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

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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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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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