The Champion of Dignity
Fighting for fighters in the name of boxing
Deep in the heart of scenic Simi Valley, one can only visualize a life of tranquility and peace, far from the high profile buzz saw of activities, typical of Los Angeles. Simi Valley would also be an unlikely place most would think of in terms of finding a resident from the world?s sports mega-celebrity ranks.
Published on LatinoLA: March 9, 2003
20 years ago, Alex Ramos -- the ?Bronx Bomber? -- a New York Puerto Rican boxing champion, could hardly be able to show his face anywhere without causing a huge stir from the crowd around him. In many fans? opinion, Alex was THE Oscar De La Hoya in popularity (in the pre-cable TV, now megabucks boxing era), or, in terms of punching power, THE Mike Tyson of his time!
However, typical of the world of professional boxing, Alex was surrounded by the usual groupies and ?friends of the Champ?, the huge and constant attention, the unscrupulous promoters, the big money, and the material goods.
For the champ, life was good, but it was also a fa?ade, as the hangers-on and boxing insiders treated him as if the world revolved around him. Ramos was street smart, but he was every bit the na?ve teenager to the ?big shots? of boxing latched onto him.
20 years later, and 20 years wiser, long after his era of ?gold and glamour? came to an end, and long after ?the close friends of the Champion? conveniently disappeared, Alex sunk into what he calls ?the darkness of drugs and alcohol?. He became a former somebody. Unfortunately, Ramos also suffered from a slight brain injury, the result of the combination of more than three hundred fights, which followed by his painful time in the darkness.
Like so many of the big punchers, Ramos took some big shots, which damaged the frontal and temporal lobes of his brain. This, in turn, left him with some balance problems and occasional tremors.
In 1995 the reality of life hit the Champ with a punch, far more devastating than the punches he ever took in the ring. As his face touched the cold concrete on the streets of Hollywood, as opposed to the canvas of a boxing ring, Alex Ramos found himself down for the last time. Homeless and penniless, Ramos got up from the cold concrete, and once again, he ended the final round with a new championship belt.
Looking at the Champ today, there is no outward appearance of any damage. He still lights up any room with his movie star good looks and his very charming personality. Only Alex and his closest friends know the long road back from the darkness past, and about his twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, strong and tireless efforts of helping his brothers in boxing.
This time around, Ramos took the title as one of ?The Undisputed Champions of Dignity!? Always a Champion, the very intelligent, articulate, enthusiastic, likeable, and quality person ?Bronx Bomber? had a vision that would change his life. Waking up to reality, and in the spirit of the typical quality personalities one can find amongst the boxers themselves, Alex charted a new course.
Among boxers, there is camaraderie like in no other sport. Since the boxers are the ones most often being used and misused as a tool to riches for the promoters and other bigwigs, Alex decided to be his own man and rise above the expectations of those around him. With a positive goal in life, the former Champ quit waiting for someone else to tell him what to do. He then made some decisions, which were in his own best interest.
In 2003, Alex Ramos is a bigger man than he has ever been, and he is now keenly aware that he is finally in charge of his own destiny. Alex knows that only he can make his life what he wants it to be and he also knows that the only way fighters can make a difference in their lives is to look out for one another. His battle cry is now ?fighters helping fighters!? Boxing is a brotherhood, and only those who have risked their lives in the ring have the right to be ?Undisputed Champion of Dignity!?
Once a well-known celebrity inside and outside of the ring, Alex Ramos learned humility the hard way, becoming not only a forgotten champion, but a virtually forgotten human being, as well. Ramos today believes in a higher power than the one possessed by the boxing promoters. He has found his satisfaction, not by making money for the ?big man? promoter, but rather, by looking out for the brotherhood of fighters, who make professional boxing what it is.
Ramos is the founder and the President of his worldwide and highly regarded Retired Boxers Foundation (RBF), a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation, which is the epitome of ?fighting for the fighters!?
The Retired Boxers Foundation is not only highly regarded in the fight game, but also in the world of entertainment, attracting a Board of Directors, which includes Hollywood movie stars, directors, and personalities from throughout the world. Alex is finally the ?big man? in boxing, and his team is truly impressive! In this LatinoLA.com exclusive, I had the opportunity to speak with Alex Ramos.
Les Rivera: Champ, how did you get the idea of starting the Retired Boxers Foundation?
Alex Ramos: Well, first of all I started the Retired Boxers Foundation in 1995, because I was tired of the nightmares I had, where I was in the darkness and facing the end of my life, broken down and damaged. I was tired of hearing others before me talk about changing things for the fighters so they did not end their lives like the great Joe Louis, dying penniless, owing the government millions of dollars and buried in a pauper?s grave.
I decided to get out of ?the darkness? and do something honorable for myself and for my brothers in boxing.
Starting the Retired Boxers Foundation was also a key component in my own recovery. When you have purpose in your life, you have a reason to live right. When a fighter?s career ends, that?s life. Eventually, you have to get over what ?coulda been? or ?shoulda been?! You deal with life head on and you move past what happens to a lot of fighters when their careers end.
After you lose a few fights, people don?t return your phone calls and they forget about you. It?s sad. Some fighters never accept the end of a career and others leave the sport in shame. You know the thing about what I did was? I was consuming alcohol, drugs, and I was living in the darkness? and I finally figured out that that wasn?t the way I wanted to live.
So what I want to do is to start doing something for the sport of boxing and for the fighters? my brothers in the sport of boxing.
I started an organization called the Retired Boxers Foundation, and I wanted this organization to be ?The Undisputed Champions for Dignity.? With the help from incredible people, my executive director Jacquie Richardson, who is a grant writer, whom I met at a grand opening of a boxing gym? that?s how all this came about.
We have been working to help our fighters throughout the world. This past year we helped out a hundred fighters. You don?t hear about these stories; but these are the stories that you need to be hearing about.
What happens to the fighters?
I am going through a lot of stuff as in my own personal life: I am affected with frontal lobe damage to my brain and my right temporal, but I thank God that I am getting the medical care that I need and that all of the boxers deserve. I have been through extensive physical, emotional and mental evaluations including a complete neuro-psych test that pinpointed the part of my brain that is the most damage. And the evaluation process continues. Without the proper diagnosis, a fighter risks deterioration to the point of dementia.
With good medical care, the damage can be diagnosed and the fighter can fight back with the right tools. I only went through this so that I could see for myself what was wrong and what I could do to change things. I can continue to help my brothers in the sport of boxing and I can speak with conviction that all things are possible, because that?s what our organization is about, fighters helping fighters!
LR: The RBF has done some miracles for retired boxers. Can you mention some of the retired boxer?s names, in terms of what your organization has done? Also, what have you accomplished by helping these boxers?
AR: The word ?Dignity? is a big word and one that means a lot to a fighter. I can?t tell you all of the fighters we have helped, because we promised them that their calls would be confidential.
One of the fighters that I can tell you about is the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Greg Page. He was injured in a fight that never should have happened, taking a fight for $1,500 and ending up in a coma for four months in Kentucky.
His fianc? back then, who is now his wife, managed to find us on the Internet? at http://www.retiredboxers.org. She found us, and she wrote a letter to us, and we were able to raise over three thousand dollars for Greg Page, to help him out with his medical bills.
We helped out the youngest World Champion ever, Wilfredo Benitez, who also suffers from pugilistica dementia, which is the medical term for being punch drunk? The words ?Punch Drunk? are ugly words to a fighter but what it basically means is neurological damage. We helped him out?
I went out to Puerto Rico and talked to his mother and saw where he lived. We did an event for him at Tito Puente?s Restaurant in City Island, New York to raise money for his family.
We have also helped out numerous fighters like Andrew Maynard, former Gold medalist... In fact, Richie Roberts, who was also in the military, has helped us to get Andrew hooked up with the Veteran?s Administration so that he can get his kids some benefits. Andrew Maynard, who?s a former... 1992, if I am correct, Olympian, is now working as a janitor and he was depressed because he could not give his kids everything he wanted to, including a college education. Because he fought in the military he is eligible for these benefits for his kids and our friend, Richie Roberts helped us get the ball rolling.
Our mission is to assist retired professional boxers in the transition from their glorious days in the ring to a dignified retirement. We refer fighters to rehab facilities and it is not a secret that a lot of athletes have problems with drugs and alcohol? not just in the sport of boxing, but also in many professional sports.
We don?t care how a fighter gets in trouble, whether it?s drugs, alcohol, needing housing or medical care. We are going to do whatever we can. We can?t get them the Betty Ford places, but we recommend them to the right places. We have places that do help us; like Kheppera House in Ventura, the Salvation Army, to get detox and rehab services for these guys so they can clean up.
We do numerous things? we get tax consultation for some of these guys that owe back taxes. A lot of fighters have problems with back taxes, but you don?t hear much about that. This has been a big problem for professional boxers for years, including everyone from Joe Louis to Mike Tyson. We do the best we can, because our organization is about fighters helping fighters.
As I said at the National Association of the Attorney General?s Boxing Tax Force Hearing, ?I am going to die a fighter, but I want to die as a fighter doing the right thing, to help all of my brothers in the sport of boxing.?
LR: Who are the solid group of people behind you, working for the RBF, and where do you get the donations from?
AR: Well, first of all, it?s very interesting that we get most of our contributions from outside the sport of boxing. You would think that, with all the millions of dollars that are being made in the sport of boxing, we would maybe get it from the promoters. Instead, the Retired Boxers Foundation gets our funds from movie director and writer Ron Shelton, who did the movie White Men Can?t Jump, Fields of Dreams, and Play It To The Bone, Tin Cop, and now, Dark Blue. He?s been our biggest donator. He donated fifty thousand dollars, ten thousand dollars a year for five years to cover our operating costs. We?re coming up on our fourth installment.
His wife, Lolita Davidovich, is on our Board. We put together an awesome Board of Directors! Along with Ron and Lolita? we also have Frank Stallone, Bo Derek, Mickey Rooney, and James Carville. We also have an incredible Medical Advisory Board? Dr. Van Buren Lemons, Dr. John Stiller, we have from Pennsylvania University, Dr. Sherman Stein? It?s unbelievable the people who help us. We are also proud to have fighters like Ferocious Fernando Vargas on our Board and former champion, Ray ?Boom Boom? Mancini.
We also have a great web master, Diamond. I have a crew that helps us in our media? we?ve been doing incredible with the little resources that we have, and with the small group that we have. My Executive Director Jacquie Richardson is the best, along with Reg Richardson, who has helped me from the beginning. My good friend and mentor, Bill Farley, is the Vice President of International Communications for Playboy and he has been wonderful.
I mean? it?s unbelievable.
I just thank God for putting all these incredible people in my life. As I said, I am going to leave this earth? When I leave this earth I am going to leave it fighting like I?ve always been doing. I am fighting the right fight, and I am fighting clean and sober. I thank God that? even though I lost my mother several years ago, I am able to give her the gift I wasn?t able to give her while she was alive? and that?s the gift of sobriety and doing the right thing, by living right by myself.
LR: Alex, obviously you have realized great success through very hard work for the organization up to this point. What do you visualize for the future of the RBF?
AR: I visualize the RBF in the coming years growing into the kind of organization that is able to do even more for the fighters? of course, that also means that we are going to have to increase our fundraising efforts and I am really looking forward to certain events that are going to help us raise funds.
We?ve been in existence now for five years. Normally, for a non-profit organization it takes three years to gain credibility. In the sport of boxing it probably takes a lot longer, because of all the unscrupulous people. But, we?ve been walking the talk with what we have. We have built a strong foundation and we have a lot of support.
I see us doing certain events, fundraisers, helping out more fighters? we?re connected with the media. When we put out a press release, my Executive Director is incredible! The media releases go out everywhere--all over the world. We have representatives in England, Germany, and Puerto Rico. We have fighters, who are also part of the Board that help us. We have Lieutenant Mike Indri, who?s a police officer and soon to Captain in Lynhurst, New Jersey, and also an RBF Representative.
So we look forward to all collaborating and putting some things together that are going to help us by doing the right events. I also got involved with a friend of mine that was a former amateur great, who does a lot of stuff in the salsa industry, which is incredible.
And salsa is where I come from... musica, mi hermano!... that?s what this is about, being able to put events together for the Salsa, for the Hispanic communities, for the Latin people? because that?s where my mother and father come from. I was born in New York, but I am of Puerto Rican descent? my mother and father? and salsa is a big industry! I look forward to doing a lot of stuff. Then, putting events together and making things happen, so we can continue to help out our brothers in the sport of boxing? that?s what this is all about!
LR: Champ, I would imagine a lot of people in the Southern California area are just flabbergasted after learning what you and your organization are all about. If people want to get involved in helping the RBF, what can they do for you?
AR: Well, first of all, they can look at our website, which is http://www.retiredboxers.org, or, dot net, dot com, and we also have a Spanish writer on our site, Jaime Estrada, who writes for several major publications, as a respected Latino writer.
We have Boxing en Espanol, by Jaime Estrada, and we definitely want to put the word out.
We just helped out a fighter that fought Wilfredo Gomez and several other fighters. Juan Antonio Lopes was a great champion, even better know for introducing Julio Cesar Chavez to boxing, and he now has leukemia. We send him money for chemotherapy and his medication, and thank God we were able to do that!
If anyone wants to help out and do something for the fighters, remember boxing is a worldwide sport. Half of this world is Latino! We talk about Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Mexico, El Salvador? You?ve got a Salvadorian right now, who?s the first Salvadorian Champion! You?ve got from Nicaragua, Alexis Arguello, you?ve got from Colombia, Rodrigo Valdez, you?ve got from Peru? from all over. From Puerto Rico, you?ve got World Champions? the birthplace of 40 World Champions. From Mexico? 50 something!
There are Champions from all over? as a result of some Latino that struggled to fight, to do the right thing for his family, to do his best, and to get out of poverty.
We also got to remember that we are dealing with a lot of unscrupulous people in the sport of boxing. We are here to love one another, and to try to help one another. If we can do that, that?s what this is about: Fighters helping fighters, because no one else is going to do it. The people who love the sport of boxing out there? this is what we are about. We exist to help our fighters?.
Don?t think, just because you hear a fighter is making one, two, or ten million dollars that he gets all the money? you?ve got to remember a fighter has to give thirty three and a third percent to his manager, ten percent to his trainer, and then you?ve got to give some percentage to Uncle Sam. So, you can?t think that these guys are coming home with of millions of dollars? you?ve got unscrupulous managers and business people that don?t return your phone calls when your career is over. Then, when you ask for a job, they don?t even want to talk to you, much less give you a job.
LR: Your last year?s RBF big non-profit charity event was held at the Playboy Mansion in Southern California. Can you tell us about that?
AR: Well, first of all, the event was a press conference and not a fundraiser. The event was to launch AutographedToYou.com, which was a collaborative effort between the Retired Boxers Foundation and ATY. I want to thank Bill Farley, who is the Vice President of International Communications for Playboy, and also on our Board, for giving us the opportunity. And, of course, Hugh Hefner, and my Executive Director, and AutographedToYou.com. We managed to put together a deal where Playboy graciously hosted the event.
I also want to thank Golden Palace and Avi Levy, who?s our Attorney on our Board?. From Golden Palace? where they put their name in form of tattoos on the fighters? back, and we get a percentage. Every time a fighter wears ?GoldenPalace.com? on his back, they pay the fighter and a percentage also goes to the RBF. I am grateful to a lot of good people who helped us put that event together. It was an incredible event!
To let fans know what they can do now? go to http://www.AutographedToYou.com, and get pictures of your favorite celebrities, your favorite boxers? personalized autographs, to the way you want it! I want to thank AutographedToYou.com for that event. They are working with the NFL, the NBA, the Major League Baseball, the entertainment industry, the boxers? I get all the boxers for them. The boxers get a residual income at the end of the month, for their autographs.
I want to thank James Carville, former campaign manager and consultant to President Bill Clinton for being on my Board. He?s an incredible person. I want to thank Colonel Bob Sheridan, who does the International Telecast for all the major boxing events. He is known worldwide, as he has done over seven hundred and fifty something ? God knows how many, of international telecasts. I?d like to thank Judge Mills Lane? I?d like to thank everybody in our organization. If I missed someone, or if I forgot someone, everyone in our organization knows I love you all! I sincerely thank you for all your incredible help, and it?s going to get even better!
You can contact Alex Ramos, the RBF President, and Jacquie Richardson, the RBF Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling the
RBF Office at: (805) 583-5890.
Les Rivera is a freelance writer, covering New York-Puerto Rico-Cuba style salsa/mambo music, and the sport of boxing. He is also a Los Angeles salsa events promoter. (626) 795-9763, e-mail: email@example.com. His website: http://www.SalsaSexy.com.