Alex Ramos: One of the Good Guys (Exclusive for Saddoboxing.com; not to be reprinted without author's permission)
By Ted Sares
Too many boxing stories seem to end the wrong way. Many great fighters who have thrilled us over the years, whether fighting for a championship belt or at a local club, face retirement without any kind of financial assistance or access to medical care. Many suffer from depression, alcohol and substance abuse, rage disorders, homelessness or being indigent, bankruptcy, a total lack of financial awareness (few even know how to set up a traditional IRA plan or other basic investment vehicles), and the terrible effects of pugilistic dementia. Bobby Chacon, about whom I have written in the past, Willie Pep and Wilfredo Benitez, come to mind. Even the great Joe Louis died penniless. Some, like Greg Page or Gerald McClellan, have been injured in the ring. It can occur in a split second. For many ex-fighters, a combination of these factors can make for a dismal outlook.
Of course, many stories end the other way....Harry Arroyo, Jerry Cooney, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Dana Rosenblatt and Virgil Hill, to name a few. One story, however, stand heads and shoulders above the rest, and that is the one about Alex Ramos. Why Ramos? Well It isn't so much about what he did in the ring, though he was a very good fighter. No, it's what he did after his ring career that is so special. Let's track his amazing story.
ALEX RAMOS IN THE RING
Alex "The Bronx Bomber" Ramos was a native of Manhattan and a truly great amateur fighter who won four New York state golden gloves championships, and with almost two hundred amateur fights under his belt, won several additional amateur titles, a National Championship, and was a member of Team USA from 1978-1980. En route to compiling an amazing amateur record of 180-9 (132 by knockout), he was a sure bet for a gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, but President Jimmy Carter, by opting to boycott the Summer Games in Moscow, destroyed his and the dreams of many others.
As an amateur, he fought, among others, many future champions including Jose Gomez, a Cuban world amateur and Olympic champion, Duane Thomas, J.B. Williamson and Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum (a three-time world champion and Hall of Fame member ) whom he beat him in the New York Golden Gloves semi-finals. He also fought rugged Tony Ayala twice as an amateur, winning one and losing one, and Juan Roldan, whom he knocked unconscious in round one.
Ramos finally turned professional in 1980 and won his first five fights by ko. In March 1981, Dan Snyder became the first boxer to go the distance with Ramos, and in May, he had his first professional fight abroad when he beat Donnie Long by decision in San Remo, Italy. His next fight in June marked the first of many he would fight Atlantic City when he defeated Mike Sacchetti by decision.
Alex, a road warrior type, won six more fights, including a victory over tough Norberto Sabater, before suffering his first loss, an 8th round knock out to underdog Teddy Sanders in a shocking upset in August 1982. He then fought rugged Tony Cerda to a ten round draw four months later. After these setbacks, however, Ramos regrouped and became a ranked Middleweight as a result of three straight victories, including a decision over future world Light-Heavyweight champion J.B. Williamson. Despite losing his next fight, against future world Super Middleweight champion Murray Sutherland by a ten round controversial decision, Ramos was considered one of the toughest Middleweights of the era, one that featured such fighters as John "The Beast" Mugabi, Juan Roldan and Curtis Parker and many others.
After knocking out Wilbur Henderson in February 1984, Alex challenged Parker for the regional USBA Middleweight championship. In one of the high points of his ring career, he beat Parker over twelve rounds by a unanimous decision in April of that year. A world title fight against Marvin Hagler loomed, but a ten round draw against Chicago fringe contender John Collins, 34-2-1, proved to be a frustrating obstacle. The fight was held in Chicago and many thought Alex had been "robbed." Affirming this notion, Ramos had broken Collins's jaw, cheek bone, possibly some ribs and rendered his face a bloody mess. A bigger roadblock for Ramos occurred in Stateline, NV when he lost his USBA Middleweight title, on November 24, by devastating knockout in round nine against James Kinchen in a fight that was nationally televised.
After losing to Kinchen, Ramos got back on the contender's list by winning four out of his next five bouts, including a victory over J.J. Cotrell and one over Fred Hutchings whom he ko'd in August 1986, in Stockton, California.This victory positioned him for the California state Middleweight title, held by future world champion Michael Nunn. The two boxers met on November 21 in California with a "running" Nunn gaining the twelve round decision.
Alex then won two of his three next fights, and after Nunn had vacated the belt, he got a second opportunity to win the California State Middleweight Title, but was knocked out in eight rounds by Tim Williams. After another victory, Ramos got still a third crack at the California title, but was outpointed by Alphonso Long after twelve rounds in February 1988. He would win ten of his next twelve bouts (one ending in a technical draw) over the next several years. Finally, in 1994, he fought Jorge Fernando Castro in Santa Cruz, Argentina for the WBA world Middleweight title, but was defeated in two rounds after which he retired for good. He finished with a fine professional record of 39-10-2. Eventually, he would be inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall Of Fame.
Thus, after fourteen sometimes frustrating years fighting professionally in which he was top middleweight contender, Alex Ramos, 33, who had spent his entire life (or at least since age 11) as a boxer faced the harsh reality of the real world, one without fan adulation or glory, however fleeting. He was not prepared and was suddenly alone and, in addition, had to deal with the physical and mental problems brought on by the brutal and unforgiving years of a long amateur career, training, sparring sessions, and often savage fights. All of this took a heavy toll and things turned in the wrong direction for him.
He moved to Simi Valley, California, where he struggled with the co-demons of drugs and alcohol. Despite his ring glory, he became a substance abuser, an alcoholic, and even at times al alone and homeless. Unlike his ring days, he lacked a support structure to offer encouragement. Finally, facing the reality of his lifestyle, Alex Ramos woke up one day alone and scared and began the process of healing his self-inflicted wounds. As he says, with God's help, he overcame his addictions. Now over six years sober, he pledges, “I am going to die sober!” He then moved back to New York to begin another phase in his life, one that would far exceed that of his ring career in terms of accomplishments and making a difference.
He was now looking for new directions....a new career and a new way to live. Actress Sharon Stone, of all people, and her sister had a nonprofit called "Planet Hope" which is for homeless mothers with children triggered the inspiration for a dream. Alex was asked to work on a fundraiser in Las Vegas for this charity and it turned out that he was very good at it. This made him realize that he might be able to do something similar for his many retired brothers in boxing, particularly those who, like him, had transitioned badly from the sport.
Working with Sharon gave him the idea (and along with God's strength), he set out to do what he considered was the right thing. He said to himself, ".....If I can do it, anybody can! I love talking to fighters who are struggling to overcome addictions because I can show them the way and I can encourage them. I ain't no social worker—I am their brother. I do not judge them and I do not push them, but I let them know that when they are ready for the fight, I am in their corner. I also know that anything is possible if you believe and I mean that. There is nothing I can't do if someone needs help. It might be the Salvation Army instead of Betty Ford for rehab, and if they need medical help, I can promise them the very best care possible. I can promise them that the people and resources we have are all people who love boxing and care about the fighters...." RETIRED BOXERS FOUNDATION (RBF)
The dream came to fruition in 1998 when his concept of helping retired fighters transition from their active career to a new and dignified direction was incorporated into an IRS 501 @ 3 non-profit organization. The organization is known as the Retired Boxers Foundation (RBF)and among the celebrities who became involved in the organizations were and are Bo Derek, Mickey Rooney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lolita Davidovich, Col. Bob Sheridan, Ron Shelton, James Carville and many others. Among many others who became involved are former boxers Larry Holmes, Fernando Vargas, Bernard Hopkins, Juan Laporte and Micky Ward, who recently said, "I never was stopped in a fight...I lost on cuts, but I never got knocked out and I never stopped fighting. I won't stop fighting for this great cause either, more fighters should be helping the RBF!"
The mission of the RBF is to assist retired professional boxers in the transition from their glorious days in the ring to a dignified retirement. In short, it helps to provide a supportive bridge between the time a boxer leaves the ring and when he begins the next direction in his life. Helping hundreds of fighters annually, the "RBF," with the motto "Fighters Helping Fighters,"has been able to secure medical services, housing, rehabilitation and emergency assistance for many former athletes. Without a clear plan or direction for life after the ring, the "new" world can be a cold, hopeless, humiliating and scary place for the unprepared. Alex, Jacquie Richardson (the tireless Executive Director of RBF) and all the many miracle worker volunteers are dedicated to restore and/or fill these gaps. No ex-professional fighter who is in dire need of assistance is turned away. The RBF never turns its back on a fighter in need. “We manage on rather miniscule funds annually, yet we always are there for the fighters” says Executive Director Jacquie Richardson, adding “much has to do with our networking and resources.”
The program is run by many selfless individuals who offer assistance in financial services, rehabilitation, housing services, youth services and services designed for senior citizen services. If they need medical assistance or either physical or drug/alcohol rehabilitation, housing, financial assistance, etc, RFB endeavors to locate the needed resource. It has helped retired boxers get Supplemental Social Security and has access to an expert on Veteran’s Benefits, who is on the Board. As well, it has an extensive list of people and agencies that are available to help the fighters. It includes lawyers, doctors, accountants, housing specialists and government assistance resources with whom RFB has excellent relationships. As such, it provides an emergency bridge offering crisis assistance while it seeks longer term assistance. What make this truly remarkable is that no one is paid a salary by the RBF. The effort is reflective of a labor of love.RFB has helped Hall of Fame member Bobby "School Boy" Chacon with some basic needs like the microwave when he got in trouble for using a hot plate at his skid row hotel. We gave him clothes and some cash and groceries. Alex says, "I remember when we [Jacquie Richardson, and I] bought a microwave for Bobby and we delivered it to his little apartment on Skid Row. We went back two weeks later with some clothing and things he needed, and he was gone. We spent two days tracking him down before we found him. We never give up!"
RFB also paid for Juan Antonio Lopez’s chemotherapy for nearly 8 months until the WBC took over. It helped Andrew Maynard—1988 Olympic Gold Medalist, get Veterans Benefits so that his children could go to college. It helped Genaro Hernandez get eye surgery by connecting him with the WBC, who paid for the surgery. Genaro is now on RFB"s Honorary Board. It also helped Greg Page when there was no one out there to help him. One of RFB's dedicated Representatives, Brad Cooney (no relation to Jerry), helped him process his Supplemental Social Security red tape, which resulted in Greg getting benefits in record time. Not only did this provide a monthly disability check, but it also provided medical benefits. RFB also raised $3,000 for his family. RFB was the first to send a check for Bee Scotland when he died, and it sent a check for the Tybius Flowers family, which was delivered to his family by Lt. Indri, RFB East Coast Representative, and the list goes on.
Now, with a a Medical Advisory Board that consists of the top neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists; a national medical registry that is a work in progress; some great people who became RFB representatives.... .people like Lt. Mike Indri, who is the East Coast Rep, Avi Levy, an Attorney in Montreal and Sam Bearman in Florida (both of whom provide guidance to the foundation and also help the fighters), and go-to guys James Carville, Col. Bob Sheridan, and Gary Litchfield; and a cadre of wonderful volunteers, RFB is poised to move to the next level. Micky Ward is on the Honorary Board, along with Ron Shelton who wrote and directed White Men Can’t Jump and Play it to the Bone, but more importantly, who in 2000 donated $50,000 ($10,000 a year for 5 years) to cover operating costs. All of this money went to the fighters, as RFB runs a lean organization. But even small donations are more than welcome. Dignity Bags, which consist of a canvas bag, toiletries, underwear, sweats, socks, etc., cost about $75 to put together. If three people in some office sent $25 a piece, RFB could help one fighter have a little dignity on the streets.
RFB calls itself “The Undisputed Champions for Dignity." I have no argument with that. Last year Alex Ramos, along with Harold Lederman was awarded the Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award by the Boxing Writers Association of America and I have no argument with that either. Alex may never have won a world title in boxing but his stature as a champion in life is assured. He is a man who is dedicated to making a difference.....to do something for others
As an aside, since many of Alex's fights were in California and since that state is the only one with a boxers's pension plan, though one badly in need of improvement, he is eligible for $154 a month at retirement. Clearly not enough to really help, but if the same were true of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, he would have a substantial retirement indeed. Indeed, if the California Boxers Pension Plan was conceptually embraced in every state, eligible boxers could retire with a dignified pension.......and this is a subject I will treat in a different piece.
So much, then, for the amazing tale of Alex Ramos and his dream which continues to be garner support. People like Alex and Jacquie Richardson are filling some important gaps, and if you would like to help the Retired Boxers Foundation (all donations are 100% tax deductible), please give them a call at (805) 583-5890 or you can access RFB via the Internet at its site at www.retiredboxers.org Attention is also called to an article by Jack Newfield entitled, "The Shame of Boxing" posted on October 25, 2001 which can be accessed at www.thenation.com
"All of the sports have a safety net, but boxing is the only sport that has none. So when the fighter is through, he is through. While he was fighting his management was very excited for him, but now that he is done, that management team is moving on.......by the time you're 30 years old, you can be on a nowhere street, if you're not careful." Gerry Cooney who has started the FIST Foundation, an organization which has helped retired boxers find jobs.
Ted Sares is a Boxing Historian and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com