Jumbo’s Legacy

By Ted Sares on November 25, 2012
Jumbo’s Legacy
After the Cummings fight, Joe Frazier never fought again. The smoke was gone for good.

If someone asks who Joe Frazier fought in his last professional fight, chances are pretty darn good that the answer will be Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings…

Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings lived in Chicago but like so many other South Side Chicagoans, he was born in Mississippi; he also resided for almost 13 long years in the dreaded Illinois Stateville Prison in Joliet, arguably once the nation’s toughest penal institutions and often referred to as “Hotel Hell.” Jumbo had gone up on a murder charge as a 17-year-old teenager and learned the boxing trade while incarcerated He turned pro when he got out at age 29.

Joe Frazier’s Comeback (1981)

“Frazier lost his legs almost completely when Cummings staggered him with a right uppercut in the third round, and often found himself pinned to the ropes and unable to spin out or, in fact, to move at all.”— William Nack (Sports Illustrated)

“…on a March night in 1981 Jumbo came close to a moment of grace when he damn near knocked out the former Heavyweight Champion of the world. That night Jumbo transcended his jailhouse stripes and for a moment the world took notice.”—“BLUES FOR JUMBO CUMMINGS” (Tony Fitzpatrick, ARTNET, 2010)

After a five and half year layoff, a restless 37-year-old Joe Frazier returned to the ring in 1981, only to have Jumbo (15-1 coming in) “beat” him handily him in Chicago. Team Frazier (in a performance which can best be described as desultory) failed to do its homework. While Jumbo’s bunched up muscles prevented him from being a one-punch knockout artist, his time in Joliet forged a body that did not lack for power and toughness. Joe had underestimated him and paid dearly for it. Indeed, Cummings had a struggling Frazier ready to go on more than one occasion but couldn’t finish him as both fighters tired badly at the end.

When the fight ended, there was little doubt as to the winner and that Jumbo would have his hand raised in victory; but nostalgia and sentimentality have a way of stripping away reality and the fight was declared a draw. Judge Harold Markowitz had it 47-47. Judge Collins Brown scored it 46-46. Only judge Nate Morgan got it right as he scored it 46-45 in favor of Cummings.  It was almost as if there had been a tacit agreement that a draw was the best decision to coax Joe into permanent retirement. Joe Frazier never fought again. The smoke was gone.

But herein lies the rub. Sure, it was a nice feel-good decision for the beloved Frazier and his legion of fans and it provided Joe with a modicum of dignity, but what of Cummings? One can’t help but suspect that if someone is going to get stiffed, who better than an ex-con and convicted murderer? More significantly—much more significantly—one can’t help but speculate what might have become of Jumbo had he received his due, especially given what would happen to him in 1984, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The bout was later ranked by Boxing Times magazine as one of the 20 most controversial draws in boxing history.

The Frank Bruno Fight (1983)

In 1983, Jumbo’s Adonis-like physique (honed by weight training in prison) even outmatched that of the massive Frank Bruno when they met in London, England. Jumbo came within a split-second of knocking out Frank who was saved by the bell in round one. The muscular Bruno had been caught by a crunching right and was totally out on his feet just as the bell rang. Frank had to be helped back to his corner. Miraculously and with a hysterical crowd urging him on, Bruno somehow survived the second stanza. Jumbo would later be stopped in the seventh round, but he had come this close to stunning the boxing world and that one big punch did serve to expose Frank’s fragile chin.

It would be Jumbo’s last pro fight as he finished his short and odd career with a 15-6-1 record. Between 1979 and 1983, he managed to rise to some prominence as a fringe heavyweight contender and fought some rugged opponents along the way.

The Third Strike (2002)

“I’m very sorry to hear about him (Jumbo Cummings). It’s very sad because boxers tend to be heroes, he could have made something of himself.”—Joe Frazier’s son

Three years after fighting Joe Frazier, Jumbo was reportedly involved in an armed robbery where he and a cohort robbed a hash house. According to news accounts, Jumbo blamed his problems on drug addiction. He and another person were convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in Michigan and this ended Jumbo’s boxing career once and for all, but it would get worse.

In September 2002, a 52-year-old Cummings technically became a “habitual criminal” when he was sentenced to life imprisonment for armed robbery under the tough Illinois “three strikes” law following his conviction in June of stealing $250 and a videocassette recorder from a fast-food restaurant in 2000. It was Jumbo’s third felony conviction. The strike out was thrown by Cook County Judge Joseph Kazmierski Jr.

The Lawsuit

“This is just an awe-inspiring lawsuit. I don’t even have the words, really.”—Scott Christ (BLH)

Now some might call Jumbo Cummings a hard-luck guy, but that might be a stretch. If hard luck is defined by his not being able to stop Frank Bruno or by getting the raw end of a draw with Joe Frazier, then yes, I can fathom some hard luck. However, for the most part, Floyd Cummings made his own luck and he made his own bed and now he has to sleep in it—-unfortunately for the rest of his life in the not-so-pleasant Menard Correctional Center in Illinois (formerly the infamous Southern Illinois Prison). Fact is, there is not all that much to like about Floyd “Jumbo” Cummins who, as a Menard resident, had the audacity to sue ESPN Classic for $50 million in June 2008 for airing the Frazier fight because it used his name without his consent and destroyed his “quiet life” among many other egregious things. What one can do with $ 50 million in prison is a story onto itself; let’s just say that it could buy a lot of cigarettes and candy.

Cummings argued in his bizarre complaint that because of the alleged re-broadcast of the 1981 bout, he “was and am greatly injured, in that my personality has been violated by being exposed, exhibited and sold to the public; my name has been cheapened and made notorious; I have been subjected to the contempt, ridicule, and inquisitive nature of the general public to the injury of my personality and to the outrage of the finer sentiments of my nature and to the humiliation of my self-respect; my peace of mind has been disturbed and destroyed; my privacy has been invaded and my right to privacy violated.”

Yes, you read that correctly; “…and to the outrage of the finer sentiments of my nature…” For a view of the filing see: http://www.badlefthook.com/2008/11/1/651362/i-totally-missed-the-boat

Soon thereafter, the suit was denied by U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan who granted ESPN’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Judge Reagan pointed out that the applicable Illinois law exempts the use of a person’s identity for non-commercial purposes, which includes “any news, public affairs, or sports broadcast.”

“Plainly, ESPN’s 2007 showing of the Cummings-Frazier fight would qualify as a ‘sports broadcast’ which the Act identifies as a type of non-commercial use,” Reagan said, adding that even though the “broadcasting of the fight may have caused Cummings to suffer embarrassment,” it did not violate Illinois law. (“Federal judge knocks out ex-heavyweight boxer’s legal claim,” David Hudson, First Amendment scholar, March 16, 2009)

The Legacy

There it is; Jumbo’s legacy could be linked to any number of twist and turns. One tale might involve the aforementioned lawsuit. Another might hook to how very close he came to knocking out a streaking and highly popular 18-0 English fighter by the name of Frank Bruno. Still another, albeit less compelling story might be about his striking out three times and his subsequent return to prison for life. And of course, there is always the “heartwarming saga” of a guy who learns how to fight in prison, turns professional, and initiates an impressive winning streak. If hard luck is your thing, an exploration of what might have happened to Cummings had he been declared a winner against Frazier would certainly provide some interesting grist.

To this day, however, if someone asks who Joe Frazier fought in his last professional fight, chances are pretty darn good that the answer will be Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings—with the coda that Joe was lucky to get a gift draw.

At the end of the day, that’s more of a legacy than most of us can ever hope for.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

№37 "Smokin" Joe Frazier (Джо Фрейзер) vs Floyd Jumbo Cummings [1/2]

№37 "Smokin" Joe Frazier (Джо Фрейзер) vs Floyd Jumbo Cummings [2/2]

Frank Bruno - Jumbo Cummings - part 1

Frank Bruno - Jumbo Cummings - part 2

Frank Bruno - Jumbo Cummings - part 3

Frank Bruno - Jumbo Cummings - part 4

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  1. steve 10:21pm, 01/01/2017

    I worked at Stateville when Jumbo was locked up there. I was one guard that took Jumbo out to fights when he first started boxing. All I can say is that Jumbo was very easy guy to deal with in prison. I never had any trouble with him. We talked just about everyday. and his workout and training behind the walls was endless.

  2. the thresher 10:24am, 12/01/2012

    Yes Eric, Harold Lederman gave Jumbo 25 points for that bit based on aggressive behavior.

    Jumbo joined Golota, Tyson and Chisora as ring cannibals or I should say they joined him.

  3. Eric 06:13pm, 11/30/2012

    My first glimpse at Jumbo Cummings was on the old NBC Sportsworld which showcased a lot of good fights in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Cummings was undefeated and taking on another undefeated fighter at the time named Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes. Snipes would win a lackluster 10 round decision and the only thing meaningful about this fight was that Cummings took a bite out of Snipes shoulder. Snipes would go on to face Larry Holmes later that year and gain more notoriety by flooring the champ and being victim of a controversial stoppage a round or two later.

  4. bikermike 12:33pm, 11/28/2012

    yep….Jumbo Cummings made some noise when he came out of prison…
    Damned if he didn’t beat Joe Frazier….when Joe’s expiry date was long ago….Lousy research by Frazier’s camp !!

    Joe was out of money….‘nuff said.  Never knew how to handle money…like 99% of fighters….so ...Joe had to come back .......

    Cummings was fukd by the system…just like about eighty percent of the fighters are…...with the promoters in charge….instead of the facts and efforts of the fighters

  5. Tex Hassler 11:20am, 11/27/2012

    Even though I am a Joe Frazier fan it is a shame Jumbo did not get a win. Joe had one fight too many.

  6. the thresher 02:40pm, 11/26/2012

    Thanks, Mike

  7. Mike Casey 11:23am, 11/26/2012

    Very enjoyable, Ted. I like the way you pick out these ‘unfashionable’ guys and give them a little memory. I saw the Frazier fight too—and as much as I loved Joe—he was darn lucky to get that draw.

  8. THE THRESHER 09:21am, 11/26/2012

    MRBILL, Who or what sparked you this morning? Jumbo beat Joe period kerplunk. I saw the fight.

  9. the thresher 09:19am, 11/26/2012

    Thanks David. I always try to compartmentalize the boxer from the person. Except, I don’t do this with non-boxers, so I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

    What happens when the bell sounds to start the fight and then sounds to end the fight is essentially all I care about.

  10. the thresher 09:17am, 11/26/2012

    dollarbond, thanks for the prop, but selling boxing books is like getting Jumbo through the eye of a needle. People just don’t buy them. The niche market is way too small to make any money in. And I’m too old for a labor of love. Writing online articles is where it is at for me. Down the road, I may do an E-Book compiling my new articles that are here on Boxing.com. Maybe.

    As for Hauser, I have no comment.

  11. dollarbond 08:30am, 11/26/2012

    I love your attention to detail and the amount of research you obviously do.  Why don’t you put all of your articles in a book like Hauser does?

  12. David Ball 07:11am, 11/26/2012

    To hell with Jumbo the person, this was a fine story Bull.

  13. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 04:20am, 11/26/2012

    I read back about 10 yrs ago that Cummings had become a 3-strike loser in the eyes of the Illinois circuit court and was sentenced to the state pen in Joliet after breaking and entering into a house and stealing a VCR and other items…. Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings is a major P.O.S.

  14. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 04:16am, 11/26/2012

    I only saw Jumbo Cummings fight once. That was his 10 round draw with Frazier in ‘81… I have a decent copy of that fight on video… Frazier at age 37 was rusty and hefty at 229 pounds, but still had enough to go 10 competitive rds with the younger Cummings, etc… The judges were nice to a degree towards Joe Frazier, cuz I had Cummings up by a point…

  15. pugknows 05:17pm, 11/25/2012

    Superb tale about an interesting and very troubled guy. Only in Chicago!

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