Alex ‘The Bronx Bomber’ Ramos: Making a Positive Difference
Interview with the former fighter and Founder & President of The Retired Boxers Foundation
By "Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. (March 24, 2005)
Every beginning has an ending, whether spectacular, highlighted, dark or sad, a fighter must come to grips with the end of his career. With some fighters boxing is all they know, all they learned and all they would ever have, without it where do they go? Unless they have made a fortune and have it nestled away for rainy days the retirement of some boxers can render them penniless, homeless, addicted and on their way to a darkened fate that none would like to ever experience. There are many heart felt stories of fighters that have battled drugs, alcohol, mental break downs and have subsequently lost the war with a fatal unpublicized ending. The unfortunate ones of the fistic family who used to entertain the masses in the ring and pack the venues have now become obsolete to the boxing world, the forgotten warriors. But this doesn’t have to be the scenario; every outcome doesn’t have to be fruitless, undesirable, humiliating or even sad for that matter, there is hope!
Photo © Mary Ann Owen
Former USBA and California Middleweight champion Alex Ramos simply known as “The Bronx Bomber” has experienced life between the ropes and out of the ring. Starting boxing at eleven Ramos pounded it out in almost two hundred amateur fights winning several 147 pound amateur titles that include a Four-Time New York Golden Glove Champion, National Champion, and a member of Team USA from 1978-1980. Alex was the first fighter to be managed by the now longtime boxing manager Shelly Finkel and banged out a 39-10-2 (25) record in a course of fourteen years, he was on NBC’s “Tomorrow’s Champions” and worked with many great fighters and boxing legends in his thirty year commitment to the “sweet science”. But with all his time and glory in the ring his retirement as a fighter found Ramos as a substance abuser, an alcoholic, on the cold hard streets homeless and most importantly alone. Facing his addictions and facing the brutal reality of his lost lifestyle Ramos healed his self-inflicted wounds and with GOD became an over comer, and since that point has been six years sober, and in his own words, “I am going to die sober!”
What makes Alex special isn’t the fact that he laced up the gloves and entertained the world with his skills and style in the ring making a name for himself, but rather what he has done after his career that warms my heart and enabled me to start thinking his story isn’t just well worth being told, but should be heard. As individuals we all have dreams, whether it is to be rich and successful, a dominant boxer, a business tycoon, to hit the most homeruns without using steroids, or just helping people, what ever it is we want, we all want them materialize and the dreams we dream come true.
Making a Positive Difference
In 1995 retired boxer Alex Ramos had a dream and started to work on it, in 1998 the dream materialized and in 2000 it was incorporated into an IRS 501 © 3 non-profit organization that assists retired professional boxers in the transition from their glory days in the ring to a dignified retirement, it is known as the Retired Boxers Foundation. As founder and president of the foundation Ramos knows the importance of assisting those in need, especially the fighters that suffer from alcohol and substance abuse, homelessness and the effects of pugilistic dementia, no ex professional fighter is turned away who is in dire need of assistance. The program is run by many selfless individuals who offer assistance in financial services, rehabilitation services, housing services, youth services and senior citizen services. The charity is there to help the fighters and they continue on helping the fighters, all money received by the RBF is for the retired boxers, no one is paid a salary by the RBF, this is strictly from the heart.
Alex and the countless others of the RBF are dedicated to helping the ones in need, they advocate fairness and honesty in the sport of boxing, and do their very best in helping others overcome their problems. Their mission isn’t in vain, or over looked, the RBF is “The Undisputed Champions for Dignity”. The former fighter and founder/president of the Retired Boxers Foundation Alex Ramos took time out to chat about his career, his future, and give his mission statement on RBF, enjoy.
Benny Henderson Jr.: Can you give us a little insight on the Retired Boxers Foundation and what services do you offer?
AR: Basically, we are here to fill in the gaps. As you know, most retired professional boxers do not have retirement plans and many of them end their careers in their mid-thirties to late thirties. That’s an awful late stage in life to change careers, especially if you have damage or problems. We find the resources they need to make the transition from their glorious days in the ring to a dignified retirement. If they need to see a doctor, if they need rehabilitation (either physical or drug/alcohol), housing, financial assistance, whatever, we can find the resources they need. We have helped retired boxers get Supplemental Social Securityeven those who have tried on their own and have been rejected. We have an expert on Veteran’s Benefits, who is on our board, who can help them get VA benefits if they have served in the military. We have an extensive list of people and agencies that are available our representatives to help these fighters. We have lawyers, doctors, accountants, housing specialists and government assistance resources with whom we have excellent relationships. We are able to get what the fighter needs, WHEN he needs it. We are the bridge, providing crisis assistance while we find long term assistance.
BH: How does an ex fighter go about getting help from the foundation, and does it have to be an ex champion to be involved or just a fighter in general?
AR: All they have to do is call me. To be honest with you, almost all of our calls come from a loved one or a family member. Rarely does the boxer himself call us. I think it’s a matter of pride. That’s why we like to call ourselves the “Undisputed Champions for DIGNITY!” because I understand how they are. If they or there family members have access to the Internet, they can reach us directly from our site at www.retiredboxers.org, OR, they can call me at (805) 583-5890.
BH: What inspired you to create the Retired Boxers Foundation?
AR: Sharon Stone was the inspiration, if you can believe that! I was retired myself, having given up boxing and kind of looking to find a place in this world for myselfa new career and a new way to live. Sharon Stone and her sister have a nonprofit called ‘Planet Hope’ which is for homeless mothers with children. They asked me to work on a fundraiser in Las Vegas for this charity. I was very good at it and all the while, I wondered if we couldn’t do something like this for the fighters. Believe me, I know how far down a fighter can go when there is no hope and I knew that I had a brain. In fact, I always say that God saved me to do the right thing for my brothers in boxing. I was an alcoholic and substance abuser and I was also homeless at one time. I woke up on the streets one morning and I was afraid for the first time in my life. I kept thinking about Joe Louis and many other legends in boxing who died penniless. I knew that I did not want to end up in a pauper’s grave, regretting what I could of, should of, and would have done to make sure that no one else had to go through what a lot of us had. Working with Sharon Stone gave me the idea and God gave me the strength to pick myself up and do the right thing. I have been completely sober for six years now and I am going to die sober. If I can do it, anybody can!
BH: Looking at your career what are some of the highlights that you are most proud of?
AR: I am proud of my amateur careerespecially my 4 New York Golden Gloves, my National Championships, being a member of the USA Team from 1978-1980, my pro debut, my time as one of NBC’s “Tomorrow’s Champions” and all of the great boxers I worked with, trained with, lived with and fought. That part of my life defined my life today and all of those people are still my friends. Boxing was tight during those days and all of us fought our way out of America’s toughest neighborhoods. I was proud to meet Howard Cosell, who is today a legend. Whenever he would commentate my fights, I had a first round knockout. I am very proud of beating the Cuban’s and the Russians in the World Tournaments, because that is where I earned the respect of the people in boxingthe REAL people who care about the sport. I am also proud of the fact that I got Marvin Hagler ready for his fight with John “The Beast” Mugabi, and sparring with legends like with Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns, Mathew Saad Muhammad, Randall “Tex” Cobb and many others. I am proud of my fight with Curtis Parker from Philadelphia, when I won the USBA Middleweight Championship.
BH: How time consuming is it to run a foundation like the RBF, and what are some of the obstacles you face running this foundation?
AR: It consumes every waking hour, but I live for this foundation and our mission. Nobody gets a paycheck at the Retired Boxers Foundation. We do it because it is the right thing to do. The two hardest things about running the RBF is that we never have enough money, but we always find enough to do the job, and, sometimes working with the retired fighters is like herding cats. The retired boxers are very transient and it is hard to keep up with them, even when we are helping them. I can tell you how many times my Executive Director, Jacquie Richardson, and I have had to look for a fighter to give them what they need. I remember when we bought a microwave for Bobby “’School Boy’ Chacon and we delivered it to his little apartment on Skid Row. We went back two weeks later with some clothing and things he needed, and he was gone. We spent two days tracking him down before we found him. We never give up!
BH: How much has the foundation grown as far as personal since the opening, and can you name some of the individuals and their duties that are connected to RBF?
AR: We have been in existence for over six years. In the beginning, both Jacquie and I worked 24/7. She took a job with the County Supervisor (part time) so we could afford to get the RBF up and running. She would work during the day at the Court House and then come home at lunch and at night, she would write for me and research options and resources for the fighters who needed help. She also worked with me on the weekends, looking for fighters, delivering food and Dignity Bags, and visiting the gyms looking for fighters who needed help. At the same time, we met some great people who would become our representatives. One is Lt. Mike Indri, who lives in New Jersey and is our East Coast Rep. We have a half dozen guys in the East who help us, as well as an Attorney in MontrealAvi Levy--and one in FloridaSam Bearman--who provide guidance to the foundation and also help the fighters. James Carville and Col. Bob Sheridan, along with Gary Litchfield are our go-to guys for big time resources. James Carville even did a show on Crossfire about retired boxers and had Don King as the guest. Gary did a golf tournament for us at the Andover Country Club in the Boston are and worked with Lt. Indri to get Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti to be the honorary chairs and hosts for the event. Micky is on our Honorary Board, along with Ron Shelton. Ron wrote and directed White Men Can’t Jump, Tin Cup, Play it to the Bone, etc., and in 2000, he presented the RBF with $50,000 ($10,000 a year for 5 years) to cover our operating costs. I am very proud that almost all of this money went to the fighters. We run a lean (anorexic) machine at the RBF!
We also have a Medical Advisory Board that consists of the top neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and physicians in the world. They provide guidance to us and also the athletes that need help. We are working on a national medical registry at this very moment that is superb. Box Rec is a group that provides the best directory of boxers and their records, and now has the expanded capacity to track the medical history of the boxers. We are very excited about this new partnership and our Medical Advisory Board is working on this project as we speak.
BH: What can an individual do to help out with the foundation as far as giving time and money etc.?
AR: If people believe in the mission of the Retired Boxers Foundation, which is to help retired professional boxers in the transition from their glorious days in the ring to a dignified retirement, they can help us in many ways. To be honest with you, someday an encouraging email is enough for me to keep on keeping on! We operate on less than $25,000 a year. If we had more financial resources, I wouldn’t have to be on the phone so much trying to find even the most basic things to help some of these fighters. Even small donations are welcome. Our Dignity Bags, which consist of a canvas bag, toiletries, underwear, sweats, socks, etc., cost about $75 to put together. If three people in some office sent $25 a piece, we could help one fighter have a little dignity on the streets. That’s a start and it holds them over while we look for longer term help, like a rehab facility, housing, etc. If anyone wants to make a donation, they can go to our website and download a donation form. Their donations are 100% tax deductible because the RBF is an IRS 501(c) 3 nonprofit corporation. Your donations go right to the fighters who need help, not to administration or salaries and I am very proud of that. I am disabled myself because of some neuro damage to the front part of my brain and I live on a very modest Supplemental Social Security check.
BH: What did you learn from your fifteen years of fighting that you can share as far as advice?
AR: I talk to school kids all the time and I always tell them to get an education so you can be smart enough to read the contracts you sign. My mother was a teacher and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she made me do well in school as a condition to box. I would tell up and coming fighters that you better be prepared to take care of your business. You have a lot of so-called “friends” when you start making some money, but a lot of them will rip you off behind your back while kissing your ass to your face. I don’t want anyone to end their career broke because they trusted the wrong people. You can only trust yourself to take care of your business so you better be ready. I also learned that alcohol and substance abuse will cause far more damage than boxing, and if you are a boxer, it will take you down faster than Mike Tyson in his prime. I will also tell you that boxers need to be serious about their careers, not just during six weeks of training, but between fights as well. The fighters that blow up in weight and spend the whole training camp trying to make weight, seem to burn out faster in this sport. If you are going to be a professional boxer, you need to look at guys like Bernard Hopkins, who lives clean and trains even when he doesn’t have a fight on the calendar.
BH: Can you give some of the names of the fighters that the foundation has helped or is that confidential?
AR: Some of the fighters we have helped don’t care if people know. We helped Bobby Chacon with some basic needs like the microwave when he got in trouble for using a hot plate at his skid row hotel. We gave him some clothes and some cash and some groceries. We paid for Juan Antonio Lopez’s chemotherapy for nearly 8 months until the WBC took over. Unfortunately, Juan died this past year, but we know that we kept him alive and he had a little more time on this earth with his family. We helped Andrew Maynard1988 Olympic Gold Medalist, to get Veterans Benefits so that his children can go to college for free and he has a little extra income. We helped Genaro Chicanito Hernandez get eye surgery by connecting him with the WBC, who paid for the surgery. Genaro is now on our Honorary Board. We also helped Greg Page when there was NO ONE to help him. We had one of our Representatives, Brad Cooney; help him process his Supplemental Social Security paperwork, which resulted in Greg getting benefits in record time. Not only did this provide a monthly disability check, but it also provided medical benefits. We also raised $3,000 for his family. We were the first to send a check for Bee Scotland when he died, and we sent a check for the Tybius Flowers family, which was delivered to his family by Lt. Indri, our East Coast Representative, and the list goes on. Too many fighters are filled with shame and since we are about preserving their DIGNITY, we will respect their privacy.
BH: You were selected to head the Hombre TV committee on boxing can you explain Hombre TV for the Doghouse readers?
AR: Hombre TV is a television network geared towards Hispanic men. Other than the occasional sports shows, most Hispanic television is aimed at women, with the novellas, etc. Hombre TV will be about sports, cars, building and learning. Dennis Richard, the CEO of Hombre has talked to thousands of Hispanic men to see what they want to watch on television and they can deliver. I am very proud to be associated with Hombre TV because I think it can also improve the sport of boxing by giving the public competitive boxing shows, including amateur boxing. They also want to do the back stories on the fighterswhere they come from and what their lives are about. They will feature the retired professional boxers who will be very involved in the boxing shows and in features on the network.
BH: What were some of the toughest bouts you faced in and out of the ring during your career?
AR: My toughest fight was with myself and the bad choices I made. In the ring, my toughest fight was with Curtis Parker as a pro, and Mike McCallum as an amateur.
BH: How much has the foundation helped you as far as your personal battles, beliefs and convictions?
AR: Jacquie always says that I am “The Poster Child” for others who need a hand up. She told me that I needed to take the first step so I can show my brothers in boxing that anything is possible. Believe me, if I can be sober for six years, anybody can do it. I love talking to fighters who are struggling to overcome addictions because I can show them the way and I can encourage them. I ain’t no social workerI am their brother. I do not judge them and I do not push them, but I let them know that when they are ready for the fight, I am in their corner. I also know that anything is possible if you believe and I mean that. There is nothing I can’t do if someone needs help. It might be the Salvation Army instead of Betty Ford for rehab, and if they need medical help, I can promise them the very best care possible. I can promise them that the people and resources we have are all people who love boxing and care about the fighters.
I live for the Retired Boxers Foundation and it is the most satisfying work I have ever done. It is better than any fight I ever had in the ring because I know what these guys are going through when their careers are over and I know where to get them the kind of help they need.
Most of all, I know that my mother is looking down from heaven and that she is proud. I always wanted to buy her a big house in Puerto Rico, but she died too young. I always regretted not being able to do it, but Jacquie helped me see that she wanted far more than a house from meshe wanted me to be sober and healthy and to live a good life.
BH: I thank you for your time, it is greatly appreciated, is there anything you would like to add in closing?
AR: I want to thank Doghouse Boxing, and especially you, Benny, for caring about the retired fighters and taking the time to tell this story. I invite all of your readers to visit our website at www.retiredboxers.org. Call me or send me an email if you have any questions. Thank You for your support. We are small but mighty because we have the people who really care in our corner.
I want to thank Alex for his time and his conviction to help the former fighters. They are not forgotten.
Retired Boxers Foundation Board Members
RBF Attorney & Advisor
RBF Medical Advisory
Dr. John Stiller
Honorary Board of Directors
Ron Shelton & Lolita Davidovich
For more info on the RBF or if you would like to donate or if you know am ex-fighter in need, please visit their website: www.retiredboxers.org
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