Fighters of Faith! By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Oct 25, 2012) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
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. www.persecution.com 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
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
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,”
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
Tiberi has raised millions for the DE Boys & Girls Club. His new management team www.champsmanagement.com 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
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
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
“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,”
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
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
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!”