|Calling boxing a contact sport is much
like calling the atomic bomb an explosive device. Professional boxing, along
with pro football, easily surpasses the definition of a contact sport; they are
both, simply stated, collision sports. Key differences between boxing and
football are that football players wear quite a bit more equipment and they are
considerably better equipped for their post career lives. Pro football players
have the benefit of a union which, provides, upon retirement, basic financial
and medical benefits designed to smooth the transition to life after the game.
No such union or benefits or smooth transition exist in the sport of boxing for
athletes who devote their prime years to the sport. It has always been thus and
one man and the organization he founded has spent years attempting to change
that situation. Not surprisingly, the task is as tough as any bout this former
boxer had in a long and distinguished career in the ring.
The first thing that struck me when I reached
Alex Ramos on the phone last week, at his home in Simi Valley, CA, is that he
sounds older than his fifty years. Fourteen years in the professional boxing
ring will do that to you. And yet, it doesn't take long for passion to seep into
his voice and his words; it arrives naturally once he begins to talk about his
sport, the boxers he fought, the people he met, the places he traveled. And, for
me, listening to this metamorphosis, what came to mind is an "up and coming,"
"can't miss," 21 year old Bronx middleweight, undefeated in 12 fights, about to
make it 13 with an eight round KO in the main event inside the venerable
Westchester County Center in White Plains in early 1982.
I vividly recall the large contingent of fans who
made the short train trip, northward, from the Bronx and how they, literally,
shook the walls of the County Center, a hallowed boxing venue from the era of
St. Nicks, Sunnyside Gardens and Eastern Parkway Arena. It's even easy to
remember that I thought, on that night, I was sitting through a scene from a
familiar Hollywood story of the tough kid from the mean streets of the city
climbing his way to the top of the boxing world. But in the crystal clear
reflection of retrospect, I was actually watching an even more familiar boxing
story unfold, the one that affirms that the sport moves to no Hollywood script.
Following the County Center bout, future success was still in the Alex Ramos
script; there were some wins in major boxing venues across the country and
around the world against the top middleweights of the 1980s. There were TV
appearances, fights in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos, bouts in the "Mecca
of boxing," in Alex Ramos' hometown. But this boxing story ended agonizingly
short of the top of the sport. And when it ended, Alex Ramos didn't bother to
look around for a supportive union to guide him into the afterlife of boxing. It
wasn't there for Alex Ramos in 1994. It still isn't.
"Union is a dirty word in our sport," Ramos
states unequivocally. "Nobody wants anything to do with a union; not the
promoters, not the managers, nobody. Fighters got no team, they're independent
contractors. We're all alone in our sport, we're all alone in the ring and we're
all alone when we're done fighting." Alex Ramos fought 51 times in the most
lethal weight division in the sport.
Middleweights are small enough to move quickly
and big enough to hit hard. Ramos, who answered a round bell 360 times during
those 51 fights admits he now depends on heavy daily doses of prescribed
medication to maintain his day to day existence. Ramos also knows, as well as
anyone ever will, that's he's not alone as a casualty of a brutal sport, he's
only one of many. But he's one of the few who is trying to do something about
and for those other fighters, by doing exactly what he did for 14 years in
professional boxing. Alex Ramos is answering the bell.
Ramos is the Founder and President of the
Retired Boxers Foundation, an
organization whose stated mission is to assist retired professional boxers with
their transition to retirement. And he quickly puts the task in perspective,
"It's been estimated that 87% of boxers leave the sport damaged in some way. And
who's there to help them when they retire? No one! Not one of the groups who
have profited and continue to profit from the sport have stepped up to help. Not
the promoters, not the boxing federations, not the TV networks, not the hotels
and casinos who use the sport to draw customers to their rooms and gambling
tables. None of these groups seem to give a s***, once those fighters stop
fighting and can use a little assistance. Instead the people who've made all the
money simply move on to the next younger crop of fighters. That's where the
Retired Boxers Foundation is trying to play a part. This isn't a new problem. As
far back as 1960, the year before I was born, Jack Dempsey was talking about the
need to provide help for fighters once they left the ring. It's just a problem
no one seems to think a lot about. We're trying to change that."
Alex Ramos thinks about the problem and he cares.
He cares in the way only someone who has been there, done that, cares. "I've
always been a fighter, my whole life and I'm going to die a fighter trying to
help other fighters." That's the type of passion Alex Ramos brought to his sport
and it's the kind of passion he now brings to the Retired Boxers Foundation.
He's had help over the years, from well known entertainment personalities,
prominent medical practitioners and some in the boxing community like Col. Bob
Sheridan, among others. He's also aided, on a daily basis, by Jacquie
Richardson, Executive Director of the Foundation. But the problem is a huge one
and huge help is needed.
On that long gone September night in 1982, Alex Ramos brought a least a thousand
fans from the Bronx to the Westchester County Center to see him do what, at the
time, he did as well as the best in the sport. Today, he's trying to do
something as well and as necessary as anyone in the sport, he's trying to help
those in need, those who often can't help themselves. Just maybe, the boxing
community can bring themselves to emulate those Bronx fight fans and gather
around Alex Ramos and the Retired Boxing Foundation. It would make a pretty good