|“Philly’s Five” Careers Shortened by Tragedies!
By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Feb 4, 2009)
There have been many careers shortened for various reasons and Philly fighters are no exceptions. There were 3 due to eye injuries and 2 do to death of which one was a killing! Their combined records were 112-8-2. Of the 3 with injuries, 2 went on to become well respected trainers. They have all been inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. The first one we will look at was Dick Turner.
Turner is the only living of the 5. The first boxing match I attended live was between Dick Turner and Stanley “Kitten” Hayward January 20, 1964. It would be Turner’s last fight inside the ring. “We grew up together and attended West Philly High School. We were competitors in all sports and lived about 3 blocks from each other,” said Turner. “In around the 6th round I couldn’t see to my right due to my eye,” he added. Turner had suffered a detached retina that would end his career at 27.
“I only fought amateur while I was stationed in Hawaii in the Army. I was the All Army champ at 10-0. The toughest opponent was the Marine champ whom I fought twice,” said Turner. “He was Eddie Woods, also from Philly. (Woods known for the double knockout between him and Al Milone in 1951 and current co-manger of several fighters) “The first was a heck of a fight and I didn’t want to fight him again,” said Turner. “I was 97-6 as an amateur only losing twice to Turner in the service. Both our commanding officers were betting on the second fight and I couldn’t beat him,” said Woods.
Turning pro in 1959 in just his 3rd fight he was pitted with another Philly standout Al Styles (12-3-1). “After the 1st round the ref asked me if I wanted to continue,” said Turner. “My trainer Joe Rose said you had better knock him out,” added Turner. This he did in the 2nd round. I had a hard time getting any welterweights to fight me after that and had to fight bigger fighters,” said Turner. He was managed by Joe Gramby.
With only an 11-0-1 record Turner would meet the Argentine champion and world contender Luis Federico Thompson (131-12-10), winning a majority decision in 8 rounds. Just 15 months before meeting Turner, Thompson had lost a close world title bout to Benny “Kid” Paret. “That was one of my toughest fights. Thompson was using me as a warm-up fight for the title,” said Turner. They wanted to rematch the fighters but Thompson returned to Argentina only losing once out of his remaining 27 fights, never to return to the United States.
Turner would win 4 more times including a stoppage in 6 rounds of Chuck McCreary (13-7). “I had to come off the floor to win that one,” said Turner. Next up would be another red hot Philly fighter in unbeaten Percy Manning (11-0, 10 KOs) whom he would stop in 3 rounds. “I was too experienced for him,” said Turner.
Turner would face former title challenger Cuban Isaac Logart (64-20-9) in Baltimore winning a 10 round decision. “That was the toughest fight I ever had. I had him down early and it turned into a brawl,” said Turner. He would decision Logart in 10 rounds. “I couldn’t shower for 3 days because the water hurt me. I couldn’t sleep because it hurt too much lying down. I was urinating blood for 3 days,” said Turner. Television wanted a rematch in 2 weeks but neither fighter could be ready to fight again that soon.
He would follow up with a win over Jamaican Gerald Gray (24-9-4) in Reading, Pennsylvania in June of 1963. “I dislocated my right shoulder in the 6th round,” said Turner. “I had to use my left hand the rest of the way. It wasn’t until the 10th and final round someone from the crowd yelled I wasn’t using my right hand,” he added.
Next up would be the Cuban Jose Stable (22-2-1) won had wins over Sidney “Sweet Pea” Adams, Charley Scott and Hayward, all from Philly. Stable had won 12 of his last 13 fights, 10 since leaving Cuba. It would mark the first defeat for Turner over 10 rounds. “I thought I won that fight. The referee (Zach Clayton) told me after 6 rounds that it was even but voted against me by a wide margin,” said Turner.
Just 2 months later Turner would meet Hayward (17-2-1) who had just stopped Manning. I remember the brilliance of Turner’s boxing against the on rushing Hayward. I even remember scoring it 6-3-1 for Turner. I was about to witness my first and certainly not my last controversial decision. The judges were split giving the win to Hayward. Little did we know it would be the last fight in the career of Turner.
Turner has since become one of the most respected trainers in Philly. He mostly worked with young kids out of the Southwest gym along with Elvin Thompson and Sloan Harrison. “He’s like a brother to me,” said Harrison of Turner. He would train his nephew Glenn Turner (9-4-3) who last fought in 2006. With Glenn’s retirement Dick also has retired at age 72. His other nephews were the fighting Fletchers, Frank “The Animal”, Anthony “Two Guns”, and Troy. Their mother Lucille was Turner’s sister. She was a boxing judge. “When I was young I got picked on once by a bigger kid and told him I would get my sister after him,” said Turner. “She was tough,” he added.
He is one of the most likeable, soft spoken individuals to whom you would want to meet. His final record was 19-2-1 with 11 knockouts. He entered the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 2007.
One of the greatest Philly boxers I ever saw was Tyrone Everett. I once told him “you are like a black oriental.” (In those days you didn’t see many little black guys boxing). He had such quickness and always in control of the situation in the ring. After winning his second fight over Ray Hall (5-0) in Scranton, Hall’s manager Frank Gelb signed him. He would fight 3 more times in Scranton before fighting his first fight at the Spectrum in Philly in his 11th fight, his first 8 rounder. After 14 straight wins, 9 by knockout, the southpaw super featherweight was put into his first 10 rounder against Eddie Garces (9-4-1, 1 KO) at the Spectrum. A 1st round knockout in 1:41 would end the career of Garces. In his 10th straight (of 15) appearance at the Spectrum he would win the US Super Featherweight title stopping the 14 fight win streak of Trenton’s Sammy Goss (39-3, 19 KO) over 12 rounds while scoring a 2nd round knockdown. Goss had won the NABF title but it was not on the line.
Everett would win his next 9 fights over such opponents from around the world like Australian Blakeney Kid Matthews (37-10-5, 11 KO), Mexico’s Jose Luis Madrid (33-9, 27 KO), Filipino Bert Nabalatan (20-5, 15 KO) and Argentina’s Pedro Aguero (34-5-4, 8 KO) before going to Honolulu stopping former OPBF lightweight champ Fred Rolando Pastor (5-4, 3 KO) in the 1st round.
Returning to Philly he would stop Korea’s Hyun Chi Kim (23-1, 9 KO) who had just lost a split decision in his previous fight for the WBA Super Feather title to Ben Villaflor. At the end of 1975 a 12 round decision win over Ray Lunny III (23-1-3, 10 KO) in San Francisco solidified Everett’s contention for a title. In his 4th match in 1976 he traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to defeat Columbia’s Hugo Barraza (47-7-3, 31 KO) outdoors in a rain storm snapping a Barraza’s 23 win streak. This win earned Everett the title bout with WBC champion Puerto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera (36-7-2, 25 KO) at the Spectrum November 30, 1976.
Escalera had won 10 straight and was making his 7th defense with a reputation of being one of boxings dirtiest fighters. At times he would wear a snake around his neck into the ring. A record breaking crowd of 16, 019 turned out for the unbeaten Everett’s 35th bout with expectations of seeing a new champion being crowned.
Everett was masterful in completely frustrating the champion. He was picking him apart at will. In the 13th round a head butt caused a cut on Everett’s forehead. This may have been one of the two rounds I gave Escalera with my scorecard reading 148-137 Everett. Suddenly we heard those five words boxing fans have grown to hate over the years in a lopsided fight, “we have a split decision”. Was there some kind of mistake? We were in Philly, not Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican judge Ismael Fernandez had it 146-143 for Escalera. The referee Ray Solis, of Mexico, had it 148-146 for Everett. I’m standing there shaking my head thinking the Pennsylvania judge has to give it to Everett. Judge Lou Tress from upstate Pennsylvania scored it 145-143 for the still WBC Super Lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera! If we were in Puerto Rico, and the reverse happened they would hang these two judges. The Associated Press had it scored 146-139 for Everett and the United Press International had it 146-141 for Everett. Every ringside sportswriter had it for Everett.
“I handled him so easy. I know I won. Everybody could see it. I was making him miss…spinning him off…turning him around. He (Escalera) told me I was the new champion. I don’t think he even believed the decision,” said Everett.
I was in attendance that night and have been watching fights since 1952 and can attest that in over 50 years of boxing it was the worst decision I have ever encountered.
While his promoter J. Russell Peltz was trying to arrange a rematch, Everett scored 2 knockouts, in February and May. Just 10 days after scoring what would be his last fight. Everett was shot to death in South Philadelphia on May 26, 1977. His final record was 36-1, 20 KO). Everett was warned about the company he kept and it would prove to be his downfall. He thought he was invincible. It almost reminded me of the death of the great middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel who was also shot to death at the same age of 24.
Earlier I mentioned James “Black Gold” Shuler. Next to Meldrick Taylor, Shuler was one of the most decorated amateurs in the history of Philadelphia. Shuler was a two time National Golden Gloves champ, 1979 Pan Am champion, and a member of the 1980 USA Olympic team that did not participate due to President Carter’s boycott. His overall record was 127-3. Shuler, Rob “Bam Bam” Hines, Jimmy Clark and Marvis Frazier were among those from Philadelphia scheduled to go to Poland with the USA team on March 14, 1980. The flight crashed in Warsaw killing all aboard including Lonnie Young and Tyrone Clayton both from Philadelphia.
Shuler and teammate Frazier signed with Madison Square Garden. This always made me shake my head. If they were Spanish I could see it, but no way would they be drawing cards in New York like they would be in Philly. Shuler turned pro in September of 1980 in Philly with 3 of his next 4 fights being in New York with the last one in 1981.
Shuler scored 11 knockouts in winning his first 12 fights. In October of 1982 he defeated former 1972 Olympic Gold medalist “Sugar” Ray Seales (55-7-3, 32 KO) for his NABF title over 12 rounds snapping his 7 fight win streak. Percy “Buster” Custus, who boxed with Shuler in the amateurs, recently saw Seales in an amateur show in Ohio. “I reminded him who I was and he said he was almost blind in one eye at that time,” said Custus. “James lived a good life. He could sleep 12 hours a night, play basketball and no one ever had anything bad to say about him,” added Custus.
In 1983 Shuler would stop Norberto Sabater (21-4, 8 KO) in 2 rounds at Atlantic City. In 1984 he met 1976 Olympic Silver medalist Clint Jackson (23-3, 17 KO) who was the most decorated amateur in US history. Shuler would defend his NABF title winning in over 12 rounds for his 19th straight win. In 1985 coming off a year of inactivity, at Atlantic City, Shuler won a split decision over the USBA champ James “The Heat” Kinchen (34-0-2, 27 KO) in another NABF defense. “That was probably his toughest fight up until then,” said Hines. “He was a gentleman, kind and a great fighter,” Hines added. Hines won the IBF light middleweight title in 1988 from Matthew Hilton.
Joe Hand, Sr. who was one of the founders of Cloverlay that started Joe Frazier was approached about handling Shuler in 1985. “I found James to be such a real nice young man and I didn’t have to make any investment,” said Hand. “He was ranked #1 and could have fought Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title. We took around 25k to step aside money,” added Hand. Hagler and Hearns was a war as we all know. “We felt Hearns coming off the Hagler fight would be a good fight for James,” said Hand. “We hired Eddie Futch (legendary trainer) to train him,” said Hand. “We did a tour of various cities in luxury jets and it was a great experience,” added Hand.
In just a little over a year with only one knockout win Shuler was put into his biggest career fight at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. His opponent, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns was coming off an 11 month lay-off himself since being stopped in one of the most famous yet short fights in boxing history against “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. Hearns slipping a Shuler jab scored a knockout in 1:13 of the 1st round. This defeat devastated Shuler and his followers. “We were in the dressing room and told we have 30 minutes. Eddie Futch was taping his hands when before you know it we were told we had 5 minutes. He never had a chance to warm up,” said Custus. “When we got into the ring Hearns had broken a good sweat”, he added.
“We were in Florida when we heard about the motorcycle accident and came up for the funeral,” said Hand. “Tommy Hearns came in along with hundreds and hundreds of people attending the funeral. Hearns offered the NABF title bout he won from James but the family wouldn’t accept it,” added Hand. Hand and family have run PPV and other entertainment events for many years in Philadelphia. They also will be opening a new gym at 3rd and Spring Garden soon. They were just awarded “the best gym” at a Philly Sports show event for the gym that just closed the end of January.
The James Shuler Memorial Gym in North Philadelphia was opened by Custus in 1994. It was packed the night I talked to him along with Hines and Willie Folk who were training fighters. Folk had trained Shuler from the start at about the age of 11 along with several of his 4 brothers. “James was very dedicated. Every fight was as important as the last one. When he lost in the amateurs it was hard to get him back on track. He hated losing,” said Folk. “He and his brother Marty had won in a tournament in the amateurs and of course couldn’t fight each other. So I flipped a coin to see who would continue and James won,” said Folk. “The week after losing to Hearns he told me he was buying a black and a gold Lincoln (matching his nickname Black Gold) and would flip a coin to see which one he would give me. The next day he bought a new motorcycle and I never saw him again,” added Folk. Shuler would lose his life that day at the age of 26 in a fatal motorcycle accident one week after the Hearns fight.
Wesley Mouzon was as well known as a great trainer after retiring as he was a great fighter while boxing. He was like the Eddie Futch of the east coast. Both soft spoken, and filled with words of wisdom that made you think. From knowing him I have to tell you, this man was special.
Moving to Philly as a small child from South Carolina Mouzon would turn pro at the tender age of 16, just prior to his 17th birthday in June of 1944. His trainer would be Young Gene Buffalo who had a (94-31-8) record.
Mouzon won all his fights in 1944 going 8-0. In 1945 he stepped up in his 12th fight stopping Santa Bucca (21-5-1) who had just beat George LaRover (39-7-2). This was at the old Metropolitan Opera House in Philly. He followed up with a win over Eddie Giosa (28-3-2) at the Arena. Several fights later he beat Dave Freeman (16-4-1) at Shibe Park.
A month later he went up against Allie Stolz (57-8-2) who had lost a split decision to Sammy Angott in a lightweight title bout. Mouzon would lose for the first time. Just 2 months later he would defeat Dorsey Lay (27-6-1) at Convention Hall. Then a rematch with Giosa some 7 months after their first meeting would again result in a Mouzon win.
Just 2 weeks later Mouzon would fight future world champion Ike Williams (66-9-2) to a majority draw. One judge voted for Mouzon 6-4. Williams was not at his best and the fast-moving Mouzon took the play away. Williams made a big rally in the 9th round which pulled it even for him. It was a very good fight.
At the beginning of 1946 Mouzon lost for the 2nd time in his career to New York’s Danny Kapilow (41-5-5) over 10 rounds. Kapilow had fought a draw with Rocky Graziano the year before. In June of 1946 Mouzon stopped Leo Rodak (78-23-11) in Baltimore. Meanwhile Bob Montgomery (68-10-3) at the same time was stopping Stolz, who had defeated Mouzon. In August Mouzon would meet Montgomery who was the NYSAC World lightweight champ in a non-title bout. Mouzon was managed by Bob’s brother Tom. There was no love lost between the two brothers so Bob asked for a huge guarantee so his brother would make less. Just 4 days after his 19th birthday Mouzon would flatten Montgomery in 2 rounds before over 15,000 fans. Mouzon had said though he had been knocked down by Montgomery in a sparring session, he knew he could beat him.
Ray Robinson had gotten to the fight late but showed up in Mouzon’s dressing room asking Buffalo if he would like to fight him. Buffalo asked him if he was crazy. Robinson talked of all the money they could generate. Instead, Buffalo signed Mouzon for a rematch on October 28th with Montgomey. The bout was postponed due to an injury until November 26th at Convention Hall. A week before the fight while sparring, Mouzon dropped Joe Murphy. There must have been resin on his gloves when Murphy got up and thumbed Mouzon. He told his trainer about it who then arranged for him to be examined. He was told he had a detached retina. He decided to go on with the fight for the money knowing it might be his last one. Somehow the commission doctor passed him.
A crowd of over 12,000 set a Pennsylvania indoor record of over $85,000 to see Montgomery and Mouzon II at Convention Hall. The first 3 or 4 rounds were easy for Mouzon. His trainer told him to go for the knockout in the 3rd like he had done before. By the 5th round Mouzon had nothing left. By the 8th round Mouzon could not see and the fight was stopped. Some people thought Montgomery had thumbed him. By Mouzon not saying anything Montgomery got a lot of enemies. His final record was 23-3-1, 9 KO’s.
Mouzon stayed in Philly for 5 years and was still very bitter. He married in 1951 and moved to New York City for 27 years. Upon returning in 1978 he trained fighters at Frazier’s Gym before eventually moving to the Front Street Gym. He trained Dwight Qawi the WBC light heavyweight and WBA cruiserweight champion. Other notables were USBA champion Tony Thornton, Anthony Boyle, Chucky T. and Vinnie Burgese. “Mouzon was one of the best human beings I ever met,” said Boyle. “I only wished I had hooked up with him earlier,” added Boyle.
The last person to work with Mouzon as an assistant was Billy Briscoe. “Greatest man I ever met in or out of the ring,” said Briscoe. ”I’m the last guy that was Wesley’s protégé,” added Briscoe.
“Gypsy” Joe Harris was one of a kind. I met him after the commission stopped him from boxing. I was going to do a story on him. He claimed to be hit in the eye with a brick from a bag snatcher during Halloween. We were going to get his doctor to sign a release so we could go to Cooper Medical Hospital in Camden, New Jersey where he was treated. The doctor wasn’t there and Gypsy was gone.
His amateur trainer was Duke Dugent from the 23rd PAL. I remember Duke telling me a story about when Harris sparred with “Smokin” Joe Frazier. “I had my killer in Bennie Briscoe. I had my most dedicated in Frazier who I could tell go do your roadwork and you knew he would do it. But the best of the 3 was “Gypsy,” said Dugent. “I was sitting in my office one day and heard “get him Joe” and I walked out and Gypsy had Frazier (had about 10 fights at the time) trapped in a corner in the ring. He stepped back for leverage and Frazier hit him with that left hook of his and drove him clear across the ring up against the turnbuckle,” said Dugent. “You want to fight you motherf..ker,” said Gypsy. “I quickly jumped between them for Gypsy was giving up close to 40 pounds,” added Dugent. Gypsy feared no one.
The man with the double breasted trunks (claims Jose Stable knocked 3 of them off) and doing the 3 stooges Curley Joe back step in the ring. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters when he fought. I saw Bobby Cassidy actually corner him and hold his shoulder with his right hand (southpaw) and still couldn’t hit him. He always had a bag of tricks. “I took a little bit from a dozen different fighters,” said Harris. I remember Philly’s Bobby Cofer was one of them. His bald head and round body looked like an easy target for opponents. They were in for a big surprise. Arms dangling by his side he dared his opponents to hit him. He would do the Jersey Joe Walcott shuffle by walking away from his opponent and suddenly striking out at them. His style was impossible to describe. “I don’t make plans, I just fight,” said Harris. “The guys I fight don’t know what I’m gonna do next, because I don’t know what I’m doing next,” added Harris.
Harris turned pro just before his 19th birthday in November of 1964 in Worcester, Mass. In his next fight he was in Norfolk, Virginia ending Oscar Freeman’s 6 fight win streak. His 3rd fight would be in Philly while winning all his 8 fights in 1965. In March of 1966 Harris would fight C.L. Lewis (13-5-3). There was always bad blood between these two.
In his 15th fight Harris would beat fellow Philly fighter Stanley “Kitten” Hayward (22-2-1). Hayward had won 6 straight including stoppages of Curtis Cokes and Percy Manning along with decisions over Dick Turner and Bennie Briscoe. Though knocked down earlier in the fight, Harris would retire Hayward in the 7th round, which moved him into the rankings and a fight with Jose Stable (27-8-2). Stable had defeated 5 out of 6 Philly fighters including Lewis, Hayward, Sidney “Sweet Pea” Adams, Charley Scott and Dick Turner. He only lost to Percy Manning. In addition he had a win over Curtis Cokes. Harris would decision Stable to finish out 1966.
On March 6th 1967 Harris would defeat fellow Philly fighter Johnny Knight (14-5-1) by stopping him in the 6th round. At the end of the month came the opportunity of a lifetime as he would leave Philly (after 15 straight wins) and meet the WBC/WBA welterweight champ Curtis Cokes in a non-title bout at Madison Square Garden. Harris would upset Cokes earning what he thought would be a title fight. When the reporters asked “where’s the party Gypsy?” His reply was “ain’t going to be no party, I’m from Philly.” He even had the distinction of being the only non heavyweight to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. “I couldn’t jab him. He don’t have a style. He just stands there and acts the monkey. I hit him a few times, but he’d just wobble and come back. He’s a tough kid. They got to give me a roomful of money to fight him for the title, and there ain’t enough to get me to fight him in New York,” said Cokes.
J. Russell Peltz the longtime top promoter in Philly had this to say about Harris. “He did things in the ring that had not been done before or since. Gypsy Joe was a magician, very tough to hit. He was a very big attraction in Philadelphia,” said Peltz.
After the win over Cokes, Harris would defeat veteran Teddy Wright (46-15-10) just 2 months later. Harris was 160 for that fight. Just 4 days later he was flown to Dallas to showcase his skills while coming off the canvas to defeat Benny Bowser (19-10-3) on the undercard of a Cokes defense against the French champ Francois Pavilla in a rematch of a draw they had earlier in the year in France. This was a match already set up figuring Harris would be a tune-up fight.
“I went to Dallas for the title bout with Cokes and when I got there they didn’t even have a ring set up for me in the hotel,” said Harris. “There was a picture of Cokes out fishing in his rowboat right on the front page of the newspaper,” he added. Seems the promoters were accused of counterfeiting currency and had already shortchanged Cokes in an earlier defense.
Harris would return to Philly and defeat tough Puerto Rican Miguel Barreto (15-1) in August. With Pavilla out of the way Cokes announced he would fight Charley Shipes in October. Harris known to train on candy and soda would fight at 157 in defeating Cassidy 4 weeks after Cokes had his fight. Harris seemed to resign himself to the fact there would be no Cokes fight in the future. In a rematch with Barreto the results were the same with Harris almost 10 pounds heavier than Barreto this time.
In February of 1968 Harris would defeat Dick DiVeronica (37-8), the nephew of Carmen Basilio. This set the stage for Harris to meet former welter champion Emile Griffith (55-9) 6 months later on August 6th. A couple of weeks before the bout Harris disappeared and showed up in Atlantic City getting married. “He showed up a week before the fight and we (trainer Willie Reddish) tried to get him in good enough condition to fight,” said Dugent. He fought a good defensive fight but had nothing to offer offensively in losing his first fight after 24 straight wins. It was a sad situation. It was a record indoor crowd of almost 14,000. Little did he know he would never fight again. “I think Griffith was a little too big and strong for Gypsy,” said Gil Clancy, Griffith’s manager-trainer. “He (Harris) has the ability to be champ,” added Clancy.
Harris would memorize the eye chart and kid around with the doctors. When he showed up for the Manny Gonzalez fight his bad eye was red from the thumbing C.L. Lewis had given him. There was bad blood between the two. This is one time Harris wouldn’t pass the physical and never be permitted to fight again. He was now 23 having fought his last fight at 22. The years were not good to him fighting and beating drug addiction while suffering 3 heart attacks. At the age of 44 the heart that would never give out in the ring finally gave up on him.
These 5 individuals are legendary in Philly. Sometimes it is as if time has stood still when talking about them in the gyms or at the fights. We love reminiscing about Dick Turner, Tyrone Everett, James “Black Gold” Shuler, Wesley Mouzon and the unforgettable one of a kind “Gypsy” Joe Harris.
e-mail Ken at: email@example.com
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