Let’s Get Serious: Richie Kates

By Robert Mladinich on July 10, 2014
Let’s Get Serious: Richie Kates
“I could take care of myself and knew I could beat the wannabe bullies.” (Robert Mladinich)

“I was a knucklehead, but boxing turned me around,” said Kates. “Once I took boxing seriously, which was right away, I took everything more seriously…”

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a golden age for the light heavyweight division. While champions such as Victor Galindez, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, John Conteh, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Mike Rossman, Michael Spinks and Marvin Johnson ruled the roost, the list of top challengers was nearly as formidable.

Action-packed fights were made between the titlists and such stalwart contenders as Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez, Jerry “The Bull” Martin, Jerry Celestine, Jesse Burnett, and James Scott, who fought out of Rahway State Prison in New Jersey where he was serving a long sentence for armed robbery. 

Among the best of those to come close but never win a championship was Richie Kates, a native of Bridgeton, New Jersey, who twice came up short in WBA title fights against Galindez. In their first bout, in South Africa in May 1976, Kates was stopped with one second left in the 15th and final round.

In their rematch, in Italy in June 1977, Galindez won a unanimous decision. Kates concedes losing the second fight fair and square, but he still takes issue with the results of the first one. 

“Looking back, there were a lot of things I didn’t capitalize on,” said the 61-year-old Kates.

“Early on in the first fight, he claimed that I butted him and he turned his back on me and walked away. I didn’t butt him; I hit him with left hooks and an uppercut and had him hurt. I blame myself for giving him a break. I should have known better and just kept hitting him.”

When dropped in the final round, Kates insists that he beat the count but referee Stanley Christodoulou did not concur.

Kates has no dispute with the outcome of the second fight. 

“I was sluggish and didn’t do enough to beat the champ,” he explained. “Galindez was a hard, nasty fighter and you had to go all out to beat him. I didn’t do as much as I should have in that fight, and I did not deserve the win.”

Despite the losses to Galindez, Kates enjoyed a fairly stellar career. Fighting from 1969 to 1983, he compiled a record of 44-6 (23 KOs). What few people know is that despite his birthday being officially listed as 1951, he was actually born in 1953 and turned pro at the age of 16 after having fought as an amateur for only three years and not yet even graduating from high school.

“It was a big step in my life and, looking back, I think it was the wrong decision,” said Kates. I should have waited, I was successful, and I won a lot of fights, but I didn’t have enough maturity to be my best.”

Kates’ first big win as a pro came against the undefeated Len Hutchins at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1971. Hutchins, a 1968 Olympic hopeful, was being handled by Yank Durham, who also managed Joe Frazier.

“I wasn’t supposed to win that fight,” said Kates, who beat Hutchins by split decision. “I was supposed to lose, but I said no way. I always had heart, which always got me over.”

Three months and two fights later, Kates took on Roger Rouse, who longtime light heavyweight champion Bob Foster said hit him harder than any opponent he ever faced, including heavyweight legends Muhammad Ali and Frazier.

“I remember watching Rouse on the Friday Night Fights and saying one day I’m gonna fight this guy,” said Kates. “People told me he could punch, and I believed it, but I didn’t want to find out so I didn’t get hit by anything hard by him.”

Kates stopped Rouse after knocking him down twice in the fifth round.

Kates traveled four times to South Africa. He won his first three bouts against local competition, the last of whom was Pierre Fourie who had been very competitive in losing two 15-round championship decisions each to Galindez and longtime titlist Bob Foster.

“I was young and naïve and I remember people asking me why I would go fight in South Africa,” said Kates. “I had always wanted to go to Africa, and I didn’t know the difference between Africa and South Africa.”

Kates was in for an eye-opener as soon as he departed the plane. “I saw signs that said ‘Europeans’ and signs that said ‘Blanks’ or ‘Blacks,’” he recalled. “It was obvious that the blacks were treated like they were nothing.”

Although Kates said he was treated with respect by the promoters, one of whom told him his being a visiting athlete accorded him the status of an “honorary white person,” Kates told his hosts, “I’m not a white person.”

“I didn’t think it was funny…. or fair,” said Kates. “I was allowed to go to movie theaters and four-star restaurants, but I didn’t want to go.” 

Kates’ best memory of South Africa came after he beat the late Fourie by decision in the mammoth Rand Stadium in Johannesburg. The victory put Kates in line for a shot at Galindez, but what Kates remembers most fondly is the adulation he received from the blacks who had packed into a restricted area of the stadium.

“They applauded me and cheered me,” said Kates. “It was a very good feeling.”

After the two losses to Galindez that followed the Fourie fight, Kates tangled with the late, great Saad Muhammad in February 1978 at the Spectrum in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I knocked him down early with a right hand, and he went boom,” said Kates. “The bell rang and he got a rest. He was saved by the bell. I really thought I could beat him, but he had so much heart and desire.”

Kates was stopped in the sixth round of the fight he considers the toughest of his career.

Soon afterwards Kates traveled to Rahway prison, where he was stopped in the 10th and final round by James Scott, who despite being incarcerated was decimating the division.

“I just let that fight get away from me,” said Kates. “I didn’t do enough to win.”

In his next bout, in July 1979, Kates survived an early knockdown to win a decision over the underrated future super middleweight champion Murray Sutherland at the Silverdome in the Scotsman’s adopted hometown of Pontiac, Michigan.

“He dropped me and I looked at my corner and said ‘wait a minute’ to myself,” recalled Kates. “I was surprised at how hard he punched.”
Three months later Kates defeated local hero John Capobianco over 10 rounds at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York, which was near Capobianco’s hometown. “He came to win and fought hard,” said Kates. “He had a lot of people there for him. I beat him, but it was a hard, tough fight.”

Kates finished out his career with a win and a loss to the alligator-tough Celestine, in Celestine’s hometown of New Orleans. His final career victory, in October 1983, was a 10-round decision over Jerry “The Bull” Martin, who was as rugged a competitor as they come.

“So many of those guys would be a champion today,” said Kates, who has been inducted into the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Boxing Halls of Fame. “Celestine, Martin, they were very rough opponents for anyone.”

Kates said that boxing always came somewhat naturally to him. As a youngster he recalls walking past the Millville Gym in New Jersey, where he peered in the window and saw neighborhood toughs he had viewed as “wannabe bullies” in training.

“I was never a bully, but I could take care of myself and knew I could beat the wannabe bullies,” said Kates. “When I saw them training, I said if they can do it, I can do it.”

Kates, who had seven brothers and three sisters at home, where he jokingly says that “every day was a battle for survival,” joined the gym and was soon taken under the wing of Lenny Pettway, who became like a second father to him.

Kates’s birth father, John, worked long hours as a laborer, while his mother Alice labored with the family brood at home.

Two months after entering the gym, Kates engaged in his first amateur bout and went on to win 17 straight, including local and national titles.

“I was a knucklehead, but boxing turned me around,” said Kates. “Once I took boxing seriously, which was right away, I took everything more seriously, including my education.”

Despite being somewhat of a local celebrity as a teenager, Kates’ still regrets lying about his age and turning pro before he was fully matured as both a boxer and a person. 

Despite how that immaturity might have affected the outcome of his career, it did not affect the other portion of his professional life. He later took a job as supervisor of recreation for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, where he worked in many facilities around the state.

When he retired five years ago after 25 years of service, he was a hearing officer on disciplinary matters.

Kates is disappointed that boxing no longer holds the personal or mainstream allure that it used to, but he enjoys coaching amateurs at a local gym. He is also active in his church where he used to be a deacon.

He barely follows the game today, and says the only champion he knows of is Bernard Hopkins, with whom he has been friends for many years.

“Other than Bernard, I couldn’t tell you who the heavyweight or light heavyweight champions are,” said Kates, who has been married to his wife Gloria for 40 years. They have three sons, two daughters, and four grandchildren.

“I don’t know what happened to boxing,” added Kates, who still enjoys reading from his vast collection of The Ring magazines from the 1960s to the early 1980s. “The sport is not my cup of tea anymore. I just don’t have the enthusiasm for it, but I came along at a very good time.

“There were lots of great champions and contenders back then,” he added. “I believe that 40 and 50 years from now, the light heavyweights of the ‘70s and ‘80s are still going to be talked about.”

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  1. MARTIN WALSH 07:15am, 08/18/2014

    Eric, the Conteh-Lopez fight from round 2 is on youtube. Conteh won reasonably comfortably without using his much damaged right hand. I have heard Lopez’ s team complain about the decision, but even allowing for a bit of bias being a fan of Conteh’s, Conteh won. The only controversy was that the judges had it closer than many thought including Bob Foster, who was doing some punditry ringside. This was the Conteh, a year or two before his lifestyle caught up with him.

  2. Eric 06:36am, 07/14/2014

    Quarry was great to listen to while watching fights back in the day. Bobby Czyz wasn’t bad behind the mic either. Czyz was a pretty decent light heavy too, but don’t know if Bobby would’ve been capable of capturing a title back in the Kates era. That era was so tough that even a good fighter like Czyz might have been in the bottom ten. Czyz might have been a notch behind a peak Rossman, and Rossman was champion only because he was fortunate enough to catch a past peak Galindez on an off night.

  3. Mike Silver 09:50pm, 07/12/2014

    I stand corrected. Quarry’s co-announcer was Brent Mussberger.

  4. Mike Silver 09:44pm, 07/12/2014

    Thanks for this fine article Robert. Kates deserves the attention. He was a solid and seasoned boxer-puncher in a great era for light-heavys. Both Kates and Galindez would easily devour the current light heavy champions. (I know that’s stating the obvious, but what the hell). What a delight to watch both in action. BTW, do you recognize the voice of Tim Ryan’s co-commentator in the tape of Galindez-Kates II? It is none other than Jerry Quarry, who for a brief time was one of the most astute and articulate ringside commentators I have ever heard. He lost the gig when Don King talked him into making a comeback a few months later. Like he needed more head punishment. It was downhill for Jerry after that.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:29am, 07/12/2014

    “I was never a bully, but I could take care of myself, and I knew I could beat the wannabe bullies”.....you gotta love this guy!

  6. Eric 09:19am, 07/12/2014

    In my opinion, Galindez did indeed lose the second fight with Yaqui Lopez, but did enough to win the first fight. Galindez did catch some breaks, and was repeatedly hitting low and behind the head in his first fight with Yaqui, but nonetheless deserved the victory. However, Yaqui took the rematch, it was a pretty boring fight, more of Galindez doing nothing than Yaqui looking good. Never have seen a full version of the first Kates-Galindez fight, but from what I’ve read, Galindez did enough to capture the fight even without the aid of the knockout in the last round. I believe Galindez floored Kates in the 7th round in their initial fight also. No robbery there at all. Galindez didn’t duck anyone and like Monzon was a globetrotting champion fighting in Italy, America, South Africa, etc. While Italy and South Africa might have been kind to Victor, New Orleans was bittersweet to the champion. He lost, then regained, then lost his title all in the Big Easy. Yaqui should have been crowned champion in his second fight with Victor. Never seen the Lopez-Conteh fight, but I’ve heard some Yaqui supporters feel Lopez was given the short end of the stick in that one also. Have to watch it sometime.

  7. Jack 05:46pm, 07/11/2014

    Robert, thanks for the memories buddy, I spent a lot of rounds sparing with Ritchie. I still remember that night at the Spectrum ( I was about 10 rows back from ringside ) when Ritchie caught Matt Franklin with a straight right hand. I don’t know how Matt managed to survive and finish the round. He fell almost face first into the canvas and that was the beginning of his signature comebacks ( RIP ). I always felt that was a high light of Ritchie’s career, besides giving Galindez a boxing lesson in their first fight, ( sorry Eric ). I would like to clarify Letties nickname, his real name was Leslie and he fought as a Featherweight, circa mid 40’s to early 50’s. A great guy and knowledgeable trainer. Keep up the good articles Robert.

  8. nicolas 01:19pm, 07/11/2014

    Eric: I was no big fan of Galindez. Kates may be correct about that first fight. I found that Galindez, especially in Italy always seemed to have favoritism on his side. Not perhaps as bad as Sven Otke in Germany. I felt he lost boht fights with Lopez, and against Eddie Mustafa, , He was allowed to foul him without point deductions or warnings, but when Eddie returned the favor, I remember they deducted a pint from him. I even think his countrymen Jorge Ahumada made some comments about Galindez that were not favorable.

  9. peter 10:30am, 07/11/2014

    Bob Mladinich does a great job giving us Richie Kates—unheralded Kates is one of boxing’s success stories.

  10. Eric 08:21am, 07/11/2014

    Watching some of the Kates-Galindez II video that was provided, was impressed as always at how well Quarry called the bout. No one could call a fight like Jerry Quarry. Brent “Muffburger” was creepy and sucked, but Quarry was the absolute best behind the mic. Quarry and Gil Clancy would’ve made an excellent duo calling a bout. Much, much, better than clowns like Merchant, Muffburger, Lampley, and others.

  11. Eric 07:24am, 07/11/2014

    Remember watching the second Galindez-Kates fight, I thought it was an excellent fight as was the first. Galindez was my favorite light heavyweight back in the day. Like almost all Argentine fighters, Galindez was always in excellent shape. Vicious Victor was amazingly strong for a light heavyweight. Kates definitely gave Galindez two tough fights, as did Jesse Burnett. Burnett, like Kates, is sometimes forgotten in that sea of great light heavies from the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. We all know of the champs like Conteh, Galindez, Saad, Mustafa Muhammad, Spinks, Johnson, Qawi, and Rossman and perennial contender Yaqui Lopez. But sometimes we forget a group of excellent contenders like Kates, Burnett, Davis brothers, Murray Sutherland, Jerry Celestine, Mustapha Wasajja, Vonzell Johnson, Jerry Martin, James Scott, and Bunny Johnson, along with forgotten champs like Mate Parlov and Miguel Cuello. Super tough era. Nice to see Kates doing well.

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