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Rocky Lockridge’s 20-Year Battle With Drugs Was Tougher Than Any 15-Round Fight

Bernard Fernandez

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“Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse” is a 1950s mantra often, and wrongly, attributed to actor James Dean, star of Rebel Without a Cause and the iconic symbol of the era’s youthful angst. Regardless of the authorship of that fatalistic sentiment, Dean seemingly made it his own during a brief, turbulent life: he was speeding when, at 24, he crashed his car and succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 30, 1955, indeed leaving a good-looking corpse in the casket that was lowered into his grave. More than 63 years later, devotees of all ages continue to mourn the premature passing of the forever-cool Dean, who was spared the reality of growing old gracefully, or at all.

Boxing’s James Dean equivalent was WBC featherweight champion and Mexican national hero Salvador Sanchez (44-1-1, 32 KOs), who was 23 when, driving far too fast, he crashed his land rocket of a car and perished on Aug. 12, 1982. At the time of his death, Sanchez, the perpetually young and fresh embodiment of a magnificent  fighter whose career might have been even more celebrated had he lived longer, had a signed contract to fight Rocky Lockridge, another young, exciting and gifted practitioner of the pugilistic arts, in what would have been one of the most-anticipated matchups of the decade.

Perhaps, had he and Sanchez actually squared off, and particularly if Lockridge (44-9, 36 KOs) had come away with a victory that would have surpassed even his signature one-punch knockout of Roger “The Black Mamba” Mayweather, things would have turned out differently for the Tacoma, Wash., native who might also have achieved the legendary status that will forever cloak fans’ cherished memories of Sanchez. But there was an opponent, more insidious than any he ever faced or might have in the ring, that served to strip Rocky Lockridge of his wealth, pride and dignity during a 20-year descent into a nightmarish existence in which he got his ass kicked daily by the twin scourges of drug and alcohol addiction.

Live fast? Die young? Leave a good-looking corpse? None of the outcomes on James Dean’s figurative wish list happened for Lockridge, who, despite his finally being able to kick his drug habit in the last few years of his life, was mostly a broke and broken man when he passed away, at 60, on Feb. 7. At the time of his death, Lockridge – who had suffered a series of strokes that slurred his speech and limited his mobility – was a ward of the State of New Jersey, in hospice care. Despite the no-frills circumstances of his passing, it was nonetheless better than the two decades he spent trapped in the depths of despair.  During those lost years the onetime champion was a veritable shadow of his former self, scuffling along on some of the meaner streets of Camden,  N.J., and subsisting on whatever he was able to scrounge through charity, panhandling or theft (he was arrested several times for burglary).

“I’ve been down to the pits of hell. I ain’t going back, no way,” Lockridge said in October 2011, after he had gotten himself clean during two very public years as the subject of an A&E reality television show, Intervention, which profiles the struggles of addicts to find sobriety.  The ex-champ’s angels of mercy were Jacquie Richardson, executive director of the Retired Boxers Foundation, who put A&E in touch with Lockridge, and Candy Finnigan, the intervention specialist who handled his case for the television program.

But as far as he had fallen, and as disgraced as he felt for having made the poor choices that led to his tumble from grace, there was enough of the personable Lockridge to remind those who cared to remember that there was still a kind and decent human being existing in the hollowed-out shell of what he had become.

“When you’re a kid, everyone has a Superman,” Bobby Toney, who idolized Lockridge when he was on top and befriended him when he was homeless in Camden and most in need of assistance, said in 2009. “I feel like my Superman just went and sat himself down on a big block of kryptonite. He couldn’t get off of it himself. He just needs some people to lift him up.”

Lockridge was a phenom as an amateur, compiling a 210-8 record for the Tacoma Boys Club and winning two national AAU championships and one national Golden Gloves title.  Identified as a future professional standout by the Duva family, he and another hot prospect from Tacoma, Johnny Bumphus, came east to New Jersey to be headliners in the early rise of what would become the Main Events promotional dynasty, predating the then-fledgling operation’s signing of 1984 Olympic medalists Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs.

“Rocky was always a low-key person with an easygoing personality,” recalled Kathy Duva, now Main Events’ CEO but then a publicist and wife of the company founder, the now-deceased Dan Duva. “He was quiet, articulate … just a wonderful guy.”

Twice losing bids for the WBA featherweight championship, both defeats coming on points to future Hall of Famer Eusebio Pedroza, Lockridge’s third attempt for a world title proved the charm when he journeyed to Beaumont, Texas, to challenge favored WBA super featherweight ruler Roger Mayweather, who would later gain acclaim as the trainer of his nephew, Floyd Mayweather Jr., on Feb. 26, 1984.  Only 25 and 32-3, Lockridge announced himself as not only a star of the moment, but maybe one for years to come, when he required only 91 seconds to starch the “Black Mamba,” the putaway coming on as emphatic a single shot as it ever gets inside the ropes.

“In a stunner, Rocky Lockridge has knocked out Roger Mayweather in round one!” blow-by-blow announcer Marv Albert excitedly informed television viewers.

Many years later, the $3 million fortune he had accrued through boxing long since vanished to his addiction and the sponging of hangers-on who partied with him for however long he could pay for the kind of good times that never last, Lockridge and a friend watched a TV replay of his victory over a Mayweather. It was if Lockridge was reliving a magical moment he wished could have forever been frozen in time.

“You see that man right there, Roger Mayweather?” Lockridge inquired of his guest. “You know who knocked him out? Rocky Lockridge!”

After starching Mayweather, Lockridge retained his title with defenses against Tae Jin Moon and Kamel Bou-Ali before being dethroned on a 15-round majority decision by another future Hall of Famer, Wilfredo Gomez, on May 19, 1985, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Lockridge reportedly earned a career-high $275,000 for that bout, on whose outcome hinged the kind of fat paydays that would have helped certify him as the great fighter his handlers believed he was on the verge of becoming.

“There are some good purses out there for him,” Lockridge’s manager, Lou Duva, said of what awaited had his guy gotten past Gomez. “All those years are now wrapped up in one night’s battle. Everything is wrapped up in the Gomez fight.”

Not that there wouldn’t be more good times and commendable victories for Lockridge, but already shadows were beginning to shade what should have been a bright and extended run at the top. He received $200,000, his second-highest purse, for an Aug. 3, 1986, shot at WBC super featherweight champ Julio Cesar Chavez, but he came up just short, losing a 12-round majority decision. He rebounded to lift Barry Michael’s IBF super feather belt on an eighth-round stoppage on Aug. 9, 1987, and held it with victories over Johnny De La Rosa and Harold Knight, but lost a 12-round unanimous decision, and his title, to Tony “The Tiger” Lopez on July 23, 1988, in Lopez’s hometown of Sacramento, Calif. That barnburner of a scrap went on to be named Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine. But the exciting setback to Lopez was the beginning of a career-ending  downward spiral in which Lockridge lost four of his final five bouts.

When did Lockridge begin to cede portions of his life and talent to the ravages of crack and booze? Even the man himself was uncertain of an exact date, but he knew he was still an active fighter when he began to celebrate victories, or to console himself in defeat, by partying. Fix by fix, drunken stupor by drunken stupor, he lost himself in a befuddled haze that ultimately left him without his wife, who divorced him, and his three sons, one of whom he fathered with a different woman.

“I’m bitter, I’m very bitter,” Lockridge once said of his personal dissolution. “I made some mistakes, a whole lot of mistakes, but they were beyond my imagination. The blow that was put upon me was harder to take than the blows, or any blow, for that matter, that I received in the fight game.”

But there are those, despite Lockridge’s many travails, who believe his career still is worthy of consideration for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He fought nine current, former or future world champions, almost always holding his own and in more than a few instances prevailing.

George Benton, Lockridge’s trainer and a pretty fair middleweight in his own right who was inducted into the IBHOF, as a trainer, in 2001, always said that the best of Rocky was a marvel to behold.

“He’s beautiful to watch,” said Benton, who was 78 when he passed away on Sept. 19, 2011. “He’s the type of fighter who holds your interest. You know when you go to see him you can’t get up out of your seat to go to the rest room. If you do, it might be all over when you get back.”

The 1980s, and the decade’s alarming legacy of rampant drug use, passed into history nearly 30 years ago. There were fatalities among the world-class athletes and entertainers who did not survive long enough to make it to middle age, and others, like Lockridge, who might have wished for the eternal peace that dying young would have meant. Additional names, like that of Johnny Bumphus, now 58, Lockridge’s Main Events stablemate and a onetime WBA super lightweight champion, are likely to remain on the future casualty list until they aren’t.

“This is as low as I’ve ever been,” Bumphus said in May 1990 of the loss of his sense of self that mirrored his friend and fellow Tacoma native Lockridge. “I’m a drug addict. I’m out of money. I don’t have a job or a house or a car. I had it all and then I smoked it all up, or gave it all away to cocaine.

“I want to apologize to all my fans, all my friends and family, anybody who ever saw me box, anybody I’ve ever known. I made them all proud of me, and now I’ve done this.”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Arne K. Lang

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Boxing was all over the map on the third Saturday of October with many of the shows pulled together on short notice as promoters took advantage of relaxed COVID constraints to return to business as usual. When the smoke cleared, a monster upset in Fresno overshadowed the other events.

Mikey Garcia, a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, was on the wrong side of it. Spain’s Sandor Martin, in his USA debut, won a well-deserved decision over Garcia at a Triple-A baseball park in Fresno.

Garcia, a former four-division belt-holder, was 40-1 coming in with his only loss coming at the hands of Errol Spence. Martin, a 28-year-old southpaw, brought a nice record with him from Europe (38-2) but with only 13 wins coming by way of stoppage it was plain that he wasn’t a heavy hitter. His only chance was to out-box Garcia and that seemed far-fetched.

But Martin did exactly that, counter-punching effectively to win a 10-round majority decision. Two judges had it 97-93 with the third turning in a 95-95 tally.

Neither Garcia nor Martin were natural welterweights. The bout was fought at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. After the bout, the Spaniard indicated a preference for dropping back to 140 where enticing opportunities await.

There was another upset, albeit a much milder one, in the co-feature where Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez improved to 25-3-1 (14) while shearing the WBO world flyweight title from the shoulders of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-2).

Soto was making his fourth defense of the title and rode into the match with a 17-fight winning streak. Gonzalez, a southpaw, had formerly fought for the WBO world flyweight title, getting stopped in seven rounds by Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya, Japan.

One of the judges favored Soto 116-112, but he was properly out-voted by his colleagues who had it 116-112 the other way.

Riga, Latvia

The first major fight on Saturday took place in Riga, Latvia, where hometown hero Mairis Briedis successfully defended his IBF cruiserweight title with a third-round stoppage of Germany’s Artur Mann who was on the deck three times before the match was halted at the 1:54 mark.

Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since dismantling KO artist Yuniel Dorticos in the finals of season two of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. He scored the first of his three knockdowns in the waning seconds of round two when he deposited Mann (17-2) on the canvas with a straight right hand.

Although boosters of fast-rising WBO champ Lawrence Okolie would disagree, the Latvian is widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world. His only setback came when he lost a narrow decision to current WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk in this ring in January of 2018. Now 36 years old, Briedis has yet to appear in a main event outside Europe. That’s undoubtedly about to change and a rematch with Usyk is well within the realm of possibility.

Newcastle, England

Chris Eubank Jr, whose fight two weeks ago in London with late sub Anati Muratov was cancelled at the 11th hour when Muratov failed his medical exam, was added to this Matchroom card and his bout with Wanik Awdijan became the de facto main event. A 26-year-old German, born in Armenia, Awdijan was 28-1 and had won 21 straight (against very limited opposition), but he was no match for Eubank Jr who broke him down with body shots, likely breaking his ribs and forcing him to quit on his stool after five frames.

Eubank Jr, 32, improved to 31-2 (23) His only defeats came at the hands of former world title-holder George Groves and BJ Saunders. He dedicated this fight to his late brother Sebastian Eubank who died in July while swimming in the Persian Gulf.

In other bouts, Hughie Fury, the cousin of Tyson Fury, stayed relevant in the heavyweight division with a stoppage of well-traveled German Christian Hammer and Savannah Marshall successfully defended her WBO world middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Lolita Muzeya.

Akin to Eubank-Awdijan, the Fury-Hammer fight also ended with the loser bowing out after five frames. A biceps injury allegedly caused Hammer to say “no mas,” but Fury, in what was arguably his career-best performance, was well ahead on the cards.

The Marshall-Muzeya fight was a battle of unbeatens, but Muzeya’s 16-0 record was suspicious as the Zambian had never fought outside the continent of Africa. She came out blazing, but Marshall, who improved to 11-0 (9) had her number and retained her title.

Brooklyn

In the featured bout of a TrillerVerz show at Barclays Center, Long Island’s Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, knocked out William Silva in the seventh round. It was the fifth-straight win for the 35-year-old Seldin, a junior welterweight who was making his first start in 20 months.

Silva, a 34-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Florida, brought a 28-3 record. His previous losses had come at the hands of Felix Verdejo, Teofimo Lopez, and Arnold Barboza Jr. Seldin improved to 26-1 (22 KOs).

In other bouts, junior welterweight Petros Ananyan, a Brooklyn-based Armenian, improved to 16-2-2 (7) with a 10-round majority decision over local fighter Daniel Gonzalez (20-3-1) and Will Madera of Albany, NY, scored a mild upset when he stopped Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who was pulled out after five rounds with an apparent shoulder injury.

Najmitdinov, from Uzbekistan, was making his U.S. debut but he brought a 17-1 record blemished only by former world title-holder Viktor Postol. Madera improved to 17-1-3.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholand / Matchroom

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Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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Book Review

Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, “bastardized by the alphabet groups” and at a time when “world titles still meant something.”

“I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve,” he writes, “saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back.” He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters – particularly small promoters – survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah’s Marina and the Sands  in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

Along the way, Peltz’s office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets in his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, “The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter.”

Now Peltz has put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard. “The internet is often a misinformation highway,” he writes. “I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I’m tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do.”

Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted  was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

There’s humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall “Tex” Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, “Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds.”

And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, “He couldn’t pass an eye exam because he didn’t understand the alphabet.”

Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, “”The Blue Horizon was a fight fan’s nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters.”

That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans.”

Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to “get me six wins in a row,” Russell thought of Chandler. “I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters,” he writes. “If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager.”

That brings us to Peltz the writer.

The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

There’s also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

“It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe,” Russell explains. “I’d bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight.”

I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don’t think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it’s worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

Peltz takes pride in saying, “I was part of Philadelphia’s last golden age of boxing.”

An important part.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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