Fighters of Faith!
Fighters of Faith!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Oct 25, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
A prisoner once said “it took more guts to walk across a prison yard carrying a Bible than it did to walk into a bank with a gun”. Several years ago this writer interviewed Christian boxers for Benny Henderson’s Fighters of Faith website. Today it’s Andre “S.O.G.” Ward a world champion who proclaims his belief in God on a regular basis.

This writer was one of the contributors to Benny Henderson’s Fighters of Faith website that represented numerous boxer’s who not only are fighters in the ring but outside the ring in a world where Christianity continues to be under persecution. would be a good fact finder for the proof of this statement.

In the past there have been several boxers such as 3-division world champion (when there were only 8) Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong and Aaron “the Hawk” Pryor who after their careers had ended took up their ministry. Upon retiring from the ring Armstrong had a battle with alcohol that lead to his arrest. In 1949 he became born again. Just 2 years later he was ordained as a Baptist minister at the Morning Star Baptist church.

In the case of Pryor his drug addiction in the late 80’s and early 90’s finally landed him homeless. In 1993 he became drug free. In 2005 he was named an Associate Minister of the New Friendship Baptist church in Cincinnati, OH.

I wanted to reflect back on some of those Fighters of Faith and didn’t realize there was such a long list. I know there are some whom will be left out and others one may question who like all of us have fallen at times. What better example would there be than 2-divison world champion Evander Holyfield. He gave away quite a bit especially in helping children. Like too many boxers he would go thru the wealth he fought for in the ring and eventually see it disappear.

In Holyfield’s first fight with Mike Tyson he said “I prayed during training and when I got into the ring and when I was fighting him.” He has always been bold about his belief in the Lord and has always been humble about his victories giving the Lord all the praise. He recently pointed out how Manny Pacquaio’s faith has allowed him to overcome many obstacles in the ring. When Pacquaio took a stand recently against Gay marriage many supporters came down on him. He stood his ground.

This writer several years ago was interviewing Matthew Saad Muhammad, former world light heavyweight champion at the Front Street Gym in Philadelphia during an amateur show. At the end of an interview it was normal for me to ask “is God in your life or do you go to church?” In Matt’s case I knew he was a Muslim and asked “are you still a Muslim?” He said “no, I found the Lord.” I asked “when are you going to change your name (back to Matthew Franklin)?” He replied “when I get the money”. (Legally this can cost several hundred dollars). About 4 months later I read where he was in a homeless shelter. I reached out to one of his former trainers Steve Traitz, Sr. with whom Matt had worked as a roofer for Local 30 in which Traitz held a high position in the past. Others along with Traitz reached out to get him back on his feet. One thing about the fight game there are resources with such people as Alex Ramos (Retired Boxers Foundation) and Gerry Cooney (Fighters’ Initiative for Support and Training) who have foundations to help retired boxers.

George Foreman stopped boxing for 10 years when he accepted Jesus Christ after losing to Jimmy Young in a Puerto Rican dressing room in 1977! “I was screaming out Jesus Christ was coming alive in me. I died and went to a dark place from which he was ultimately rescued by the grace of God”. He preaches at The Church of The Lord Jesus Christ in Houston, TX. He would make a comeback in 1987 after becoming a pastor. In 1991 and 1993 he lost in world title bout only to win the world title in 1994!

Besides Ward there is WBA light middleweight champion Austin “No Doubt” Trout who will be defending his title December 1st in Madison Square Garden against former WBO light welter, WBA welter, WBO welter, WBA light middle and WBA Super light middle champion Miguel Cotto! “I am trusting in God and know He has a specific plan for me,” said Trout.

This writer reached out to quite a few boxers and decided to have to mention all of them and not just 7 or 10 of them! Who could forget the night Ebo “The X-treme Machine” Elder knocked out Courtney Burton in December of 2004 over ESPN2 in the 12th and final round to win the WBO NABO lightweight title. When the officials got Burton up onto a stool Elder kneeled beside him and prayed over him saying “the Lord has a plan for your life. Give into it and accept it”.

Elder is now an evangelist out of Georgia. I had the honor of hearing his testimony at a Calvary Chapel church several years ago in Chadds Ford, PA. “The day of the fight (with Burton) we marched around the casino 7 times, like Jericho in the Bible, praying to God. After the 11th round I had a broken jaw, kidneys bleeding and both eyes nearly swollen shut. The Lord promised if I didn’t quit He would do what I couldn’t do. As I was throwing a punch my arm got caught in the ropes and as I was going down I told the Lord I was going to get knocked out but I didn’t quit. When I got up the Holy Spirit came into my body and gave me power and strength and I knocked him out 30 seconds later! I was amazed at the faithfulness of God,” said Elder.

World heavyweight champion Chris Byrd is a well known heavyweight champion who is a Christian! Byrd has scripture written on his trunks Acts 4:12, salvation if found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men for which we must be saved. He was “born again” in 1993. In 2002 he won the vacant IBF title defeating Holyfield. “Boxing was my career but Jesus is my life,” said Byrd.

It was shortly after Byrd’s wife Tracy came to the Lord that Chris started attending church and would do the same. “I recognized I was a sinner and needed a Savior,” said Byrd. He now travels the world speaking to others about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Speaking of heavyweights, who was a better puncher than Earnie Shavers? He too is a fighter of faith! While driving a truck in 1986 he was invited to church and that is where he too accepted the Lord. Upon retiring he became an Evangelist assisting under Tommy Barnett for 9 years at the First Assembly Church in Phoenix, AZ. “I did prison ministry work with Mike Barber, Bill Glass and Chuck Coulson. God has blessed me. He couldn’t have given me a better life. It’s the best move I could have ever made in accepting the Lord,” said Shavers.

Other champions were Dave “TNT” Tiberi the IBC super middleweight champion and Junior “Poison” Jones,l WBO super bantamweight champion. Tiberi recently brought in NY Jet Tim Tebow’s mother Pam Tebow to speak at a Youth for Christ dinner, raising 75k for the Youth of Wilmington, DE. Pam and her husband have been missionaries in the Philippines since 1992.

Tiberi has raised millions for the DE Boys & Girls Club. His new management team will be opening a new gym in October outside of Wilmington. Tiberi most know for the hotly disputed decision he lost to then unbeaten IBF middle champ James “Lights Out” Toney in 1992 at Atlantic City, NJ. He turned down 500k for a rematch telling promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank “I won’t enter the ring without my belt”! Tiberi would never put on the gloves again as a boxer.

As for Jones, “I’m a deacon in my church and have 2 sisters that are ministers. God blessed me before I was born,” said Jones. Speaking of the name Jones, several years ago during a Mitch Allen boxing show in West Philadelphia several boxing celebrities were brought in by Rev. Dave Price. One was former champion Roy Jones and the other Nate “The Galaxxy Warrior” Campbell, who held the IBF, WBO and Super WBA lightweight titles.

One of the most well known amateur champion’s whose father was Olympic and world heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, is Marvis Frazier, now a pastor. He was born again at 16. In 2000 at the age of 40 he was ordained. “When God opens a door, no man can shut it. When God closes a door, no man can open it,” said Frazier. He was a member of Chuck Coulson’s Prison Ministry for over 10 years. He served as an assistant pastor at the New Life Christian Center in DE. “I heard him speak and he is dynamic,” said Dave Tiberi. Then Frazier moved onto Washington, DC, to pastor there.

Another Philadelphian is former 2-time cruiser champion Steve “USS” Cunningham. He and his wife/manager Livvy attend the Antioch Calvary Chapel church in West Philadelphia and have been reaching out to a tribe in Alaska.

Another world champion who is a pastor today is former WBA light welter champion Gene “Mad Dog” Hatcher. “Christ became my salvation when I was 12. I took advantage of the once saved always saved and lived my life in the middle of the road. At 28, in 1988, I fell to my knees while washing my car telling the Lord I cannot go on like this. It was on my wife’s birthday. A daily relationship is the only way to a Heavenly destination,” said Hatcher. He taught at Chapel Creek Fellowship from 1994 to 2008 and now has his own ministry.

Fellow Texan’s Paulie Ayala, WBA bantam champion and Troy Dorsey, IBF featherweight and IBO super featherweight champion are good friends with Hatcher. “I wanted to date the pastor’s daughter so I had to go to church with her at her father Pastor Raymond’s Truth Foundation church. I took the alter call at 21 and became born again. After Raymond’s death his wife Silvia took over as pastor,” said Ayala.

Dorsey and his family attend Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, TX. “I was born again at 10 and at 16 found myself following the crowd. I re-dedicated myself at 35. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” said Dorsey. (John 3:16) He is doing God’s work today involved with numerous charities.

Reggie “Too Sweet” Johnson, WBA middle and IBF light heavy champion, and Maurice “Termite” Watkins, world title challenger, not only attend the same Fellowship of the Nation church but the same gym that was converted from a church gymnasium into a boxing gym called Fighter Nation in Houston, TX. “I’ve known Termite since I was 12 years old,” said Johnson. Attending the same church is 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist Marlen Esparza who became the first female to gain a medal. “She calls me every day and I have a prayer for her every night,” said Pastor John Brady.

“God is so good I wouldn’t think of living without him in my life. When I was fighting he was my rock, my strength. I never wanted to go into the ring without him. Those days that life got tough as an athlete I was able to go to Him for strength and comfort,” said Watkins. He challenged the WBC light welter champ Saoul Mamby in Las Vegas, NV. “I can remember in the later rounds of my 15 round title fight in 1980 when I fought Mamby on the Ali-Holmes card, in those last few rounds it was 106 degrees, I was exhausted but I knew I could do all things through Christ. I still do not want to do anything in life without him. When life is tough today I still go to Him many times throughout the day for my strength and I still remember I can do all things through Christ,” said Watkins.

In re-connecting with both Johnson and Watkins I discovered another former world champion was attending the same church Sunday by the name of Juan Diaz, WBA Super, WBO and IBF lightweight champion. Talk about a small world!

1976 Olympic Gold medalist Leo Randolph would go onto win the WBA super bantamweight championship. His Olympic teammate Davey Armstrong was also on the 1972 Olympic team. Also from the 1976 was Silver medalist Charles Mooney who was the only member not to turn professional. He made a career out of the US Army and is still training boxers today.

This past Saturday, Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in Brooklyn, NY. on Showtime Championship Boxing. All three judges had scored the fight 115-107. In September Francisco “The Wizard” Palacios challenged Krzysztof Wlodarczyk for the WBC cruiser title for the second time (Palacios lost the fight by unanimous decision).

Terri “The Boss” Moss became the oldest female to win at 41 the WIBF Minimum title in 2007 and retired. It was her fifth title shot. Cornelius “K9” Bundrage, the IBF light middleweight champ simply stated “the spirit of God is with me. I’ve been blessed by the best!”


E-mail questions, comments to Ken Hissner

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