Ten-Count for Wilford Scypion

By Robert Ecksel on February 28, 2014
Ten-Count for Wilford Scypion
“That was the first real challenge,” said his trainer Kenny Weldon, “after the Classen fight.”

Former middleweight contender Wilford Scypion passed away yesterday at a hospital in Port Arthur, Texas, from complications due to pneumonia. He was 55.

Scypion was born on July 18, 1958. He grew up in Port Arthur and found his voice in the sweet science.

In 1978 he won the National Golden Gloves at middleweight. He turned pro on July 18 the same year with a first round knockout of Dennis Haggerty.

He won four more fights in 1978, and eight fights in 1979, also by KO, the last of which, on Nov. 23 at New York’s Felt Forum, was against Willie Classen, who died five days later of injuries sustained in the ring.

“It was big pressure on me,” said Scypion of the tragedy. “I had to do it or not do it. I had to work it out with myself, my family and God.”

Work it out Scypion did. Six weeks later he was back in the ring and resumed his winning ways. He reeled off three straight victories before suffering his first defeat, to Mustafa Hamsho.

“That was the first real challenge,” his trainer Kenny Weldon said, “after the Classen fight.”

After the fight with Hamsho, Scypion moved to New York and replaced Weldon with Victor Valle. He won five of his next seven fights before returning to Port Arthur and his old trainer.

Scypion won five in a row, including a USBA middleweight title by decisioning Frank “The Animal” Fletcher at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. That set up the biggest bout of his career, a May 27, 1983 fight against reigning IBF middleweight champion Marvin Hagler at the Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

Hagler KO’d Scypion in round four, after which his career sputtered. He lost five of his next 11 fights, before retiring in 1991 a 32- 9 record, with 24 of those wins coming by knockout.

It was a respectable career, a damn good career, of which any fighter could be proud.

Rest in peace, Champ.

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  1. Joe Bruno 07:13am, 03/05/2014

    Hi Jayson, Lew Eskin was a good friend of mine. We used to have dinner together at the Downtown Athletic Club with Rudy Riska, who was the Athletic Director.

  2. Jayson dauphinee 01:19am, 03/05/2014

    Joe Bruno,  that’s a name I haven’t heard, since my Grandfather Lew Eskin past away. Would enjoy hearing from you and talking about some of his stories . Also thank you Pete for knowing the fact that no one talks about.

  3. Joe Bruno 07:21am, 03/02/2014

    Right, Mike, as I wrote in a different article,  the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s not much better here in Florida.

    A few years back Art Dore tried to hold Tough Man Competitions in Sarasota, where I live. I tried everything I could to stop it from happening. I went to the local press, I wrote to the Florida Boxing Commission. I even appeared on local TV pointing out the dangers.

    Nothing worked.

    Then on the third year it ran, a lady from the audience was allowed to get in the ring and fight another lady, whose opponent never showed up. The lady from the audience died from blows to the head.

    The doctor at ringside, was a cosmetologist, which is even worse than a pediatrician.

    After that, Art Dore was banned from Sarasota from holding the Tough Man Competitions. But I heard he still operated out of Miami for a while afterwards. I don’t know if he’s still in business.

  4. Mike Silver 08:10pm, 03/01/2014

    Correction to my last comment. I meant to say the doctor at the Classen vs. Scypion (not the Sibson fight) was a pediatrician with no ringside experience.

  5. Mike Silver 08:08pm, 03/01/2014

    Jack Prenderville, at the time chairman of the NYSAC, was the latest in a long line of clueless (about boxing) political hacks to be appointed chairman. In the year before Classen was killed he allowed some of the grossest mismatches and incompetence to flourish in New York State during his watch. A tragedy was inevitable and even predicted in a letter I wrote to him several months earlier that explained how the commission was violating its own rules. Classen had suffered from double vision (a result of concussion) after the knockout by Sibson and was told to go a hospital in England but he refused and flew home. The doctor at the Sibson fight was a pediatrician with no experience as a ringside physician. 35 years later New York has another clueless commissioner, negligent ringside doctors and a Russian boxer lying in a semi-coma because of it. Nothing and I mean NOTHING changes in this wretched sport—just gets worse.

  6. Ted 02:06pm, 03/01/2014

    Well, the Kid had taken a terrible beating from Fullmer. It was painful to watch

  7. peter 08:55am, 03/01/2014

    I can admit it now, because I’m 60 years old, retired, and no one really cares—but if I had I turned pro, there were two NYC middleweights I didn’t want to fight—Larry “Tumbler” Davis and Willie Classen. There, I finally admitted it.

  8. Joe Bruno 08:53am, 03/01/2014

    I don’t remember, Peter.

  9. peter 08:49am, 03/01/2014

    Wasn’t it reported that a post-mortum review found heroin in Classen’s system?

  10. Joe Bruno 08:16am, 03/01/2014

    One other thing clouded the issue of whether the fight should have been stopped before round 10. Classen was a fighter, like Benny Paret, who was known to play possum; make believe he was hurt when he wasn’t. He did this is a previous Garden fight, I think against Vito Antuofermo.

    So I had the feeling right after the fight when I spoke to Eskin, who was a friend of mine, that Eskin had wavered stopping the fight because he wasn’t sure how hurt Classen was.

    I had this conversation at ringside with Eskin because, before the fight card started, he had given me a large roll of cash to hold for him during the fights, because he didn’t trust the lockers in our locker room. So while I was giving him the money back at ringside, we had a brief conversation.

    At this point, we didn’t know how bad Classen was hurt. Certainly neither of us thought he would die from his injuries.

    They did an autopsy on Classen and they discovered scar tissue on his brain from previous injuries in past fights. This was also the case with the Paret /Griffith fight. The fighter who died actually died mainly because of previous brain damage. The last fight was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

  11. Joe Bruno 08:04am, 03/01/2014

    Like I said below. I was one of the judges of the fight, which did not become one-sided until the 9th round. I had it 6-3 for Scypion going into the tenth round.

    But after round nine, Classen looked out of it. I thought the fight should be stopped. When the bell rang, Classen stood standing in his corner like he was about to fall. Eskin looked confused. He called for Classen to come to the center of the ring to touch gloves. Then, I don’t remember if Eskin waved for Scypion to fight, or Scypion ran across the ring on his own. But as soon as he landed the final right hand, Eskin was right on his back.

    I do remember boxing was suspended in NY State until the new laws were put into place and the Goodman Hearings were over.

    And I really remember that the NYSAC brass went into their bunker. All referees and judges were told not to speak to the press, which, since I was a sportswriter, made that quite difficult for me.

    That was the last fight I ever worked as a boxing judge.

  12. Joe Bruno 07:54am, 03/01/2014

    Marco Minuto was Classen’s manager. He surely knew about the previous knockouts, even if Clancy didn’t. And he put Classen in tough anyway.

    After I wrote by the Ring Magazine article about the Classen-Scypion fight, and I was a sportswriter for about two years after the fight, Minuto approached me in a bar and tried to get tough with me. There was a lot of cursing and pushing and shoving on both our parts, but nothing came of it. Johnny Bos jumped between us. Bos was my roommate at the time. I rented him my other bedroom after I got divorced.

  13. Ted 05:26pm, 02/28/2014

    Whether or not Willie Classen was damaged going into this fight is subject to debate. What is not debatable is that he had been knocked out by Tony Sibson only one month prior to the Scypion fight and had been KOd by John LoCicero six months before the Sibson fight. Also not open to argument is that Willie was 1-4 going into the Scypion bout and had been caught up in a pack of lies that set him up for a fight in which he should not have been allowed to engage.

    After this incident, Scypion would never be the same fighter; one who fought with fury and even perceived meanness. He lost his edge and finished 32-9 losing every time he stepped up

  14. Ted 05:24pm, 02/28/2014

    To this day, I still cannot believe Classen was allowed to go out into the ring in that last round. The fight had become hard to watch because you knew something ugly was going on. Everyone except those responsible for keeping the fighters out of harm’s way knew it. The commentators knew it. Ringsiders knew it. They stood up and hollered for referee Lew Eskin to stop, but it was not to be. Later, when Macho was on a stretcher waiting to receive badly needed medical assistance, blood was seen gushing out of his mouth like a fountain.

    The fact that no ambulance was parked in the wings of Madison Square Garden and that it reportedly took 30 minutes to flag down an ambulance in the street and take Classen to a hospital, where he died of a brain hemorrhage five days later, has been the grist for many a story. And so have the subsequent multiple lawsuits and eventual settlements. Suffice it to say that Classen’s death manifestly was not in vain. Many important reforms arose from the contributing circumstances. Two significant court cases followed as well. One (Classen v. State of New York, 131 Misc. 2d 346 (1985)/500 N.Y.S. 2d 460 (Ct. Cl. 1985)) led to a requirement for ambulances at fight venues, and the other (Classen v. Izquierdo, 137 Misc. 2d 489 (1987)/ 520 N.Y.S. 2d 999 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1987) established the precedent that a ringside doctor’s failure to stop a fight on medical grounds could subject him to charges of malpractice.

  15. Ted 05:18pm, 02/28/2014

    That’s some scary stuff. I remember that one like it was yesterday. I think Willie waited in the hall way for a long time before they got him into an ambulance.

  16. Joe Bruno 04:39pm, 02/28/2014

    And Lew Eskin didn’t bring the fighters to the center of the ring to touch gloves at the start of the tenth and final round. Scypion ran across the right and hit Classen with a right hand before Classen could get out of his corner.
    He almost fell into my lap.

    Classen was hurt bad in round nine. But the rest of the fight was fairly even. Plus Classen was Ko’d 40 days earlier in London by Tony Sibson.  The NYSAC rule was 60 days suspension after a knockout. Gill Calancy, the MSG matchmaker said he didn’t know about that. In those days there was almost no correspondence between the US commissions and foreign commissions.

    Either way, Classen should have never been allowed to fight Scypion.

  17. Ted 04:28pm, 02/28/2014

    No ambulance I believe among other bad things.

  18. Joe Bruno 01:15pm, 02/28/2014

    I was one of the two boxing judges for the Scypion-Classen Fight. Eve Shain was the other. Lew Eskin was the referee. After the fight, I wrote the cover story on the fight for Ring Magazine, and I testified at the Goodman Hearings on boxing safety.. I was immediately suspended for having a conflict of interest by NYSAC Chairman Jack Prenderville.

    He did me a big favor.

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