Starring Dicky Eklund

By Robert Mladinich on May 23, 2011
Starring Dicky Eklund
"Once I started, I was an instant addict. I could never do anything in moderation.”

As part of HBO’s America Undercover series, the cable giant produced the documentary High on Crack Street: Lives Lost in Lowell...

Those who saw Christian Bale’s Academy Award winning performance in The Fighter know, or at least know of, former world champion Micky Ward’s wild and crazy half-brother, Dicky Eklund.

When Eklund took a legend-in-the-making named Sugar Ray Leonard the 10-round distance in 1978, he foolishly assumed he could bask in the adulation forever. Eklund hailed from Lowell, Massachusetts, and the fight took place in nearby Boston. Although Leonard was a 1976 Olympic gold medalist on the fast track to superstardom, it was the local hero the fans turned out to see.

Eklund had been wowing ‘em since his days as an amateur, when many considered him a sure-shot future professional champion. HBO televised the Leonard fight, and Eklund’s spirited and gutsy performance earned him an even greater degree of reverence in Massachusetts, and sheer idolatry in Lowell. At one point Leonard was pushed to the canvas, and Eklund cockily did a victory jig that sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was a night New England fight fans would never forget. Eklund was their hero, and he thought it would never end.

In 1985, Eklund’s 19-year-old half-brother, lightweight Micky Ward, burst onto the boxing scene and quickly became a fan favorite and television staple. Eklund was Ward’s trainer and they racked up 14 straight wins. Then came the losses. By 1991, Ward saw himself being relegated to the role of opponent and decided to retire, if not for long.

“I figured if I couldn’t beat the best, why should I continue?” said Ward in an interview at the time. “I didn’t want to be an opponent for no one. I wasn’t going to take punches to pad somebody’s record. I saw no sense in going on. It wasn’t like I was being robbed in these fights. I took those losses like a man. But I figured there had to be more to life.”

Ward took a job as a guard at the Middlesex County Correctional Center, but quit a few years later because “the job started gnawing at me.” He was then hired to do road labor and operate a 10-ton roller. It wasn’t boxing, but it was an honest living, and Ward seemed outwardly content.

The first sign of trouble came when Ward was arrested. Ecklund was resisting arrest for a relatively minor infraction, and Ward could not bear to see the brother he idolized being manhandled by the police. Reports of the incident were picked up by the wire services and both men saw their reputations plummet. But worse was to come.

As part of HBO’s America Undercover series, the cable giant produced the documentary High on Crack Street: Lives Lost in Lowell. The town was depicted as a once prosperous mill and factory hub that was way past its prime and had become ensnared by the viper-like grip of unemployment, crime, and drugs. Several crack addicts were profiled, and they took viewers on a hellish journey through the city’s underbelly, where smoking crack was all that mattered. One of those addicts was Dicky Eklund.

Without a hint of modesty or an ounce of common sense, Eklund lit a crack pipe on camera, and the smoke swirled around his head like an ominous halo. Eklund was emaciated, his once lean, lithe, subtly muscular body reduced to a pathetic shell. It looked as if his entire being had been decimated by years of alcohol and drug abuse. He managed a smirk and twitched his eyebrow purposefully. Symbolically, it was much like the victory jig he had danced over Leonard.

“I was down to about 120 pounds at the end,” he said. “Anybody could have pushed me over. I remember being able to take my hand and wrap it entirely around my upper arm and still have room left over. People would come to the crack houses and be told I was Dick Eklund, the guy that fought Sugar Ray Leonard. Everybody laughed because they couldn’t believe it.”

Eklund’s world, such as it was, collapsed in September 1993, when he was charged with armed robbery and a handful of other felonies. He was released on bail after three months, then managed to stay clean for another three. But after winning $350 on a scratch ticket in the state lottery, Eklund took his money and ran—to the nearest crack house.

When he showed up late for a court appearance on St. Patrick’s Day, 1994, he was immediately remanded to jail. He was eventually sentenced to 10 to 15 years in the state prison for the robbery charges, and had to serve eight before being considered for parole.

In some ways jail was the best thing that could have happened to Eklund at the time. He was able to confront some of his demons and attempt to make belated sense of all that had gone wrong.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m a miracle” he said during an interview at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Plymouth, a minimum security work farm nestled in the Miles Standish Forest. “I still have a lot of learning to do, but I’ve learned more about myself in the past few years that in my whole life.

“As a kid I had so much going for me. A lot of people cared about me. People were sniffing coke and doing pills all around me, but I hated all kinds of drugs. My addiction snuck up on me. Once I started, I was an instant addict. I could never do anything in moderation.”

Eklund had already done time in the maximum security Walpole and Gardner state prisons, but viewed his stay at Plymouth as a gift, part of what he considers his spiritual revitalization.

“I have been a lot of good things in my life,” he said, “a good boxer, a good brother, a good trainer. I always found a way to mess things up.”

Ward acknowledged that Eklund was a good trainer “when he was there. You just never knew when that would be.

“Look, I’m not a saint or anything,” Ward said, “but I know right from wrong. That movie just showed him to be a junkie. It didn’t show anything positive. Dickie has a good message. He’s done a lot of good. He wanted to do that movie to show people what could happen. But they never showed that.”

Eklund has been in and out of trouble, in and out of prisons and jails over the years. But these days he’s keeping his nose clean and himself on the straight and narrow. And if he’s not entirely at peace with the havoc he created, he’s getting there day by day and one step at a time.

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Sugar Ray Leonard fights Dick Eklund

High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell [Trailer]

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  1. The Thresher 05:48am, 07/01/2012

    Great stuff here Bob.

  2. tyrell clark 06:31pm, 04/25/2012

    Chirs an Allen Clark are my Uncles an they put in A LOT work Halifax with Chris as the first canadian black male to win Gold at the Pan American Olympics

  3. The Thresher 09:12am, 07/26/2011

    Alan Clarke vs. Eklund: 1981

    Hidden in Eklund’s dossier was a particularly interesting and somewhat revealing fight at the Metro Center in Halifax, Canada in 1981. Dickie met tough Allen Clarke (20-4-1 coming in). The referee was one Honey Carvery. After a back and forth battle during the first 8 rounds, Eklund maneuvered his Canadian foe into a corner and launched an overhand right. He then unloaded a devastating gut shot that caused the stunned Clarke’s hands to come down. Dick immediately shot a left hook upstairs and Clarke was out on his feet. But it didn’t end there as the referee failed to smother Dickie’s unrestrained attack of 8 or 9 rights and lefts at full speed. Dickie had free shots at Clark’s unprotected head before Alan sank to the canvass unconscious. The crown was aghast and horrified. Clarke was lucky to have survived. Meanwhile, a concerned Dickie watched over Clark as he slowly recovered from the nonstop battering. This was Mercer-Morrison before Mercer-Morrison, but this may have been even worse. Eklund was visibly upset at the referee. Reportedly, he then grabbed the microphone from the ring announcer and said something to the effect,” I hope Alan is okay, nobody wants to see anyone hurt like that.“This would endear him to the Halifax fans.

    Chris Clarke vs. Eklund: 1981

    Two months later, Dickie fought Alan’s brother, the highly regarded Chris Clarke (22-1 at the time), again at the Metro Center. Clark had defeated Aaron Pryor in the amateurs and was the first Canadian boxer to ever win gold at the Pan American Games. Chris, the former Commonwealth (British Empire) welterweight title holder, had also split two with the rugged world title contender Clyde Gary.

    After a slow start, Dickie picked up the pace and trapped Chris on the ropes in the 8th and it appeared a repeat of the Alan Clarke massacre was in the offing, but for some reason Dickie deliberately backed off and let Clarke off the hook. Still, it appeared to everyone but two of the judges that Dickie had done more than enough to win. However, he shockingly “lost” a highly controversial split decision. Even though the fight was in Halifax, the crowd roundly booed the decision. It was as if the fight had been held in Lowell. Many observers (including the announcers and myself) felt Dickie may have held back too much and that the earlier fight with Alan Clark may have impacted his psyche. Curiously, before the decision was announced, Dickie and Alan (who was in his brother’s corner) hugged each other in mutual respect.

    As for referee Honey Carvery, he worked on for several more years in Halifax but my memory of him is not a positive one.

  4. The Thresher 11:08am, 07/24/2011

    Bob has the beat.

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