By Scoop Malinowski
Status: Former Heavyweight Champion, Light Heavyweight Champion and 1976 Olympic gold medalist.
Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210
DOB: July 13, 1956 In: St. Louis, Missouri
Childhood Heroes: “Arthur Ashe. I watched him a lot on TV. Someone I admired. A lot of people were jealous of him. I wasn’t. I was proud of him. My brother Leon. Leon was picked on a lot when we grew up. By some bullies. He got beat up a lot. I never liked that. He was my older brother. Then one day someone took him to the gym. Leon learned how to box. Once he learned to fight, he was blessed to knock everyone out. He became a force in St. Louis. Fast, fast hands. I can recall his first fight. Leon was fifteen, the opponent was twenty, a grown man. Leon was stiff. Through fear he just started throwing punches. He had the guy crawling between his legs. First round TKO. I wanted to be like Leon. I just loved him. I was glad to be his brother. He’s always been a special man to me.”
Hobbies/Interests: “Table tennis – love it. Music. Taking long car rides, countryside rides. Camping, learning, education.”
Favorite Movies: “Comedies – love to laugh. Laugh till you drop [laughs]. Sanford & Son. Redd Foxx was from St. Louis. I went to see him in Las Vegas. 1941 – John Belushi cracks me up. Uptown Saturday Night. Do It Again. Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby movies. Action movies. Stone Cold with Brian Bosworth, I really liked that. A Rage In Harlem – I could watch that every day.”
Pre-Fight Feeling: “Nervous. The guy would come in and say, ‘Five minutes!’ Never want to go out there. On my walk to the ring, I left all my fears in the dressing room. Not afraid anymore. Not tortured. Out of my hands. I got on my knees and asked the Lord, ‘You fight this fight for me. Use my body. I’ll give you all the glory, all the credit.’ I got all the credit. He got it all from me.”
Nicknames: “Maestro – this guy Gerald Pendleton called me that. Stroke – short for maestro. Crazy guys. Slim – from Butch Lewis. He’s a nickname artist. Don’t know why. He’s one of those guys who likes to five people names.”
Early Boxing Memory: “Winning my first national tournament – 1974 in Denver. 156 pounds. Leon was winning every tournament, had the boxing jackets. I could never win anything. I beat five guys. Everybody went down in the first round. I had a tactic. I would never stare at them. I would look when they weren’t looking. So they thought I was scared. So at the bell they rushed me. I threw the one-two. It was the biggest day of my life.”
Interesting Fact: “I really love to see people getting along and loving each other. I do. I really do. I know I played a violent sport. That makes you feel good. Loving, caring, sharing… so much comes out of that. Makes me feel good.”
Closest Friends From Boxing: “Marvin Stinson – we were amateurs together. Met him in 1975, a good, good-natured guy. Funny guy. We’re always going to be friends. Roger Stafford. Leon.
Hardest Punchers Encountered: “Mike Tyson. He knocked me silly. Couldn’t continue. Paralyzed. Hit me in a good spot. It never hurt – like a slap. It numbed my body. Rufat Riskiev – January 1976, he beat me in Tashkent, Russia. He put me down with a straight right. I’d never been down before. I came back to beat him in the Olympic final in Montreal (RSC, body shot). That knockdown lasted the rest of my life. I’d never underestimate anyone else.
Musical Tastes: “1970s, Earth Wind & Fire, Larry Graham & The Grand Central Station, Isley Brothers, Al Green, War, Herbie Hancock.”
Favorite Fights: “Ali-Frazier 1, Leonard-Hearns 1 – I predicted Ray could beat him. I lived with him. I thought Ray was stronger. Leon Spinks-Ali 1 – I always believed in him.
Funniest Boxer Encountered: “Muhammad Ali. He’s the funniest person I’ve met. Every time I’m with him, he’s always keeping me laughing.”
First Job: “Selling newspapers – St. Louis Post.”
Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Oatmeal with raisins.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Honey vanilla.”
Favorite Boxers To Watch: “Bernard Hopkins – a good kid. I’d like to see him cash in on his talents. Leon’s sons Darrell and Corey.”
Toughest Opponents: “Tyson. I couldn’t get through that. The guys that would never quit. No matter how much I hit them, they kept coming. Luis Rodriguez, my second pro fight. He kept coming back just as strong. Larry Holmes – so well prepared. What beat Larry was my experience, my know-how. All those amateur fights came in handy. Dwight Braxton. He was my former sparring partner. Remembered me very well. We boxed every day. He said one day that he’d like to fight me for a lot of money, but not for nothing. Never said he wanted to win. I went in on that. I knew I raised him in the ring. I started out with a swooping left hook that missed and a right hand that caught him. That was the tale of the fight. He respected me after that for the whole fight. Eddie Davis – he was really, really ready. Leon fought him and his brother Johnny in the amateurs. He said Eddie was better and stronger. He was right. He hurt me. A tough fight.”
Fight You Were Most Concerned Before: “The last one. Looking at Tyson… he was as thick as a tree. Too big to be human. But that’s neither here nor there. I was worried about all of them. Anything can happen in a fight. You lose your concentration for one second and that’s it.”
Greatest Sports Moment: “So many. When I finally won my first tournament in 1972. Winning my first national in 1974. Of course, the Olympics (1976). My first world title (WBA Light Heavyweight vs Eddie Mustafa Muhammad by 15 round decision). Winning heavyweight title (W15 Larry Holmes).”
Favorite Athletes To Watch: “Edwin Moses. My man. A 1976 Olympian. What a stride. Carl Lewis. Magic Johnson. International competition, diving, soccer, hockey – I watched my first game in Russia in 1976. Track and field.”
People Qualities Most Admired: “Mentally strong people. People that believe in themselves and never, never accept no for an answer. Don’t let society dictate how their life can be. Like me. People that go for what they know they can get.”
Family: Daughter, Michelle.
Most Treasured Possession: “My life. My birth day. The gift of life from God. No material gift can overshadow a spiritual gift.”
If you love this Biofile interview you can read more by Scoop at his official Biofile web site
(Artwork by LeRoy Neiman.)