Belated 10-count for Wayne Heath

By Pete Ehrmann on June 28, 2016
Belated 10-count for Wayne Heath
Heath retired from boxing and spent 25 years on the police force, 20 of them as chief.

After successive defeats by Boone Kirkman, Buster Mathis and Kirkman again, Irish Wayne’s dalliance with the big time was over…

According to the obituary for Irish Wayne Heath in the Shawnee (OK) News-Star, the 1960s heavyweight who died last December 3rd at 79 was once ranked in the Top Ten. The big Okie was a rugged fellow, for sure, but I don’t recall ever seeing his name in the global ratings and suspect the claim pertained only to California, where Heath headquartered after departing Oklahoma and became part of what The Ring magazine heralded at the time as the Golden State’s “Rush of New Heavies.” They included Jerry Quarry, Joe Orbillo, Thad Spencer, Mac Foster, Manuel Ramos and Big Train Lincoln, and to be in that mix certainly was nothing to sneeze at.

At one point Heath had an eight-fight winning streak that culminated on September 9, 1965 in a 10-round victory over future world title challenger Ramos at the Olympic Auditorium. But Ramos stopped him in a rematch, and after successive defeats by Boone Kirkman, Buster Mathis and Kirkman again, Irish Wayne’s dalliance with the big time was over.

His August 2, 1967 fight with 19-0 Mathis before 6,000-plus fans at the L.A. Sports Arena went viral, or whatever well-traveled news did in those pre-digital days, because when the fight ended in the fifth round after Heath, outweighed by 25 pounds, went down for the second time, his wife Selma clambered into the ring, grabbed a stool and went after big Buster. The cops stymied her determined efforts to brain him and urged Mathis to exit the arena via a back door. Selma paid a $100 fine for disturbing the peace.

A sparring partner for Sonny Liston before he retired from boxing in ’68, the 15-10 Heath returned to his hometown of McLoud, Oklahoma and spent 25 years on the police force, 20 of them as chief. “He cared deeply for the citizens of his community,” said his obit, “considering those he protected and served as family.”

Heath’s son, Wayne Jr., currently a 7-0-1 heavyweight known as the “Vanilla Gorilla,” wrote on Facebook about his dad: “(He) was such a wonderful example of what a man should be for so many kids in the area that needed (a) positive role model. He would take in and work with the most troubled kids, and he helped so many. He didn’t drink, cuss, or do drugs (and) always treated everyone he ran across with so much respect. It didn’t matter where (your) place in life was, you were important to him.”

Reports that Irish Wayne will be inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame this October are not true. That would be a stretch. But if his home state ever starts its own ring Hall of Fame, a charter class comprised of Heath and fellow Sooner heavyweights Babe “The Big Gusher” Hunt, Junior Munsell and George “Scrapiron” Johnson (whom Heath defeated twice early in their careers) would be A-OK.

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  1. JEFF DUNNING 06:54am, 07/14/2016

    Wow…the real Frankie Crawford? I go way back with Frankie as a close follower and in those days could get into the dressing room after his fights in Northern Calif. against Ray Lunnie. Agreed on Heath, he was exciting because you never knew how his fights would go.
    Hey Frankie, if you are him, drop an email if time.

  2. Bob 03:04am, 06/30/2016

    The late, great and extremely underrated actor Aldo Ray could have played Heath in a movie.  Ray had a brief career as a California cop before becomimg an actor.  They look a lot alike and Ray played many tough characters, including boxers and football players, who had good hearts.

  3. Regina 12:56pm, 06/29/2016
    California hof he is being honored in posthumous section at the hof banquet.  Thank u so much and Great Article!

  4. Regina 12:51pm, 06/29/2016
    California hop great article he is being honored in posthumous section at the hof banquet.  Great Article!!

  5. peter 06:37am, 06/29/2016

    Wayne Heath was merely a name in the small agate print. Other than reading the decisions of his bouts, few people knew anything about him. That’s why an article like this is so appealed. Thanks for writing it. RIP, Wayne.

  6. oldschool 06:26am, 06/29/2016

    Nice tribute to a tough and honest journeyman from a strong era in boxing history. A good character guy who always gave his all against all odds. Thanks Pete.

  7. Bob 06:36am, 06/28/2016

    Heath sounds like a very decent guy who treated everyone with respect, especially those not in the position to give him something back. Thanks for the nice tribute to a tough guy with a tender heart.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:18am, 06/28/2016

    Anybody who could beat Scrapiron twice couldn’t be that bad. Though I doubt he would have fared as well with the later version of Scrapiron that fought Frazier.

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