Two-Time World Title Challenger Randy Stephens!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 27, 2014)
The state of Ohio was well known for their heavyweights and Don King had his gym there. There were such names as world champions Tony “TNT” Tubbs and Michael Dokes. Possibly the hardest hitting heavyweight of all time in Earnie Shavers was from Warren, OH. Speaking of Shavers he had a neighbor who wasn’t the biggest guy around but he could hang with the heavyweights named Randy Stephens.
Stephens roomed with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini on several professional cards when both were contenders. “Years later after Ray retired he came out with his book mentioning Randy in it. He was at a book signing and Randy and his brother Larry went to. There was a long line of people waiting for a signed copy. When Ray came out to meet the people he noticed Randy and came right over to him and gave him a big hug.
Though Stephens sparred with Shavers he never signed with King. His brother Larry put in a call to the manager of Johnny Boudreaux’s in Houston, TX, who was very arrogant and was told “I’ll pay for your brother but not for you.” That was fine with Larry for he wasn’t one to ever look for a hand out. He told the manager “I have money and I’ll pay my own way.”
Upon arriving in Houston the manager had three heavyweights in the gym. Stephens did quite well with all three with the best put at the end hoping Stephens would be tired by then. It just so happened another manager, Joe Courrege was there and he contacted his partner Paul Percifield who was also a well-known cut-man. They called after we got home. They wanted to bring Stephens to Dallas. He had a good boxing background in the military. He was 3-time All Army champion and in his fourth year he was the All-Service champion.
“I withdrew from the partnership with Joe Courrege two fights prior to the Mercado fight in 1976. I disapproved of the Mercado fight. Courrege quit Randy leaving him without a manager, so I agreed without Courrege, to help Randy as his manager. This agreement lasted the rest of his career”, said Percifield.
“Randy was probably a better boxer than a hitter. I thought he beat Ocasio in their title fight. He is a very, very nice person. He’s always trying to do what’s right. I remember when he was in Ali’s camp. He asked to come home because of the bad language that was being used by all. He beat Ft. Worth’s Nick Wells of the Air Force after dropping a pair to him (defeated Larry Holmes twice in the amateurs) for the All Service title. Randy calls me once a week and he will be visiting us along with his wife this week,” said Paul Percifield.
“Even though Randy was scared of heights when he joined the Army (giving his parents a one day notice) he volunteered for the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC, in order to box. To make the team he boxed a guy named Slaughter who was built like former light heavyweight champion Bob Foster. He did well enough to make the team. He even got to travel to Russia through the Army. He had an uncle named Roscoe Toles, 40-10-6 (17), who fought back in the 30’s who along with Joe Louis left Alabama for Michigan.
“My father introduced Randy to boxing at a young age. When he was fourteen he dropped football and baseball to get into boxing and lied about his age to get into the Golden Gloves in Youngstown, OH. I was his older brother and when I was leaving for work one day there was snow on the ground and there was Randy doing roadwork so I knew he was serious,” said Larry Stephens.
Stephens turned professional in November of 1974 scoring a first round knockout in a scheduled six over Jimmy Conners. As far as we know it wasn’t the “tennis player”. It wasn’t until his fifth fight he had to go the distance after scoring four knockouts. All but one of the fights were six rounder’s with the one an eight rounder. The first four fights were in Dallas and the fifth and sixth in Omaha, NEB. In the latter fight he suffered his first loss to a veteran of 56 fights in Harold Carter over ten rounds.
Stephens decided to travel with Zack Page (father of today’s Zack Page) to Miami Beach in May of 1976 where he defeated Jamaican Oliver Wright, 16-12, over eight rounds. Wright fought Larry Holmes, Earnie Shavers, Duane Bobick, Roy Williams, Vicente Rondon, Oscar Bonavena and fellow Jamaican Bunny Johnson. Two months later Stephens suffered his second defeat at the hands of Tom Prater, 14-3-1, over 10 rounds at the Convention Center in Miami Beach. Prater had defeated title challenger Terry Daniels and a sparring partner of Holmes named Jody Ballard.
It would be six months before Stephens would fight again and that was back in TX at Ft. Worth against the hard hitting Colombian Bernardo Mercado, 14-0 with thirteen knockouts. Stephens was stopped for the first time in two rounds. The cruiserweight division was relatively new back then and with a limit of only 190 unlike the 200 today. Stephens was really too small for the heavyweights and too big for the cruiserweights.
It would be another six months before Stephens would fight again and it was against Johnny Boudreaux, 20-1-1, for the USA Texas State heavyweight title. Here he was brought in as “an opponent” coming off the loss to Mercado against the fighter whose manager “passed” on Stephens.
Boudreaux had defeated Daniels, Wright, “Scrap Iron” Johnson, Tony Doyle and Scott LeDoux. He had won both the Texas and Louisiana heavyweight titles and would be making his first defense of the one in Texas. It was October of 1977 and the fight was held at the Dallas Convention Center. Stephens would score his first major win stopping Boudreaux in the fifth round.
After defeating Clyde Brown the following month in Dallas Stephens was re-matched with Prater in March of 1978 stopping him in two rounds. A major fight was offered to him to travel to Johannesburg, South Africa to meet future world champion Gerry Coetzee, 19-0. He had knockout wins over Boudreaux, Prater, Ron Stander and two-time challenger to Bob Foster, Pierre Fourie. He was the South African champion and even had defeated up and coming Kallie Knoetze.
Coetzee had a bad right hand that would eventually get the bones fused together to almost serve as a “club”. His handlers Percifield and Curtis Cokes (his trainer at the time) saw Coetzee’s trainer wrapping his hands and were inserting a piece of plastic. Lucky they caught him and told him that wouldn’t be allowed. Stephens lost a decision over ten rounds but the local television announcers including former world champion Floyd Patterson saying “it could have gone either way.” It would be the first of four fights Stephens would have in South Africa.
Upon returning to the US Stephens was matched with top prospect Stan Ward, 9-1-2, who had served as a sparring partner for “Smokin” Joe Frazier. I remember seeing him in Frazier’s Gym and he could fight. Ward in his previous fight won the CA state title defeating future world champion Mike Weaver. He had wins over Mac Foster, 30-5, and Jeff Merrit 23-2. He had a draw with Boudreaux and his only loss was a majority one to Ron Lyle.
Stephens pulled out a ten round split decision win in Dallas. It was Stephen’s seventh straight win in Dallas and his last fight there.
Then another major step was taken matching Stephens up with Ken Norton, 40-5 who had just lost a split decision to Larry Holmes for the WBC title. Bobby Goodman was handling Norton’s business along with Bob Fosters and he had this to say about Randy Stephens: I remember Stephens pretty well. I knew him for years before he fought Norton who (Stephens) was coming off a win over Ward who I managed at one point. Randy was not a big heavyweight, but back in the early cruiserweight days, 190 was the limit. That weight did change years later when guys like Leon Spinks went on to fight at cruiserweight.
Goodman, who was matchmaker and publicist at Madison Square Garden, and twice worked for Don King as his right-hand man. He added: Stephens was a good boxer who fought some good fighters. We would see him a lot in Texas, where we also spent a lot of time promoting. Norton fought Stephens as a fight to stay busy before the fight with Shavers in Las Vegas. Randy fought on a couple of our shows and always made a good account for himself. He was a very nice young man. At that stage of his career, he had already been in with a good cast of heavyweight names, maybe a little too soon.
Norton would stop Stephens in 3 rounds at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas. Seven months later on the semi-windup to Coetzee fighting Leon Spinks, in a WBA elimination match to fight for the vacant heavyweight title. Stephens would lose a ten round decision to Leroy Diggs, 8-5-3, who would serve as one of Holmes sparring partners. This was held in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Near the end of 1979 in October Stephens returned to South Africa to lose to Knoetze, 18-3, in 3 rounds. He would go eleven months without a fight returning to Warren, OH, where maybe he should have started against the kind of opposition he possibly should have started against. He would win thirteen straight, eleven by knockout. This included his third trip to South Africa where he stopped Theunis Kok, 12-2, in February of 1982.
Stephens was now fighting around the cruiserweight limit and earned a WBA world cruiserweight title fight with Puerto Rico’s Ossie Occasion, 17-3-1, in Las Vegas, in May of 1983. “Reducing his weight to 188 decreased his punching power,” said Larry Stephens. Ocasio would win a fifteen round decision.
It would be twenty-two months before Stephens would fight again in January of 1985 stopping Milton Jarrells, 7-7, in Houston, TX, in four rounds. This would be enough to get another shot at the same WBA title but this time it would take a fourth trip to South Africa against Piet Crous, 22-0-1, who three months earlier defeated Ocasio for the title. After splitting the first two rounds Stephens was stopped after having Crous on the canvas in the third round. This would bring an end to his career at 25-9 with 18 knockouts.
Stephens was referred to me by Kenny Rainford, from the UK, a former professional boxer who came to the US and had a man named Earnie Shavers work with him. Years later, Shavers would go to the UK and work for Rainford for ten years. Randy’s brother Larry had this to say about his brother: “He’s a man who loves the Lord and a man who prays a lot. One of the most humble guys I know and would help anybody.” That’s a tribute any of us would love to have!
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com
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