The End Game

By Ted Sares on October 25, 2011
The End Game
Ali’s brain is still sharp, but he’s trapped in a Parkinson’s ravaged tomb of physical hell

If this can happen to our best—whether it be Parkinson’s, early senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s—what does it mean for the rest…

“Fighting, to me, seems barbaric. I don’t really like it. I enjoy out-thinking another man and out-maneuvering him, but I still don’t like to fight.”—Sugar Ray Robinson

“I was champion of the world and there’s three things that go and that’s how a fighter knows that he’s all done. First, your legs go, but if you got reflexes, you can see the punches coming, and you can bob and weave. The second thing is that your reflexes go, and the third thing is that your friends go, and you know you’re all done when there’s nobody hangin’ ‘round no more.”—Willie Pep

In my book Boxing is my Sanctuary, I have a chapter in which I list my top 100 fighters since 1950: My first five are as follows:

1. Sugar Ray Robinson (175-19-6-2)

2. Willie Pep (230-11-1)

3. Joe Louis (69–3)

4. Eder Jofre (72-2-4)

5. Muhammad Ali (56-5)

Jofre, now 74, recently put out a video in which he is shown doing calisthenics and looking fit and ready to go 10 rounds. He is the picture of health—both physical and mental. Arguably, he is the greatest fighter who fought under the radar. A Brazilian, he was one of the few champions to have never suffered a knockout. Jofre has become a respected boxing trainer in Brazil, and also owns businesses such as supermarkets. But what about the others, how did they end up?

We all know about Ali and the story is not a particularly happy one depending on your point of view. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984 and his physical condition has deteriorated ever since. Still, he remains a beloved and active figure—one who seems content within himself and with the price he paid.

In the case of Sugar Ray Robinson (Walker Smith Jr.), his performances inspired writers to create “pound for pound” rankings. However, there is no way to sugarcoat his end game. He became senile and broke in his last years and was diagnosed with early senility disease. Ray, who enjoyed a flamboyant lifestyle outside the ring and seemed to encourage a large number of hangers-on, spent all of his millions in earnings. In fact, he is credited with being the originator of the modern sports term “entourage.” Ray lived pretty much in poverty until his death in Los Angeles in 1989 at the age of 67 and his stare at the end was chilling.

Willie Pep (Guglielmo Papaleo) died on November 23, 2006, in a nursing home in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. There likely were many reasons why only 100 people attended his funeral. Maybe some had gone to the wake the previous night. But there were only two professional fighters present. There were no promoters, managers, or commentators. The fact is, Willie outlived most of his contemporaries. Of those living, many are infirmed themselves. Willie had been ill for years; Alzheimer’s running roughshod over his precious memories.

Joe Louis (Joseph Louis Barrow), like Ali, transcended boxing. But following surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm in 1977, he was confined to a wheelchair. His health over the years had deteriorated badly, beset with heart problems, emotional disorders (including paranoia), and strokes. He died in 1981 of cardiac arrest in Las Vegas at age 66. Like Sugar Ray Robinson, Uncle Sam had Joe on the ropes over his tax problems. He owed more than $1 million. Sadly, this wonderful human being who gave so much back to his country wound up living on the house in Las Vegas. They called him a “Greeter” at Caesars Palace.

While Ali’s brain is still sharp, he is trapped in a Parkinson’s ravaged tomb of physical hell. Yet, he preservers and inspires others with his courage.

There have been attempts to separate the physical and mental demise of these great fighters from the sport that clearly was the cause, and in this regard I often wonder if Alzheimer’s is used as a politically correct substitute for Dementia pugilistica. In this regard, greats like Floyd Patterson, Bobo Olson, and Ingemar Johansson come to mind.

To paraphrase the late and great writer Jack Newfield, if this can happen to our best—whether it be Parkinson’s, early senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s—what does it mean for the rest?

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [1/6]

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [2/6]

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [3/6]

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [4/6]

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [5/6]

Sugar Ray Robinson: The Bright Lights and Dark Shadows of a Champion - [6/6]

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Willie Pep interview (RARE !!)

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Rocky Marciano vs Joe Louis Part 2

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Muhammad Ali Documentary Why Does He Do It ? (2/2)

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  1. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 11:26am, 10/30/2011

    The film quality of “Shavers-Lyle” sucks the barge pole down to the base…. I have yet to see the fight with sound…. Somebody needs to re-master the footage, which appears to be shot by an amateur camerman…. You know, WTF happened there in Col…???

  2. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 11:23am, 10/30/2011

    Shavers did have Lyle and Mercado going, however, with no surprise, Shavers gased out and ended up getting stopped….. And, how the hell Jim Tillis got up in round 9 after getting deck with a right is beyond me… Shavers often choked in some fights he needed to win…...

  3. The Thresher 05:25am, 10/30/2011

    Shavers was in some great fights. He had a good chin, but his stamina issues allowed his foes to sometimes get back into the fight in the late rounds. That made for some real drama. The Lyle fight was incredible as was Mercado and Williams.

    But I still liked when Quarry cracked the nut in the first round. Man, talk about closing a fight.

  4. JC45 02:11pm, 10/29/2011

    Shavers v Lyle for mine. It used to be on youtube and its the best fight I’ve ever seen.

  5. JC45 02:10pm, 10/29/2011

    Great article Ted and a brilliant comment by Ezee. Cheers All. Bill’s list looked pretty good for mine. My five favourite ( and best ) fighters since I started watching fights in the mid 70s are 1. Ali 2. Leonard 3. Duran 4. Jones - Hopkins 5. Sal Sanchez - Pernell Whitaker.

  6. The Thresher 03:51am, 10/29/2011

    Those two rounds were as good as any in history.

  7. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 05:47pm, 10/28/2011

    “Tiger” Williams was managed by Joe Louis for a brief time when Shavers roared back to score the KO in round 10… I only have a clip of the 9th and 10 rds on my ‘Shavers’ video I bought outta a magazine in 1992…...

  8. The Thresher 05:17pm, 10/28/2011

    MRBILL, My favorite Shavers defeat was when Quarry cracked his nut in the first round. Of course, his fight with Ropy “Tiger” Williams is one of the great fights of all time.

  9. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 02:29pm, 10/28/2011

    Yates closing his career at 13-86-3 is absurd…. That record is a felony right there…... Burn his scroll and throw away the key to his cell…... GEEZ!

  10. The Thresher 02:29pm, 10/28/2011

    I believe that.

  11. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 02:23pm, 10/28/2011

    Shavers’ power is a wee bit mythical….. Ernesto never KO’d a solid “A” grade fighter with an honest set of chin whiskers….. His biggest KO’s over a name foe are over “Ellis & Norton.” Ol’ Shavers made a career outta kayoing dude’s named ‘Joe Polesmoker’ and ‘Johnny Needmoney.’

  12. The Thresher 05:33am, 10/28/2011

    After waxing the Acorn, Brian B-52 Yates went on to finish with a glorious record of 13-86-3. Christ!

  13. The Thresher 04:37am, 10/28/2011

    I always thought Shavers’ one punch KO power was just a bit overdone, but I have been crucified, vilified, brutalized and otherwise violated for daring to suggest that.

  14. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 09:22pm, 10/27/2011

    Shavers getting dropped and stopped by Brian Yates in 1995 makes me ill….. Shavers was fine in round 1 at age 50 or so….. Come round 2, Shavers gets hit on the head and folds like a deck of cards….. WTF? Jesus H…..

  15. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 09:19pm, 10/27/2011

    I’m lit up like a candle on ‘Old Crowe’ and I just popped in my video to DVD copy of “Ali-Shavers” from ‘77 New York…. I bought the video advertised in KO or Ring magazine way back in 1992 from team Shavers called: “Earnie Shavers, The Hardest One Punch Hitter In History.” Overall, the video is okay; not great…. The highlights could’ve been better…. Then again, so could’ve Shavers…..

  16. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 09:03pm, 10/27/2011

    Duran should’ve drawn with Vinny Paz in fight # 1 of ‘94….... Duran faded badly at 163 3/4 pounds after round 9, but he did score a solid knockdown in rd 5….. Plus, Paz basically needed stitches and blood after the final bell…... Duran was off-key and sluggish come the 1995 rematch at 167 3/4 pounds…... Albeit, Paz was a juicer; Duran was naturally trained…...

    Duran totally deserved the nod against Camacho in fight # 1 in 1996…. How Duran failed to at least secure the draw there was criminal… That was politics all the way to the bank of america….. Okay, yes, Duran in 2001 and age 50, was too old and slow to win on points against the shy of 40 Camacho…. STILL! Duran was tuff as nails for all 12 rds in Denver, CO….

    Duran’s biggest win of the 1990s was his 1997 decision over Castro in Panama….

    Duran bested Mike Colbert on ESPN in late 1996…....

    I have all this jazz on video…...

  17. The Thresher 05:47pm, 10/27/2011

    Duran got stiffed one of the Paz fights and in one of the Camacho fights. Major stiffing.

  18. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 05:26pm, 10/27/2011

    All in all, Roberto Duran is my all-time favorite since he was active pretty much throughout my teen years and prime-time adult life…..... I saw a lot of Duran in the ring, unlike the other dude’s I rate highly…... The other guys either were too old, inactive or died young…... Duran is my main main on the whole….. WORD!

  19. The Thresher 04:00pm, 10/27/2011

    MRBILL, Not bad, not bad at all.

  20. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 01:53pm, 10/27/2011

    I have my list at:

    1. Ray Robby
    2. Ali
    3. Duran
    4. Ray Leonard
    5. Sal Sanchez

    Them are personal choices of mine….

  21. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:09pm, 10/26/2011

    Tex—I recommend “Sanctuary” as well.

  22. The Welshman 02:30pm, 10/26/2011

    From a personal viewpoint i’ve always recognised the risks and hazards of the fight game but for me the issue is one of comparison, a comparison between the risks and what is to be gained.

  23. TEX HASSLER 01:32pm, 10/26/2011

    Willie Pep may have been the best pure boxer of all times. Those of us who know the sport will never forget Mr. Pep. Those who stay in boxing too long often pay a terrible price. Jofre is the exception and yes he blongs in the list. He was a great fighter who never got the recognition he deserved. If you have not read BOXING IS MY SANCTUARY by Ted Sares you need to get the book. I highly recommend it.

  24. The Thresher 12:47pm, 10/26/2011

    Please note the following: “There have been attempts to separate the physical and mental demise of these great fighters from the sport that clearly was the cause, and in this regard I often wonder if Alzheimer’s is used as a politically correct substitute for Dementia pugilistica. In this regard, greats like Floyd Patterson, Bobo Olson, and Ingemar Johansson come to mind”

  25. "Old Yank" Schneider 11:52am, 10/26/2011

    Floyd Patterson said “the long goodbye” as well.  This is tough stuff to grip as I commit to buying a ticket for a bout or a PPV.  Without our collective, perhaps perverse interest in this sport and the dollars we bring to it, would these men have had vastly more healthy existences?  My love/hate relationship with this sport comes with a healthy dose of guilt as well.

  26. The Welshman 11:27am, 10/26/2011

    Just took 20 mins. out to look at the Willie Pep videos (and Sandy Saddler ) what men! don’t make ‘em like that today. Surely they could have got someone a bit better to interview Willie, Norm Meekison where they get him from ???

  27. The Thresher 07:12am, 10/26/2011

    Peace to eeeze—another ex fighter who posts on

  28. The Welshman 05:31am, 10/26/2011

    The important part of boxing is not that youngsters realize their dreams, but that they can dream. Every day in the gym they’re somebody special. They’re a fighter”.—-words from the brilliant boxing book ” THE BLACK LIGHTS”

  29. The Welshman 02:43am, 10/26/2011

    “THERE’S NO QUIT IN A QUARRY”  the chilling words of Jack Quarry the father of Jerry and Mike.

  30. eeeze 01:43am, 10/26/2011

    St. SHOMAS As a young gym rat I admired a lot of fighters that I got to know very well,  Not only the champs, stars and contenders, but also the often beaten and usually overlooked. Here and there we would bump into a fighter before my time with speech problems and/or walking on their heels and/or talking to themselves. “Who’s that?” I would ask. My dad or uncle would answer “Oh, that’s “Joe So And So” (whoever he was). He used to be a #1 contender that fought and beat the best of his time.” Hmmm… Funny how these days I go to fight cards or functions and I bump into fighters of my era and see that quite a few ain’t doing too good themselves. Some I have to help into their seats. Recently there was one in particular that I quickly recognized and he SHOULD’VE recognized me, BUT… he didn’t. I went over and greeted him but he had “that look” in his eyes, yeah, that foggy look that I’ve learned means “something is wrong” with him. Just a couple of years ago we sat next to each other at a gym inauguration and had a good time. We had faced each other on two occasions for spots on the National Puerto Rican Amateur Team!! We practically competitively “HATED” each other back then, yet he didn’t seem to recognize me. For some the effects are barely noticeable while in others it’s easily detectable and gets aggressively worse. Some are guys I hung with, trained with, sparred with and even celebrated with. Some I wiped their blood and/or they wiped mine. Sometimes it’s enough to break a man’s heart. Oh well… Peace to all!

  31. mikecasey 01:17am, 10/26/2011

    It is indeed very sad, yet it is no surprise to me that Eder Jofre is the last man standing and doing exceptionally well. I’ve seen that sparring video and it is quite remarkable. Muhammad, Joe, Ray and Willie toiled on for far too long and took too much punishment in their latter days. Look at how Ali allowed a fearsome puncher like Shavers to take free shots at his body. Jofre, like Benvenuti and Tunney, also had a voracious mind and many interests outside of boxing. Where the others were concerned, it seemed that boxing was all there was.

  32. sthomas 09:16pm, 10/25/2011

    Well done Ted.  good points by ezee.  High risk behavior sure has it’s negative consequences.

  33. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 09:08pm, 10/25/2011

    Boxing only has two fights left for the year that I care about, but I will still refuse the insane asking PPV prices of $60 bucks per fight…..... “Packy-Marquez” & “Cotto-Margarito” are of interest, yet also a couple years too late in all reality…....

  34. eeeze 07:43pm, 10/25/2011

    Why? Why? Why did it happen to defensive GENIUSES like Rep, Ali and guys like Ray?? Well, in my lifetime I’ve met and known many hundreds of fighters. I’ve come to a few conclusions. Here are only a couple. One is that if you begin at an early age chances are you brain was a bit too tender to get hit, especially by older sparring partners. Take Wilfred Benitez for example. His nickname was “Radar”: because by age TWELVE he was making older teenagers and grown men look like fools during sparring sessions and/or amateur fights. It came to the point where they hit this talented “ring infant” with all their power in an effort to “keep the Kid in his place” and avoid being embarrassed. His two older brother included. He turned pro shortly after his 14th birthday and fought his way up the rankings and to a world title opportunity at age SEVENTEEN!! The “only” thing standing in the way of his title dreams was a top P4P champion and future HOF’er named Antonio Cervantes, the feared and respected ‘Kid Pambele”!! The Kid pulled it off. By the time the Kid was 22 he had won titles in THREE different weight divisions. BUT… the wear and tear of the blows that landed on his tender brain years earlier were already taking it’s toll. Shortly after he was finished. Guys like Ray and Pep fought over 200 fights. But it’s not only the actual fights but all the SPARRING that fighter does, day after day. Has anyone ever considered the THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of rounds one must spar for 200-plus fights?? Folks might argue that guys like George Chuvalo did alot of fighting and sparring, got hit by BIG punchers of the heavyweight division and is still in relatively good mental/physical state. Well there are exceptions and not ALL bodies react the same even under similar conditions. Two welders can begin the same day of the same year and do the same amount of work, take the same safety precautions and after 10 years one welder has developed problems with their sight, partial blindness, irritations, confirmed by a doctor that this condition is work related. But the other welder’s eyes are in perfect shape. That goes the same for smokers. One smokes for 25 years and dies of lung cancer while a heavier smoker abuses of his lung for 40 years and lives a long cancer/pulmular free life. Oh well….

  35. pugknows 06:25pm, 10/25/2011

    A very sober piece, Ted. If you consider Denny Moyer, Watson, and G Man, and the late Greg Page, the carnage continues. But we only know about the high-profile ones. Thanks to writers like you, we also learn about some others.

  36. The Thresher 05:11pm, 10/25/2011

    So true, Johnny, so true.

  37. johnwriter60 04:33pm, 10/25/2011

    The Willie Pep/Sandy Sadler interview is so indicative of the scars the sport leaves behind. Though Pep is full of appreciation and enthusiasm, Sadler is obviously in hiding behind the damages the “game” imposed on him. and truly, one can never know, until after the fact, when he has stayed too long at the fair. And it’s not. Fair, that is.

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