Golden Days Donny Lalonde

By Michael Schmidt on March 28, 2012
Golden Days Donny Lalonde
Golden days, deserved for such great warriors, in life, and for Lalonde and his efforts

Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde always dreamed and still dreams big, and more often than not those dreams have come to fruition…

“The actual fate of the modern prizefighter is not far removed from that of his ancient brother. With but few exceptions he ends his days broke and broken. His brain or his eyesight is invariably damaged and his money dissipated. He trades his body for temporary luxury. He is but rarely able to enjoy his earnings, if he has managed to salvage any, in health and comfort, when his day is done. And the average active life of a public brawler is between seven and eight years.”—Paul Gallico from “Pigs at the Trough”

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA (Feb. 28, 2012)—After a late night at the fights, Varela in the house and the only guy in the crowd cheering for the Nica (Nicaraguan), it is nice to still be in one physical peace, pun intended, asleep poolside in the heat at the Miramar Intercontinental Hotel. “Hey Mike” comes a shout followed quickly by an apology for waking me with a jump. No apology necessary. It has been a long, long time Donny Lalonde. We jump right into a conversation; of the Waterloo Police Gym where we learned to box, as did so many others, under the tutelage of Sergeant “Hook” McComb, the fact that the “ring” was actually the circle painted on the floor of the cement floored basketball court, an inspiration for not falling down, and of so many other things. I mention to Donny that he looks and sounds fabulous, and so he does.

We have all seen or heard of the true life tale of the retired Champion boxer who, unable to make the transition to everyday life, money squandered, wrongfully taken or spent, falls into a boozy/drug and punch drunk decline. The fall into eventual obscurity claiming another boxing victim. The Hollywood films abound. “There is only one thing I know how to do. FIGHT!!” “You’re a bum…” Who can forget all of those black and white scenes, surrounding the boxing world, laid out so visually hard and bare in “Body and Soul” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight”? Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde will not be that picture painted and he is intent on moving forward with a project to ensure other boxers will not be that ugly picture painted either. The successful real estate developer has resided the past 11 years, golden days and golden sun, in Costa Rica. Hard work, perseverance, and big dreams fulfilled have been benchmarks of Donny’s achievements.

What a world. What are the chances, 34 years later, of two guys from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, meeting poolside in Panama for a WBA Awards Dinner, to talk about the old days growing up fast, in Kitchener, here in the midst of fighters such as Khaosai Galaxy, Ismael Laguna, Roberto Duran, Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, John Ruiz…Retired World Light-Heavy Champ, real estate developer, Donny Lalonde talk three hours poolside and we could have gone on for days: how he ended up in Winnipeg at an early age, the torment of an abusive step dad who liked to use Donny as his own version of a punching bag, his tireless crusade against child abuse, hitchhiking back to Kitchener, by himself, at age 15, working odd jobs at a young age, grade nine education, starting to box on a whim at age 17 after having watched a Saturday afternoon Wide World of Sports show and being impressed by the dignity and power of a champion boxer, of the limited 15-fight amateur career, the early years of self-promoting his fights with the help of his brother, both living on a shoestring, the early sparring sessions with World Champion and knockout artist Marvin Johnson, moving to New York to pursue what for any other person would be an unlikely dream, the broken hands, broken arms, the 30-plus shoulder separations, eye injuries, the legendary daily Gleason’s Gym sparring sessions with Iran Barkley, the 41-5-1, 33 knockout Hall of Fame numbers career, the title knockout destruction of Eddie Davis and Leslie Stewart, the wars with Bobby Czyz, Virgil Hill, Mustafa Hamsho, the $6 million fight with Sugar Ray Leonard at a far too low catchweight, of his 20-plus year marriage to a terrific lady and former stage dancer for the Beach Boys, his children, and of his return, now, to the fight game, another mission in mind.

Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde always dreamed and still dreams big, and more often than not those dreams have come to fruition. In that sense “dream” perhaps is not the correct word as he has worked hard for what he has achieved and to make his goals a reality. He still has the model and stage actor good looks. He still speaks clearly and concisely and he is still in great physical shape. He is, foremost, a class act. The following weekend he will, selflessly, give his time, flying from Costa Rica, to Canada to participate as the guest of honor at a WBA “No to Drugs” show in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It will not be the usual quaint tale of celebrity Champion autograph attendance with dollops of charm and charisma. Silence shall not be golden. Donny Lalonde is on a mission.

Fast forward a week later and Donny has been every bit the Champ at this dinner boxing entertainment event for charity purposes. A class act all the way. We talk during dinner and I mention how my brother watched the Leonard fight for the first time the day before and how it is strange how one event can sometimes try to define us even though, in this case, Donny’s career has so many great fights, and a Championship, attached to it. “What did your brother think of the fight?” Donny asks. I tell him that brother Steve thought, as I did, that Donny got “greedy” in the sense that the knockdown of Sugar Ray was probably the worst thing to happen for Donny. ”It made you change. You were winning rounds to that point nice and smooth with your outside reach advantage and the left jab and after the knockdown you went at him and changed your strategy. You got greedy.” Donny responds in kind, humbly, that my brother is very astute in making such comments having watched the fight for the first time and smoothly transitions to the subject that is of real interest to him. “You know Mike it is strange that people will pay millions upon millions of dollars to watch two guys entertain them in the world of boxing, hitting each other, and given all those entertainment dollars out there, we, the boxers, have no after-boxing program for health matters.” Donny Lalonde, CHAMPION in every sense of the word, has a project he is putting together, and knowing Donny it will move ahead full steam, in a positive and successful fashion.

Donny Lalonde’s “T.K.O.O.O.” ( taking “K"are of Our Own) is a not for profit initiative to help boxers with cognitive/physical problems after years of boxing. It involves reflexology, cranial sacral therapy, “cell food” and the need to increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain.“You know as well as I do Mike, you meet great champions like Wilfredo Benitez for instance, in a convalescent home, or some poor fighter but for charity is out on the streets, well, when they are champions or on top, everybody is around them, but after that they are often on their own with nobody caring or helping out. Boxing has to start taking care of its own. I started to think of how, if I wanted to become part of boxing again, of what I would want to do and how I could help. I have always viewed things from a holistic standpoint. The problem, of course, is that when you get hit in the head for 20 years your cognitive abilities are compromised. We are trying to enhance the quality of retired boxers lives by educating them on natural methods, and having them adhere to those methods such as cranial sacral therapy, reflexology and various other programs that I will detail. I know for me when I started doing this, as far back as my early fighting days, I started to feel like a kid again.” I mention to Donny that he is T.K.O.O.O.‘s best walking advertisement, and for a fighter that had 40-plus fights against the level of fighters that he did, Donny is stunningly “clearheaded.” 

Champion Lalonde has some very famous boxing champions on board for his initiative, as well as doctors and M.R.I specialists, to complete a six-month study and move forward to help fighters to improve their quality of living and lifestyle in an ongoing educational process. He will need corporate donors and commitments not only from the monetary aspect but from the financial and celebrity exposure aspect. Anybody that watched the not-so-slow demise of Jerry Quarry, and countless others, can fully appreciate how long overdue this type of effort is. There will be more to come on Donny’s efforts soon. “You know Mike, it is the entertainment business. Two fighters, in the ring, punching each other, while people with lots of money sit ringside paying big dollars to watch. You would think in this whole big world we could get a few good people, that’s what we need, to help out. I think that we can do, that we should do! You know I think one of the songs on Bruce Springsteen’s new CD is perfect for our efforts. I should try and get in contact with him.” This is vintage Lalonde. I mention to him that Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson is from Springsteen’s old stomping ground, Asbury Park, and that Springsteen’s longstanding friend and sax player, the recently deceased Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, played at Kingpin’s fight last year and that might be a starting point. “Thanks Mike, I will get onto that as soon as possible.”

Yes, vintage Champion Lalonde; survivor, self promoter, model good looks, articulate and model human being, and yes ALWAYS champion. You can’t ever take that away once you have won it. I watched Donny at this dinner/boxing charity event one week forward of Panama. He gave and gave and gave, of autographs, smiles, speeches, and he was ever so personally interested in every single person that he met, big or small, taking concentrated but genuine interest in all. He attended on his “own dime” as they say and it was his second long, long air travel in less than a week. CHAMPION. No, silence shall not be or should it be golden. Taking care of our own an initiative needing a voice, starting with a ripple and to get bigger and bigger. We should all try and support this initiative, small or big, in our own way possible and so I start, so starts, herein. Champion Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde fights this the good fight. This is the boxing world and so the slope is slippery but then, as now, more so than many, Donny Lalonde knows the challenges of life. He does not revel in the homage of past glories. Golden days, deserved for such great warriors, in quality of life, and for Donny Lalonde and his efforts.

Greetings from Asbury Park perhaps next on the long journey.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Donny LaLonde vs. Leslie Stewart (part 2 of 3)

Donny LaLonde vs. Leslie Stewart (part 3 of 3)

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  1. the thresher 02:12pm, 03/30/2012

    I always liked Donny

  2. FrankinDallas 04:43pm, 03/29/2012

    Didn’t Lalonde have a crooked left arm, making it impossible for him to throw a straight left jab?

  3. mike schmidt 08:02am, 03/29/2012

    Good of you to salute him—yes, yes I see he had a tragic ending—I shamefully must say I did not follow his after-boxing career—my understanding is that he gave a very very gifted, young Mando Ramos one hell of a war and they did a second dance to that one—thanks for posting and putting me to further boxing education on F.C.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:48am, 03/29/2012

    Mike Schmidt-No not even…I post under that name because of an affinity for Frankie and the tragic turn his life took. You are right on re: Frankie’s career. It is really great to see that Donny’s story has turned out the way it has.

  5. mike schmidt 07:32am, 03/29/2012

    Irish you are right on—Donny’s story will be told in a bigger more detailed way later on—but on Leonard fight he was lower than the catch weight—too much training lead up—Leonard of course commanded big bucks for his opponents as well and tough to turn those kind of green back numbers down—Hagler same deal- huge sized ring, 12 rounds instead of 15….by the by, are you THE FRANKIE CRAWFORD WHO FOUGHT ALL THOSE WEST COAST TOUGH GUYS- PIMENTAL, RAMOS ETC ETC- IF SO WELL A HUGE SALUTE TO YOU MY FRIEND—TOUGH ERA, TOUGH GUYS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DEPTH

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:15am, 03/29/2012

    Donny was a breath of fresh air then and it looks like the same holds true today. Only one sour note in an otherwise great career…never should have given Leonard an inch of an advantage….none…zip…nada…should have been 175 or nothing….even for a smaller purse….that KO pisses me off to this day!

  7. mike schmidt 03:39am, 03/29/2012

    Hook McComb who was a second father figure to many will have a ceremony take place the end of April in Kitchener where his many years of service will be held in recognition by our city of Kitchener—I am sure Hook will be looking down from the sky above with a smile and we will hold great memories in kind of a great guy—I think I can speak for Donny with respect to the aforementioned as well—Hook was a wonderful man and helped out many young guys

  8. Brett 01:40am, 03/29/2012

    Great article Mike!
    I learned something new by reading this article. I had NO idea that Donny is from Kitchener, and that is where BOTH of you learned to box. Really neat. I heard that “Hook” McComb was quite the man and sounds like Donny is too. Gotta watch some of his old fights because unfortunately, the only one I have seen is his match with Leonard.

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