Today Willie deWit is a Criminal defense lawyer in Calgary, Canada. Back in 1984 he earned a Silver medal in the Los Angeles Olympics losing a controversial decision to Henry Tillman of the USA. In 2 previous amateur bouts deWit defeated Tillman with one decision and a KO1. It took 4 years for deWit to get revenge in March of 1988 at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when deWit took a lopsided 10 round decision over Tillman then 17-3. It would be the last fight for deWit who ended up his career at age 26 with a 21-1-1 (14) record.
deWit’s fight as an amateur at the North American Championships in Las Vegas against Cuba’s Pedro Cardenas featured a pair of standing counts in the first round by deWit. While the referee was moving in to register a third standing count and stopping the fight in favor of deWit the referee Bert Lowes took a left hook from Cardenas being knocked down and removed against his will after receiving a cut across the bridge of his nose.
deWit would be knocked down twice before the round ended. In the second round Cardenas got away with hitting deWit three times on the break before the referee stepped in but not to warn or take a point away but lead him to his corner to check a cut on his head. During the round Cardenas hit the new referee from Venezuela with a glancing left hook after a break was called. deWit would score a knockdown in that second round and end the fight with Cardenas standing but in no condition to continue as the referee waved it off in deWit’s favor.
Among the other titles deWit won as an amateur were three time Canadian champion, two time North American Champion, Common Games Gold medalist and two time World Amateur champion. After finishing his professional boxing career in 1988 he would return to school and graduated from the University of Alberta in 1994 with a law degree.
deWit turned professional at the end of 1984 and was trained by Mark Tessman and later Jackie McCoy. Lou Duva worked his corner for the Williamson draw with George Benton who worked a couple of his fights in the amateurs and pro’s. I remember seeing deWit at Frazier’s gym if memory serves me right. In his third fight he knocked out Tonga’s Tony Pulu, 19-12-1, in two rounds putting him into retirement. Six weeks later he faced Angelo Dundee’s Alex Williamson, 5-1-1, who was born in Canada but was living in Miami, FL. In his previous fight he lost for the first time to Glenn Mc Crory who would later become the IBF cruiserweight champion. With about 15 seconds left in the first round a right hand by Williamson dropped deWit. After dropping the second round deWit won the next three of four rounds and one even round to gain a draw after six rounds. The fight was held at Caesars Palace, Outdoor Arena, in Las Vegas, NV.
deWit only fought two opponents out of twenty three who had losing records with one being in his debut. In his eighth fight in 1985 he defeated Scott Wheaton, 12-0-1, of Miami Beach, FL. They would have a rematch two years to the day later in 1987 with the same results. After the first Wheaton win deWitt stopped 6:05 George Graham, 10-0, in the second round to end Graham’s career.
Next up deWit would score a pair of stoppages over Jeff Jordan, 17-5, who would lose by split decision in 12 rounds to former world champion Leon Spinks in his next fight. Two months later deWit stopped Mike Acey, 10-0, in three rounds. The following month he defeated the Canadian champion Ken Lakusta, 16-8, over twelve rounds in capturing the title.
In deWit’s next three fights he defeated Andrew Stokes, 9-2-1, stopped former Canadian champion Conroy Nelson, 16-9-2, in a title defense and stopped Lorenzo Canady, 6-2-1 who had a win over Alex Williamson whom deWit had drew with.
In February of 1987 “Smokin” Joe Frazier’s protégé “Smokin” Bert Cooper, 15-1 (12), was brought in to the Regina Agridome, in Saskatchewan, CAN. Frazier along with Muhammad Ali were two of deWit’s favorite heavyweight champions. Maybe because Frazier was the trainer of Cooper deWit didn’t find Frazier to be the friendliest person in the world.
I had the same reception at the 23rd PAL in Philadelphia when Frazier was early in his professional career and I was taking a picture for Boxing Illustrated of Mario Saurennann. I heard this loud voice say “move or I’ll use you as a heavy bag”. It would be the first of three run in’s this writer would have with Frazier over the years. I almost made the mistake of saying “if I was Sonny Liston you wouldn’t say that.” Believe me I would have been hanging from the gym rafters as a heavy bag if I did. Frazier didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
As far as Cooper I remember asking him at a boxing show in the legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia if I could interview him. He agreed and gave me his phone number. When I called he asked “how much are you paying me?” I replied “the same they are paying me, nothing.” For some “reason” we were disconnected. About six months later I walked into a Philly gym and I hear someone call out to me “let’s finish that interview.” You got it. It was none other than Cooper. He did give me an interview.
The deWit and Cooper fight was very thrilling for almost two minutes until a pair of right hands by Cooper dropped deWit. deWit came back well out boxing Cooper until a left hook followed by a right hand both to the head dropped deWit at the bell. By this time deWit had Jackie McCoy as his trainer. Starting the second round deWit came out landing a good left jab and caught Cooper with a right uppercut to the chin. Later in the round deWit kept Cooper off of him with a solid jab and landed a good left hook to the head. Then all of a sudden Cooper threw a left hook which deWit avoided moving to his left but got caught with a follow-up right hand and down he went with under a minute to go in the round. He got up and kept the jab going and even landing a left hook to the midsection of Cooper until about ten seconds to go in the second round when Cooper landed a flurry of punches finishing with a right to the head of deWit dropping him face first to the canvas. With the heart of a lion deWit beat the count after the bell had rang. His trainer Jackie McCoy stepped into the ring and called a halt bringing about the unbeaten deWit’s first and what would be his only defeat of his career.
deWit came back three months later returning to the US for the first time in almost two years defeating Terry Mims, 13-14, knocking him out in two rounds. Mims had been in with Evander Holyfield, Michael Dokes, Earnie Shavers, Duane Bobick and Tex Cobb. Just five months after being knocked out by deWit in his next fight Mims defeated former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks.
In August of 1987 deWit made a Canadian title defense in a return fight with Ken Lakusta whom he defeated over twelve rounds fourteen months earlier. This time deWit knocked out Lakusta in five rounds. Next up was Donnie Long, 16-8, in deWit’s hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada forcing Long to quit after four rounds.
deWit would also give Wheaton a rematch putting him into retirement. In February of 1988 deWit defended his Canadian title for the third time defeating Tony Morrison, 15-5-1, over ten rounds. In Morrison’s next fight he knocked out the former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks in the first round. Then the following year Morrison won the vacant Canadian title that deWit vacated.
Five weeks later deWit ended his career defeating Tillman and the rest is history. I contacted deWit and he agreed to answer questions.
KEN HISSNER: I viewed your amateur fight defeating the Cuban Pedro Cardenas in 1982 for the North American championship in Las Vegas. You administered a pair of standing counts and then were down twice all in the first round. When the referee Bert Lowes came in to register another standing count to end the fight in your favor he got caught with a wild left hook by Cardenas putting him out of the bout. Cardenas did the same thing in the second round with the new referee. You dropped Cardenas in that round and had him out on his feet causing the referee to call a halt. Was that the wildest fight you ever participated in?
It was a wild situation. We were fighting in the old Showboat Hotel. The Americans and Cubans had a great rivalry and when I fought Cardenas in the final they were tied in wins. The Americans needed me to win so they could go on and win the super heavyweight division and the tournament. The Americans were definitely in my corner even though I had beaten their fighter in the semis. I had felt really good that tournament and beat everyone handily. I was able to get to the Cuban pretty easily and had given him two eight counts. Then he knocks out the referee and we had to wait 20 minutes until they could get a new referee. I thought I would just pick up where I left off. But the Cuban had recovered in the 20 minutes and I was careless. That first round last about a half an hour with the delay. I remember my trainer, Harry Snatic, saying to me after the first round, don’t be reckless. I went in and knocked the Cuban out in the second. I remember shaking hands with Teofilo Stevenson after the fight. The American fans were so happy they were going crazy. It was a wild night.
KEN HISSNER: You lose in the finals of the 1984 Olympics to Henry Tillman earing the Silver medal. You would meet him again in 1988 defeating him in what would be your last fight as a professional and retiring. How satisfied did that win make you feel?
I believed I won that Olympic fight. So did Howarad Cossell. I had beat him twice before in the amateurs and one of those was a knock out in the first round. I wanted my revenge and beat him quite easily in the pro fight. It seemed like fitting way to end my carreer.
KEN HISSNER: You started your career under Lou Duva with George Benton as your trainer. When did you leave them and have Jackie Mc Coy as your trainer?
I actually only worked with George Benton for a short period of time as an amateur and pro. Lou Duva who had had met many times over the years was only in my corner for one pro fight and that was the draw with Williams. Lou was a great guy and a character but he really never managed me. I started out my pro career with Mark Tessman as my trainer and then Jackie Mckoy took over.
KEN HISSNER: You were 15-0-1 and the Canadian champion when you lost what would be the only loss of your career to “Smokin” Bert Cooper. In the next thirteen months you would win all of your six fights before retiring after defeating Tillman. What made you decide to retire at the young age of 26 and return to education?
I felt like I was not improving as I wanted to. My Father and Brother had been killed in a plane crash. The way I had my business set up I was involved in the promotions and was taking all the chances with our boxing shows which added more pressure which may have taken away from my ability to progress in my training. I may have retired a little early, but I believe in the boxing game better too early then too late.
KEN HISSNER: Were you through with boxing after this or did you have any second thoughts of returning to the ring?
Like I say I may have retired too early and of course you have thoughts of fighting again. Most people remember the goods times and forget the tough things about fighting like training and sacrificing. I was fortunate and had other options and I remembered how tough training was. For me once I was finished I was finished. Luckily I met my wife shortly after I retired and we began a family so I focused on that. My mother had never liked watching me fight and I don’t think I would have wanted my wife and children see me fight and get hit.
KEN HISSNER: I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions.
It has been a pleasure.
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com