Exclusive interview by James Slater: Former WBC cruiserweight champ Alfonzo Ratliff recently celebrated his 65th birthday and the warrior from Chicago is grateful to God for allowing him to have lived so long.
Ratliffe says there was a time in his life when he didn’t think he’d see his 20th birthday. Alfonzo admits he was a tearaway kid, a “gangster” and a “hoodlum,” yet he turned his life around through boxing.
Ratliffe fought his career with the handicap of having just one good arm; Ratliffe being stabbed in his right arm at the age of 18, his arm never fully recovering.
Yet he managed to defeat Carlos DeLeon to take the WBC cruiserweight title. Ratliffe also faced Mike Tyson, Pinklon Thomas, Gary Mason, and Tim Witherspoon among other heavyweights, this despite the fact that Ratliff was never a heavyweight himself.
Like many millions of people, Ratliff, 25-9(18) was stunned and saddened to hear about the passing of Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Ratliff says Hagler was his idol and he spoke about the former middleweight king and other things boxing-related when chatting with ESB earlier today.
Q: It was such a shock, Marvin Hagler passing away.
Alonzo Ratliff: “Oh, man, it was bad. He was just a year older than me. He was the ultimate warrior, one of the greatest ever. He was my idol, along with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.
A true champion. The thing that bothered me is, the way they took the man’s title. You don’t let a great fighter like Marvin Hagler rule for so long, defending his world title so many times, and then have him lose by just a point.
You don’t have a guy who puts on a good show, throws bolo punches, who looks good but doesn’t really win the fight, take the man’s title. But the thing is, everyone loved Sugar Ray Leonard at that time.
But to take Hagler’s title, it had to have been hands down, with no doubt. Leonard never did that. I’ve nothing bad to say about Leonard, he was a good fighter, but he did not beat Marvin Hagler.”
Q: Many fans agree with you and think Hagler won that fight. Talking about another big name from a previous era, Mike Tyson is likely to box another exhibition soon maybe against Evander Holyfield. Is this a good thing?
A.R: “Well, yeah, it is a good thing, but it’s not a fight. Let’s get that straight. It’s an exhibition. Matter of fact, the Roy Jones fight Tyson had, that wasn’t even close to a fight.
Tyson’s a dangerous guy but he can’t train the same as he did back in the day. It just ain’t the same.
These guys, they have to have something to fall back on when boxing is over for them. Most fighters, they haven’t had too much education.
Myself, I’m blessed and I’m thankful God has looked out for me. It’s sad to see guys like [Wilfred] Benitez, and have you heard of Young Joe Louis? (aka Eddie Taylor, a cruiserweight contender from the 1980s and early ’90s, who carried on for far too long).
You should see him today, it’s so sad, he’s like a zombie, wandering the streets. But If Tyson fights Evander again, Evander will knock him out. I tell you, Evander is a great athlete, a great fighter, and a great person. He’s right up there with Marvin Hagler.”
Q: Will you watch if Tyson and Holyfield fight again?
A.R: “Yeah. You know, the world right now, it needs entertainment. And the best form of entertainment, the purest form of entertainment, is gladiatorial.
They had fights at The Coliseum many, many, many years ago, long before boxing became civilized and accepted due to the Marques of Queensbury.
They had slaves fighting slaves, it was gore, it was powerful. We’ve loved physical combat for centuries. It ain’t nothing new but boxing is the greatest sport in the world today, still. We need it more than ever.”
Q: You had a number of big fights, against big names…..
A.R: “Let me tell you something, when I signed the contract, I fought. It didn’t matter if I had just a short amount of time to train, or if I had a cut or something. I signed the contract; I fought the fight.
I respected each and every man who got in the ring with me but I feared no man. Before my fight with Pinklon Thomas, I got cut in the gym, the cut needed 20 stitches.
I didn’t let that stop me taking the fight. And if you watch that fight, put it up and watch it, he held his hands low and brought his punches up.
Why did he do that? So he could come up with his punches with his thumbs out. He thumbed me for seven rounds. I call him ‘Pinkthumb Thomas.’ I haven’t got any respect for him. He knows I know he fought the way he did. It still makes me mad today.
“My fight with Tyson, he had everything in his favor – the size of the ring, it was like a matchbox! The gloves were new gloves and I could hardly get my hands in them; I wasn’t comfortable at all.
But if I’d had two hands, I’d have spanked Tyson like he was my young son! I had that warrior spirit. I never ran from any fight. But today, I want to help the kids, they are what it is today, it’s their time.
I want to train the young kids in the gym. The gym is where it all happens. I came up that way, learning so much in the gym. I went to camp with Tim Witherspoon, with Azumah Nelson, with Saoul Mamby, with Michael Dokes, with Earnie Shavers.
Boxing has been so good to me, despite the things that went against me – Don King, man, I could tell you so many stories about him.
He promoted my fight with Craig Bodzianowski (in May of 1988) and the winner was supposed to get a world title shot. Who won? Me. Who got the title shot? Him! But it is what it is. I had a great career and I’m happy to be able to talk with you about it.”