Running to Nowhere

By Wrigley Brogan on December 27, 2017
Running to Nowhere
Rocky had fame, women, respect, and enough money to last a lifetime. (Wrigley Brogan)

There are seldom any good reasons for a boxer to attempt a comeback. The worst reason of all is because he is broke…

“A man who can’t keep track of ten dollars can’t keep track of a million dollars,” said two-time former champion Rocky Lockridge as he prepared for his comeback fight against Rafael Ruelas. Lockridge had been WBA featherweight, WBA super featherweight, and IBF super featherweight champion. He had earned millions of dollars and lost it all. There are seldom any good reasons for a boxer to attempt a comeback. The worst reason of all is because he is broke. Money is not an incentive for success in anything except the business world. Follow your heart, do a god job, and the money will follow—in that order. That is what makes a decent athlete.

Rocky sat in an overstuffed easy chair in a cabin high in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State and away from any distractions. After two unanimous decision losses to Tony Lopez and finishing his career with a KO win over Mike Zena he had not fought for almost three years. His career had been tremendous, more than most fighters could ever imagine. He had fame, women, respect, and an endless amount of money, enough to last a lifetime if only he could have keep track of ten dollars, which he never could.

Like many world champions there was always one more big money fight when the cash drifted out with the tide. They seldom see the correlation between the dwindling millions and their skills and bodies going bankrupt simultaneously. Sometimes, you can’t go home again.

The easy chair was the only luxury in the cabin. The cabin was a sparse dim affair nestled under crowded evergreens where frost formed in streaks on the windows. A faded picture of a logging truck hung on the wall. Outside, bits of snow powdered the ground and ice had stiffened the needles of the evergreens to sharp points. A three-sided shed sat outside under one of the trees. The open side was covered with clear plastic. An industrial gas heater poked through one side of the shed. When lit, the heater, like an angry dragon, blew red and yellow flames. Rocky had just returned from his morning run. The trail was treacherous with potholes, mud and sharp rocks. He left his boots by the door. Olympic Gold Medal champion Sugar Ray Seales was fixing hot chocolate and coffee. His laugh echoed from the kitchen. There was seldom a happier boxer anywhere, in spite of him being legally blind. “He can do it,” said Seales. “He can comeback if anyone can.”

Rocky had once trained in the best camps in the world and with the finest equipment: everything new, the gyms spotless and warm featuring clean showers and misty steam rooms to cradle aching muscles. Everything first-class for a first-class boxer. The rings were well constructed and brightly lit with firm and sufficient padding. Rocky did not dwell on the past and insisted that training in sparse surroundings and harsh conditions were better for a boxer than opulence. Too much of a good thing ruined a fighter, too much money, too much luxury, and too many false friends. I suspected he really missed it all and had tried to convince himself that less was better.

Successful boxers, who earned over a million dollars, then going broke, are fairly common in the game. Mike Tyson, Wilfred Benitez, Greg Haugen, Joe Louis, Tommy Hearns and Iran Barkley are just a few from a long and what often feels like an endless list. Boxers seldom accept responsibility for lost money and often point to managers, promoters, friends, family and wives for missing funds. Few people know much about finances and many of them experience financial difficulties. That is why the bankruptcy courts are always filled. It clears the slate and gives people a chance to start over, a chance to manage their funds better next time. Unfortunately, boxers, with the exception of someone like George Foreman, seldom have a chance to start over in their given professions. Age trumps everything else.

I thought Rocky said he was getting $7,000 for the fight, but that seemed way too low, especially for a television fight against a top contender. I did not ask for clarification feeling, if I had heard correctly, he might be embarrassed.

Rocky tended to blame his misfortunes on the Duva family. They trained and managed him and made him into a champion. “Whenever I wanted money, they gave it to me,” he said. “They shouldn’t have done that. I was like a kid at a candy bowl. They should have looked out for me better. The next thing I knew it was all gone.”

He seemed to fight with himself, knowing the fault was really his, but unwilling to accept the responsibility. No one needed to act like his guardian. He was, after all, an adult, and fully capable of looking after himself. Facing the truth hurt.

Seales brought in the hot cocoa. He handed Rocky a napkin. His glasses were as thick as freshly poured coasters. Rocky blew the steam from the cup as he talked about being an honor student in high school and playing in a successful local band.

“You better go down for a nap,” said Seales.

He needed a nap before his workout. Seales defrosted several thick steaks for dinner. He felt meat was the best meal a fighter could eat and he fed Rock plenty of prime cuts. He talked about Rocky being unlucky and mentioned several bad decisions Rocky had received in his career.

Rocky lost two controversial decisions to Eusebio Pedroza. The first, in McAfee, New Jersey, was scored a split decision for Pedroza. Most people gave the fight, by a fairly wide margin, to Lockridge including official judge Harold Lederman and television commenters Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy. Their second fight, in Sam Remo, Italy, was equally controversial. A total travesty was his fight in San Juan against Wilfredo Gomez. Lockridge clearly took him apart. As one commentator said, “Gomez is getting a methodical whipping.” NBC’s commentator gave Lockridge the fight by a large margin and the Ocala Star Banner claimed the decision against him was “…the stinko of the year. There is no way Gomez won that fight.” Rocky, always dignified, sat quietly on his stool in the corner and took the defeat in stride.

Rocky was a joy to watch, smooth, well balanced, with a throwback stance that reminded people of earlier fighters from the 20’s and 30’s. He fought like Jimmy Wilde and kept his right hand up and his left around his waist. More fighters are starting to use that style today. The left shoots with power from an unusual angle. To use the style defensively one must be quick enough to avoid punches by moving the body. It is definitely a young man’s style and not suitable for aging boxers. The right hand is free to do devastating damage. What a right hand Rocky had, one of the best in the business. His overhand right was like the hammer of Thor. His first round knockout of WBC Super Featherweight champion Roger Mayweather has become a classic. On that night the punch powered in like a V-2 rocket and knocked Mayweather’s head flat onto the canvas.

The afternoon seemed even colder than the morning. The sky resembled slate. Seales fired up the heater in the shed. Rocky started doing his ring work, careful to not venture too close to the heater for fear he might go up in flame.

An hour later a new Cadillac pulled up outside. A dignified looking man emerged wearing a tan leather coat and sophisticated sweater. He was careful to place his custom shoes beside any mud as he walked. His graying hair, poking through the dye, was slicked back and neatly combed. He had a spotless appearance, from ring-encrusted fingers to scrubbed cheeks. His name was Mike “Motormouth” Morton, legendary manager from Portland, Oregon. Mike had spent a fortune on fighters including contenders Andy Kindall and Ray Lampkin. He had the largest collection of sweaters in the Northwest.

I had known of Morton, but this was our first meeting. He was certainly East coast, a New York boy who had come out West to make his fortune. He owned a siding business and his local television advertisements were renowned and usually ended with an invitation for people to drop by his business for a cup of coffee, then, with a lecherous grin, saying, “I like mine with cream and sugar.” Most of his money went into hopeless causes and he was generous to a fault with boxers. They seldom returned the generosity. When Morton suffered a serious stroke, the only time his fighter Miguel Arrozol visited him in the hospital was when he wanted money.

He stayed and talked for a hour asking Rocky all the usual things: “How you feeling, are you going to be in shape, you can take him, keep crowding him, use that great right hand of yours, etc.” He invited me for lunch before he left.

Toward evening, Seales fired up the fire, an open pit beside the cabin. He built a roaring inferno and waited patiently for the flames to burn down into coals. He nestled several aluminum foil wrapped potatoes into the ashes. After twenty minutes he placed three thick cut steaks on the grill and warmed his hands over the heat while blowing mist from his mouth. The light of the coals glowed in his glasses. He looked toward the sky. It looked like snow.

After wishing them both the best of luck the following morning, I drove back to Tacoma and thought about boxing and lives and the random and unexpended ways in which people live. Rocky lost to Ruelas by unanimous decision. He fought Sharmba Mitchell three months later, also a loss, before finally calling an end to his career. He refused to be an opponent.

His marriage ended in divorce and he abandoned his twin sons and moved to Camden, New Jersey where he worked at minimum wage jobs. Alcohol and drugs soon consumed him and was arrested for burglary and spent over two years in prison.

He became hopelessly addicted and homeless and nestled under cardboard boxes in alleys to sleep. A stroke soon added to his problems.

I accidently ran across him again in two videos on YouTube. In the first one a larger man is harassing him. When the man continues his badgering, Rocky launches his vicious overhand right and knocks him cold.

The other video is pathetic and degrading and reveals how disgusting people are who enjoy the suffering of others. On the A&E television show “Intervention” Rocky breaks down and cries after his son says he still loves him. The cry starts from a low moan and gathers up all the grief and pain he has collected in his life and bursts out in a prolonged bellow of despair, anguish, heartache, and misery. Over 50 million people have laughed and amused themselves with this scene. They would probably not have found it so funny had they seen the dignity Rocky exhibited in his corner after unjustly losing to Gomez or had they seen his beautiful and graceful body in action in the toughest sport in the world.

I still remember my last vision of him as my car warmed up in the mountains and he prepared for the Ruelas fight. He was dressed warmly for his morning run. Ray Seales adjusted Rocky’s coat, tightened the scarf around his neck and pulled down his knit hat. He gave him a tap on the chin followed by a thumbs-up. Rocky tapped Seales on the shoulder and started off down the logging road. He disappeared into the shade of the engulfing trees to a future he could not have imagined.

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Roger Mayweather vs Rocky Lockridge (NBC Broadcast)

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  1. TB 05:08pm, 06/29/2018

    I met Mike Zena today, please help me get back in touch with him. Please use this page.

  2. Asher 04:08pm, 12/28/2017

    A beautiful and poignant article, Wrigley. Thank you.

    The wolf’s screech emitted by Lockridge is painful to see and hear. To read the derisive Youtube comments posted by internet trolls completely lacking in empathy - a man’s soul searing pain trotted out as entertainment - says a lot about how far we have fallen.

    Lockridge was a super athlete in his day, his boxing resume a murderers row of elite prizefighters in their prime. He competed at and pushed his body to a level very few people can come close to understanding. One cannot help but wonder if the profound brain trauma Lockridge no doubt suffered in his long amateur and professional career contributed to the abandonment of his family, his brushes with the law,  squandered purses, addiction and homelessness. I hope he can make peace with his sons, and that they chose not to abandon him the way he abandoned them.  I hope he can vanquish his demons and find some semblance of peace.

  3. Bob 11:19am, 12/28/2017

    Fantastic story on a very tragic tale, even by boxing standards.

  4. peter 08:49am, 12/28/2017

    This is an excellent, and sensitively written, article about an excellent fighter who experienced a sad, sad ending.

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