Exclusive Interview With Ralph Racine by James Slater – In May of 1980, the ring career of Canada’s Ralph Racine came to a devastating end. Racine, a 24 year old lightweight contender from Niagra Falls who had an exciting fighting style, fought fellow Canadian Gaetan Hart for the Canadian title. Ahead on points going into the 12th round, Racine was hit with a number of clean head shots, the fight being stopped with Racine amazingly still on his feet. Seconds later, Racine collapsed in his corner and he was taken to the hospital where surgery was performed to remove a blood clot on his brain. Ralph was close to death yet he survived and, after months of physiotherapy, he was showing amazing progress.
Today, aged 65, Racine says he has no ill feelings towards Hart (who, tragically, would be involved in another fight that saw his opponent suffer terrible brain injury, Cleveland Denny sadly being less fortunate than Racine, Denny passing away as a result of the June 1980 fight) or to the sport itself. Very much an inspirational figure, Ralph has an astonishing upbeat attitude today, and as he says, he has “no time to feel sorry for myself.”
Here, Ralph speaks exclusively with ESB:
Q: How did you first get into boxing?
Ralph Racine: “I was 14 when I first got into it, just some amateur fights. My dad got me into it, you know, just so I could learn to defend myself. He hooked me up with a speed bag and a heavy bag. So I started working out pretty good and it went from there. At that point, we figured we’d better get a gym or else find where to go to a gym. So from there, I learnt how to actually go in the ring for real and box. It was a big change in my life, I really enjoyed it.”
Q: Can you remember your pro debut, of May of 1975?
R.R: “Actually, not at all. I can’t picture the guy (Robert Emerson, Racine winning a decision), but I know we had a four-rounder – or was it a six-rounder? (laughs). I was actually just looking up some of those early fights that I had. I can remember some names, but I can’t picture the guy [from my first pro fight]. But I do remember, I had no nerves at all.”
Q: You got to 9-0 but then you lost three in a row? That could have discouraged you, yet you instead knew you would have to raise your game?
R.R: “Exactly, yeah – I was thinking that I had to work that much harder and train better, try to pick up my speed and everything like that. I knew I had to do that. And I did it. I just wanted to get back in there and I did and I wound up winning some fights again. Losing those three fights, it was an experience, and I took it as, not really a loss, but as a learning experience. To me, I enjoyed a fight and there had to be a winner and a loser. You know, certain guys you come across, you can’t show your best stuff, their style is bad for you, and things like that; whereas other guys make you look really good. It’s all learning. Guys that walked right into me, that suited my style. I was a pretty good puncher.”
Q: Can you remember the first fight you had with Gaeten Hart, you dropping a decision in January of 1978?
R.R: “I don’t remember the first fight with Gaetan Hart. I look back, and yeah, he was a tough fighter, a guy with a tough chin and a lot of guts who wanted to go out and scrap with you. No doubt he was a good fighter. He was a tough guy for me to fight.”
Q: And your close fight with Hilmer Kenty?
R.R: “Hilmer Kenty, that was one of my toughest fights. At the time, I didn’t really know who I was fighting. The thing with me was, I never really had a ‘home town’ as far as fighting; I was always going out of town to fight. And it’s a little harder that way. When we went to Detroit for that fight [with Kenty], I didn’t know him at all. We got in the ring, and I looked up at him, because he was so much taller than me. He was like six-foot tall, a big guy, and I was looking at him, he had no scars, he was unmarked, and I thought to myself, ‘this guy’s gonna be hard to hit.’ But it was a good fight, we went the whole ten rounds and I put him down twice. He jumped right back up and we both went right back at it. I lost the decision but I still think it was a very close fight.
“I did get hurt. In fact, that’s the fight where I got hurt actually. I wanted to quit after – in fact I did quit. I went and told my manager that I had double vision, I was dizzy. It was pretty scary. I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ I went to the hospital, and they didn’t see nothing, but I said to myself I was gonna quit anyway. I wasn’t going back [in the ring] like that, not feeling right. But it did go away pretty quickly and I didn’t think too much of it after that. And then, not too long after, there he [Kenty] was, world champion (laughs). So I said to myself how I had to go back, and try and get another fight with him, of course. He was actually at ringside for my last fight; I was gonna sign up for the rematch. I was certain to win that (a rematch with Hart) and get the rematch with Kenty. But of course, it didn’t work out that way. That’s how it went. Had we had that rematch, I would have said to myself, ‘I can really hurt this guy.’ I would have unloaded a lot more punches instead of holding back and waiting.
“But today, I’m just lucky as heck to be here, to be how I am. Other fighters, they’re in rough shape or they’ve passed on. After my accident in the ring, I found it scary, seeing the people who had been in car accidents and things like that, who were young, in wheelchairs, as I was for a while. But looking at the other people in the hospital, it made me really feel blessed with what I’ve got. I still have a bad memory problem, I forget things. I have a physical problem with my right leg, where it’s stiff and I have no power in my right foot. I’ve had problems with that, but I’m lucky it’s as good as it is. I walk with a cane, but that’s fine. I just go with the flow. You know, you have to appreciate what you have. My brother, he’ll come down to help me out if I need anything. And I need that – I guess they, my family, they know what I need more than I know. Sometimes, I can’t really tell myself how bad it is. But they know. Sometimes, I’ll go to do something, and a few minutes later I’ll forget what I was gonna do. It’s things like that. I’ve got to really concentrate. But I have no time to complain. Forget that!”
“I was in a coma and I have no memory at all of the [second] Hart fight. I know it was the 12th and final round when it happened, and I was still standing actually. They walked me to my corner and I was unconscious right there, that’s when they had to pick me up and take me to my room, where I didn’t come to of course. Then they rushed me to the hospital. I feel very lucky with the way it went. But I have no memory of any of that. It’s like I was sleeping.”
Q: You would never like to see boxing abolished?
R.R: “No, I don’t think so. I like the sport. I love watching reruns of great fights. Roberto Duran was my idol back then; just seeing him scrap and everything, that was great. I still enjoy watching good fights like that, and boxing movies. I don’t follow the new names now, but I still watch the great fighters, from my era and before. I have no ill feeling towards Gaetan Hart or to the sport. It was actually a really bad thing that happened to him with the Cleveland Denny fight, just after our fight. It was such a shame that after our fight, the next guy he fights dies. It still makes me feel bad, but at the same time I’m blessed as they were able to pull me out of our fight alive. Like I say, I have no time to feel sorry for myself. I’m very lucky. As I say, my mistake was, after getting hurt in the earlier fight (with Kenty), going back in there. That was my mistake. So I don’t blame anybody else for what happened. I feel pretty good today and I’m grateful.”