Against the cyclical deluge of rags to riches – and back to rags
By Michael Benjamin
Boxing is replete with ‘rags to riches’ and ‘back to rags’ stories and it seems as though the historical evidence available for perusal is of little or no consequence to some pugilists since the vicious cycle continues with no end apparently in sight.
Mike Tyson’s rise from a poor ghetto urchin to a life of splendor and riches was rudely cut short after he became enwrapped in several criminal maters, one of them, the famous Robin Givens episode, landed him in jail and spelled the beginning of the end of a man who once professed to be the ‘baddest man on the planet.’
‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard managed to leave the boxing arena with a squeaky clean record but later on admitted to have dabbled in cocaine. Former heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield, the man who lost a piece of his ear to Mike Tyson’s voracious appetite is said to be undergoing severe financial constraints when he should have been in his reclining chair enjoying the fruits of his labour. At age 45 the former heavyweight champion wants to keep fighting.
The “Real Deal,” as Holyfield is dubbed, appears ‘Real Broke.’ His $10 million estate in suburban Atlanta is under foreclosure, the mother of one of his children is suing for unpaid child support, and a Utah consulting company has gone to court claiming the boxer failed to pay back more than a half million dollars for landscaping.
A legal notice appearing in a small American newspaper informed that Holyfield’s estate will be auctioned off ‘at public outcry to the highest bidder for cash’ at the Fayette County courthouse on July 1. The 54,000-square-foot home, located on Evander Holyfield Highway, has 109 rooms, including 17 bathrooms, three kitchens and a bowling alley.
Further compounding his financial woes, a federal lawsuit was filed about two weeks ago in Utah seeking repayment of $550,000 in loans allegedly made to Holyfield in late 2006 and early 2007 to pay for landscaping on his 235-acre estate. To make matters worse Holyfield’s earning power has been in steep decline and he went through a dismal six-fight stretch that produced only one win, prompting the state of New York to strip him of his license after a dismal 2004 loss to Larry Donald.
The welterweight super fights of the seventies and eighties are now history yet boxing buffs worldwide can still experience the joys of witnessing such bouts like Sugar Ray Leonard against ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler, Wilfredo Benitez against ‘Sugar’ Ray, Hearns against Hagler, Roberto Duran against Leonard and the list goes on. While these fighters have enjoyed immense success in the ‘square jungle’ many of them have been sorry failures in their private lives.
The baton has now been passed to a new breed of fighters and all efforts are trained on the Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather super fight. This bout seems to have caught the imagination of the pundits but it seems as though the two fighters are experiencing difficulties arriving at common consensus. This bout is going to be a mega fight for mega bucks if it happens.
The fighters mentioned earlier have had their moments in the sun when they were signing similar contracts. Who would have thought that Tyson, after earning more than three hundred and fifty million US dollars would have ended up a pauper? If someone had told you that Evander Holyfield would have been craving for fights just to pay his bills, would you have believed it?
I recently read about Pacquiao’s childhood days before he was rescued by boxing. The man touted to be the one to break Mayweather’s winning streak once lived on the streets, sleeping rough and many nights slept on a cardboard box; bought doughnuts and then sold them for a penny more to eke out a living. Pacquiao then turned professional as a 14-year-old in order to escape poverty.
The incredible story of the rags to riches life of Pacquiao, his escape from poverty, his willingness to give his money away to the people who adore him, may give him the opportunity, some time in the next decade, many believe, to rise and run for the presidency of the Philippines.
Ricky Hatton may be popular in Great Britain but Pacquiao has demi-God status in his homeland. Roach, who has trained great fighters including Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Bernard Hopkins among others, was recently quoted as saying that, “Manny has the most incredible following of any fighter I’ve ever worked with. You have to go to the Philippines to believe it. You have to remember where he came from, that he fought his way out of poverty.”
Roach explained that Manny ran away from home after his father ate his dog, and he lived on the street, where he bought doughnuts at a doughnut store and then sold each one for a nickel more to survive. He slept in a cardboard box. He fought his way through all this and eventually turned pro at 14. “Look at the man he is today,” Roach gushed
This is a man with great political ambitions and unlike most boxers of his status, is now reading for a college degree. It would make for painful reading if a few years down the line we were to hear of Pacquiao returning to the dismal position he occupied before boxing rescued him.
I have said before that our local boxers need to read of the experiences of past great fighters if only to avert similar catastrophes. Here are a few to really enforce my point. Very few boxers were already rich when they entered the ring. Most boxers who have reigned as world champions were from poverty to wealth. Here’s a bunch of boxers who have lived and died or presently living in obscurity or penniless and miserable after becoming world champions.
Tommy Burns was a Canadian world heavyweight champion from 1906 to 1908. He was a wealthy man at the end of his boxing career but lost all his fortune during the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. He had worked as insurance salesman, security guard and many others.
He died of heart attack at the age of 73 in 1955. He was buried at Ocean View Cemetery in British Columbia with only four people attending his burial.
Born in New Zealand, he was the first boxer to become world champion in three-division –middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight. A gambler with 4 wives, he did not hold on to the money he earned. He died of pneumonia in 1917. Penniless, of course.
Sam McVey of California, USA was a famous heavyweight boxer and was two-time “colored heavyweight” champion. He worked as a trainer and sparring partner for both black and white fighters training for important contests later in his life. He died of pneumonia in 1921 a penniless man.
Undoubtedly, one of the most famous heavyweight champions of all-time, he was champion from 1937 to 1949. Failure to pay large amount of taxes forced him back to the ring after his retirement. Later on, he became a cocaine user and was hospitalized for five months at a psychiatric hospital for paranoia. He suffered a fatal heart attack in 1961. His former rival and friend, Max Schmeling, paid for his funeral.
Leon Spinks became the world heavyweight champion in 1978 when he beat Muhammad Ali. He then fell from grace and became homeless in little more than a decade.
John (“Johnny”) Tate was WBA heavyweight champion from 1979 to 1980. After his reign as champion, his life was miserable and troubled. He suffered from cocaine addiction and was convicted on petty theft and assault charges and served time in prison. He died of injuries sustained from car accident when he suffered a massive stroke, caused by brain tumor, while driving.
Michael Gerard “Mike” Tyson of USA was one of the most famous and most dreaded heavyweight champions of the world. He is noted also for his controversial behavior both inside and outside the ring. He was convicted of sexually assaulting an 18 year-old lady, for which he served three years in prison. Tyson had received $300 million during his boxing career but he declared bankruptcy in 2003. He was convicted for possession of cocaine in 2007 and sentenced to 24 hours in jail, 360 hours community service and 3 years probation.
Riddick Lamont Bowe was the world heavyweight champion in the mid-90s. Like Mike Tyson, he grew up in a slum area in New York City. After his retirement from boxing, he trained to become a Marine but failed. A few months later, he was accused of assault and battery by his sister and wife and was convicted for kidnapping his wife and children. He was initially sentenced to only 30 days as a result of a lenient sentence due to brain damage claimed by his defense. The sentence was later overturned and Bowe served 17 months in federal prison. He was arrested again in 2001 after a domestic dispute with his wife for allegedly dragging her causing injuries to her knees and elbows
He returned to the ring in 2004 despite his brain injuries. Like Mike Tyson, he declared bankruptcy in 2005, punctuating his personal and financial demise.
All is not lost. There are few boxers that have escaped the dragnet. I am currently researching their feats for another publication. Nevertheless, local pugilists must not be oblivious to these occurrences.
They must aspire to circumvent such experiences. I’ll simply wrap this up with this article with a message to young pugilists “You worked hard for it so manage your money wisely, don’t let your money manage you”.