|Where Are They Now? Curtis Cokes
INTERVIEW by Shawn M. Murphy (May 10, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
Recently I spoke with former World Welterweight Champion, Curtis Cokes. Cokes started boxing at the age of seventeen and turned pro in 1958. With wins over Manny Gonzalez and Jean Josselin in 1966, Cokes was the undisputed world champion.
He held the title until 1969, when Jose Napoles TKO’d him in the thirteenth round. In a rematch a few months later, Cokes was TKO’d in the tenth and would never fight again for the title.
He retired in 1972 with a record of 62-14-4. After boxing Cokes would write a book, appear in a movie, and become a successful boxing trainer, with several world champions. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Shawn Murphy: So Mr. Cokes, tell me how you first got started in boxing?
Curtis Cokes: I was seventeen when I started, at the YMCA. My mom wanted to keep me out of trouble and the YMCA had a boxing team. At the time I couldn’t fight in the Golden Gloves in the State of Texas because it wasn’t integrated yet. But that’s how I got my start.
SM: Your first pro fight was against Manny Gonzalez in 1958. Any memories of that fight?
CC: Manny and I fought about five times. That was my first time being in a fight with a real referee. He was a good amateur fighter, but I was a good athlete.
That’s why I beat him.
SM: In 1966 you TKO’D Luis Rodriquez and decisioned Gonzalez to win the WBA Welterweight Title. Any thoughts on those two fights and was that the highlight of your career?
CC: It was the highlight. We all grew up together. I beat Rodriquez earlier and he beat me too. I beat Manny like four out of five times.
SM: Later that year another win over Jean Josselin and you were recognized as the undisputed Welterweight Champion. There are very few undisputed champions today, most divisions have 3-4 belt holders. How would you compare your era to today’s fighters?
CC: I think the quality of fighters is not as good. When I came up we had to get our degree to fight for the championship. I don’t think fighters today learn the craft like we did.
SM: Do you think championship fights should be 15 rounds vs. the 12 it is today?
CC: I really think they should be 15 rounds. That’s makes the men stand out from the boys.
SM: You retired in 1972 with a very impressive record? For you personally what were the reasons?
CC: I was over in South Africa, standing up and talking to a guy. He reached over and touched my shoulder and I didn’t even see him do it. I was having some trouble with my right eye. I was taking some left hooks and I thought the referee must have been hitting me because I didn’t see them. So that brought me to retirement, a detached retina. You know when you’ve had enough.
SM: What was your toughest fight?
CC: I think Jose Napoles. We had two great fights and they were the toughest.
SM: Are there any fighters in your era you would have liked to fight but never got the chance?
CC: A couple. One was Emile Griffith. I always thought I could beat him but never got the opportunity.
SM: Since your boxing career ended, you became a trainer. Who was the first fighter you trained?
CC: A guy named Reggie Johnson. Reggie was my star pupil down in Texas. I was with him through his first eighteen fights, but not when he won the title.
SM: What is the most difficult thing about being a trainer?
CC: The kids are so spoiled. They aren’t looking for a trainer, but looking for a valet! They don’t work as hard as we did. They look for the shortest way to everything.
SM: What other fighters have you trained and who was your favorite?
CC: Right now I’m training Kirk Johnson. Ike Ibeabuchi was one of my favorites too. One of his coaches in South Africa told him to come and see me when he came to the USA. He went right up to 20-0 before he got into trouble. Quincy Taylor was my Middleweight Champion. Reggie Johnson was also one of my favorites I’ve trained.
SM: In 1993 you were inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. How great an honor was that?
CC: It was awesome. I went in with guys like George Foreman, what an honor.
SM: Who are your favorite fighters to watch today?
CC: I don’t watch it as much as I used to, working six days a week. I think the Golden Boy was a great fighter, I really enjoyed watching him. De La Hoya was always one of my favorites.
SM: So what exactly is the Curtis Cokes Foundation?
CC: It’s a foundation where we provide scholarships for kids, athletes. We also raise money to provide for our boxing program.
SM: Anything else you are involved with today?
CC: Not much other than training fighters and the Curtis Cokes Home of Champions Foundation. Were always training new, young fighters.
SM: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers out there?
CC: Just that Kirk Johnson is still one of the best heavyweights out there in the world today. And before he retires he will win the title. It will be sometime in the next 1-2 years, and I will have my Heavyweight Champion!
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