the gym, nobody. I never saw another fighter give out more beatings in the gym than Curtis Parker. In mid March of 1979, Thomas Hearns was in town training to fight Alfonso Hayman. Hearns was 17-0 (17) and just starting to become recognized as an emerging force. Parker was 10-0 (9) and scheduled to fight right before Hearns at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Alfonso Hayman was a tough journeyman who lost all 10 rounds against Hearns, but won a moral victory being the first fighter to go the distance with him as a pro.

About a week to ten days before the fight, I saw Hearns and Parker work together. Hearns was also known for going to war in the gym, and I found out later that he thrashed a couple of Philly's finest a few days earlier. No doubt he wanted to take some of Curt's reputation back to Detroit.

Just about everybody in the gym was looking out of the corner of their eye waiting to see what everyone knew would turn into a fight, only with big gloves and headgear. We knew how Parker worked and what he was going to bring, and we were pretty sure Hearns was on the same page. For the first half of the first round, Hearns looked good. By the time the round ended, Parker was in control. They sparred two more rounds, and it very well may have been three. When they were done, Hearns didn't do anything else but loosen up and shadow box.

Other than maybe the beginning of the first round, Parker had his way with Hearns. After watching them in the ring, I would've thrown Hearns in the trash for the chance to own a piece of Parker based on what I saw. Making me 0-3 and further illustrating that Fight night and the Gym are a different world.

Michael Spinks went on to become one of the greatest and most accomplished Light Heavyweight Champions in Boxing history. And the first Light Heavyweight Champ to beat the Reigning Heavyweight Champ. Not to mention a great one in Larry Holmes. But Curtis Parked got the better of him when I saw them work in the ring.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi went onto win the Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight titles. Had Michael Spinks not been fighting in the same era, he would've been Light Heavyweight Champ for a while. Because there weren't any other Light Heavyweight's around who would've been a problem for him. Yet he was also bettered by Parker when I saw them spar.

Thomas Hearns is one of histories greatest Welterweight Champions, and won titles from Welterweight through Cruiserweight. He is also one of the best punchers to come along weighing 147-160. However, the one time I saw him work with Parker, he got the worst of it.

I remember seeing in one of the major Boxing magazines around 1980, a foldout that said four to watch. The four fighters pictured were Michael Spinks, Thomas Hearns, Curtis Parker, and Aaron Pryor. All undefeated at that time. I remember thinking, based on actually seeing three of them in the ring, Parker was the only can't miss followed by Spinks.

Curtis Parker never broke through while being ranked among the top Middleweights in the world in the early eighties. At his peak he lost a decision to the top Middleweight contenders of his era, Dwight Davison, Mustafa Hamsho, and Wilford Sypion. Resulting in him never fighting for the title. Although I thought he beat Hamsho in their first fight and was robbed of the decision. While he was still pretty good, he was stopped by John "The Beast" Mugabi in the first round. And later as a shot fighter he fought Michael Nunn on short notice and was stopped in the second round.

Curtis Parker was a beast in the gym. Had I been offered the choice, I would have rather been linked to his future than that of Spinks, Qawi, and Hearns. Luckily I was only 19 or 20 and had no money. Because I would've put Bill Gates in Bankruptcy Court as the result of my three monumental miscalculations.

Why didn't Parker go as far as he probably should have? I have my own thoughts, but don't feel it's my place to voice them. I will say this, Parker worked as hard or harder then any fighter I knew. He lived clean and didn't have the usual vices that brought down other Boxers/Athletes (Smoking, Drinking, Drugs) that I knew of. And he was very grounded with his emotions and thoughts. At one time I really thought he had a great chance to be Middleweight Champ.

Did Parker ever get the worst of it in the gym? I never saw it, but was told that National Golden Gloves Middleweight Champ James Shuler got the better of him sparring one night. Go Figure. Of course it was sparring and not fighting.

Article posted on 25.10.2004

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