By Kevin Gleason, recordonline.com – Ron Lipton asked about the photo of the guy up on a wall at the famed Mooksie’s Gym in Newark, N.J. “That’s Hurricane Carter,” said Lipton’s trainer, who had also trained Carter.
“Why don’t you get him to come to the gym?” Lipton asked.
“Because he doesn’t like white guys,” the trainer said.
The trainer set up a meeting anyway. Lipton, a talented boxer with 145 amateur bouts, was young and fearless and crazy, apparently the perfect combination for middleweight title contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. “I hear you need to beat up another white guy,” Lipton said when Carter showed up, “and I’m here for the job.”
Carter, a menacing figure with a perpetual scowl, shaved head and sharp muscles, started laughing. It was late 1962 and a friendship was born.
Carter hired Lipton as a sparring partner. They traded punches until a jury convicted Carter of triple murder in 1967. He was sentenced to three life terms. The ruling later overturned, Carter was convicted again in 1976. Both convictions were thrown out, and in 1985, having spent almost 20 years behind bars, Carter walked out of prison a free man.
Lipton, a former Walden resident living in Pleasant Valley, outside Poughkeepsie, risked his livelihood to clear Carter’s name. Lipton was a police officer and later a detective in the Hudson County, N.J., prosecutor’s office. Lipton even secured a meeting with Muhammad Ali and his handlers to shed light on Carter’s wrongful incarceration. Lipton said he paid a heavy price for supporting Carter, losing his job when a newly hired prosecutor didn’t renew Lipton’s employment.
“In those days,” Lipton said, “I was just considered the friend of a murderer.”
Still, Lipton attended every court hearing, every day of Carter’s retrial, because to Lipton, loyalty defined friendship. Ali’s involvement drew attention to Carter and others took up the cause, some for public relations benefits. But Carter was quick to credit Lipton publicly, including on a national television talk show in 1997 with Chet Coppock.
“Rubin had a fiery temper,” Lipton said. “He did things in his life that were wrong. But in the end, all that matters is that you make peace with yourself and make peace with people you have wronged inadvertently. He knew he was a bad guy in the beginning. But he changed his life.”
Lipton and Carter sparred out of the ring, as well. Lipton was driving Carter somewhere one day when Carter whacked Lipton on a shoulder with one of his steely hands. Lipton slammed on the brakes and they rolled out of the car and onto the ground. Once again, the scene ended with Carter laughing. No hard feelings, ever.
“No one made me more angry, no one made me more disciplined, no one made me fight as hard, no one made me laugh as hard,” Lipton said. “What I saw in the case was people lying. There are parts of the case I can’t talk about. The bottom line was, he was my friend and I never turn my back on a friend.”
Carter and Lipton spoke for the last time a couple weeks ago. Carter shared news of his induction into the New Jersey boxing Hall of Fame. He will be honored in November as an amateur champion, referee and historian. Years earlier, Lipton had accepted Carter’s award on his behalf for induction.
“Keep the faith,” Lipton told his friend on the phone. “We are all going to follow you sooner or later.”
“I’m ready,” Carter said.
“I hope I can be as brave as you,” Lipton replied.
“None of us have a choice,” Carter said.
Ravaged by prostate cancer, Carter died on Sunday at age 76. Lipton made a choice almost five decades ago. He chose to defend Hurricane Carter.