|Marvin Stinson, Boxing's #1 Sparring Partner!
Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (July 8, 2008) DoghouseBoxing.com (Photo © phillyboxinghistory.com)
In 1974 Philadelphia boxer Marvin Stinson traveled to Havana, Cuba for the world games and faced Teofilo Stevenson losing a close decision in the finals. In 1976 he won the AAU title. He went to the Olympic trials which included future world champion Michael Dokes. Another future world champion who was a long shot from Tennessee named John Tate would eventually win and represent the famed 1976 Olympic team. Stinson would meet Tate in the finals. They had split in two previous fights. Stinson would lose a controversial decision and remain in camp as an alternate.
At 25, in July of 1977 it would be the beginning as a pro for Stinson, and the end for Charley Boston’s (6-9-1) career as Stinson scored a knockout in 2 rounds in Virginia Beach. Stinson was a winner in 5 of his first 6 fights by knockout including Philly’s Mike Montgomery (6-0). This was followed by 3 straight 8 round decision wins, including Leroy Diggs (8-4-3), who would later serve as a Larry Holmes sparring partner. The third win was in Madison Square Garden over Puerto Rican Pedro Soto (15-5-1) in May of 1978. That’s 9 fights in less than 10 months. Then the problem of getting fights would start. Stinson had signed with Joe Frazier who was busy on the road with his band, Joe Frazier and the Knockouts. Local manager Gary Hegyi and George Benton were booking him into fights. It was not easy getting fights after the first year.
It would be 7 months before he fought, against Philly southpaw Randy Mack (6-3), who was on a 5 fight win streak, in an 8 rounder that ended in a draw. Another 7 months passed before a knockout win over Tyrone Harlee (9-10-1), a winner in 6 of his last 8 fights, in Atlantic City. Another 5 months passed before drawing with Larry Alexander (13-7-1) at the Upper Darby Forum, outside of Philly.
In 1979 Larry Holmes was preparing to defend against Mike Weaver in New York when he called Frazier asking if he had anyone to send up for sparring. Frazier would send Stinson. Little did he know it would be a 13 year job until after Holmes 1992 fight with Evander Holyfield. A trip to Las Vegas in March of 1980 on the undercard of Holmes-Leroy Jones would result in a 1st round knockout over Eddie Wilson (6-0) who had scored 5 by way of knockout. Just two months later, a rematch with Mack (12-3-1), who had won all his 6 fights since their draw. This fight in Atlantic City resulted in another draw, in 10 rounds. Mack was a very tough and crafty opponent.
It would be back to Las Vegas in October of 1980 in the ESPN main event against Jeff Shelburg (20-2), who had scored 17 knockouts in his 20 wins. Stinson would come off the floor in the 4th round and manage to get through the round and win easily in what would be his last victory. What followed was a fight with another unbeaten Philly fighter named ‘Terrible’ Tim Witherspoon (7-0) who had scored 6 knockouts in his 7 wins. The future WBC and WBA champion would not only win a close decision over Stinson but follow up with another 7 wins before losing a highly disputed split decision to WBC champion Holmes.
Next would be the veteran from Philly Jimmy Young (26-10-2), who had been in with Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers (twice), Gerry Cooney, Ron Lyle, George Foreman and a controversial WBC and WBA title loss to Muhammad Ali. This was June of 1981 in Atlantic City. Stinson would remark “probably the only fight I felt I really lost”. Like many fighters, there would be one more fight, some 14 months later at the Felt Forum in New York City fighting house fighter Eddie Gregg (11-0-1). Stinson commented “at the end of the 7th round Gregg did not want to come out of his corner but the referee insisted he fight on. I got head butted in the 9th and the referee stops the fight giving it to Gregg without even consulting the ring doctor. I sat on my stool and cried. Eddie Futch said it’s time to quit. The former amateur champion’s who had over 300 bouts before turning professional, ended up 12-3-3, with 6 knockout wins.
I had met Stinson some 30 years ago. This is one of the nicest, yet toughest fighters you would ever want to meet. I saw him fight Witherspoon and give Holmes all the fight he wanted for years in the gym. I hadn’t seen him in probably 20 years. Holmes was being inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame and they knew he wasn’t coming but wanted someone to accept his award. I reached out tracking Stinson down. Our phone conversation was like stepping back in time. He told me Holmes was in the United Kingdom, but would join him in Canastota, New York, for his International Hall of Fame induction. We agreed to get together after this event for a Q&A.
Ken Hissner: Marvin, how was the induction ceremony in Canastota?
Marvin Stinson: It was great. Eleanor and I drove up there. Larry got very emotional when they gave him a standing ovation. I saw Russell Peltz up there but didn’t get a chance to talk to him. When I was to fight Tex Cobb he pulled out and Young filled in. Peltz promised if I took him as the sub he would give me three more fights win or lose. I am still waiting for those fights. Every time I see him I say “you owe me 3 fights”.
KH: Before we get into your experiences as a sparring partner let’s talk about the 1976 Olympic trials you were in.
MS: One of the coaches, Pat Nappi, came to me before my bout with Tate in the finals. He asked if win or lose I would stay in camp. I told Leon Spinks about it and we agreed no matter what, they were going to pick Tate. I thought I beat him easily. You never know what would have happened in my career if I had gone to the Olympics.
KH: I have met or wrote about all of the 1976 Olympic team members. Any funny stories when you were in camp with them?
MS: Leon hated to run. So I told him one day that when he saw us coming back near the end of our run to run through the sprinklers. He did it and only ran about 75 yards to the finish. They thought he was soaked from sweating.
KH: What was it like sparring with three great world champions like Holmes, Tyson and Frazier?
MS: I had already been with Larry since 1979 when Mickey Duff, Jim Jacobs partner, called to see if I would work with Tyson preparing him for the 1984 Olympic trials. They paid me $750 a week and it only lasted a week or two. Mike will tell you today in front of people, “this guy used to kick my butt”. I had to pull him aside after our sparring sessions to convince him not to quit. With Joe it was when he was making a comeback around 1982. With him I had no problem at all. I knew how to shut him down before he got off with that left hook of his.
KH: I know you spent about 13 years with Holmes. I saw you up there several times and not only did you hold your own with him but you seemed to at times be enjoying yourself.
MS: My first amateur fight was against Larry. We fought 4 times. The second time was in the 1972 regionals for the Olympics. We also fought in Trenton and Allentown. He’ll tell you I probably deserved one of those fights. My first day in the gym with him, they told me they would pay me $300/wk. After that first session Larry said you can add another $100 to that. We had fun some days. Even when I didn’t spar for say a week I still got paid.
KH: Did you get cut or hurt much when sparring with Holmes?
MS: There were times we would joke and say “we are going to get you today”. When I got cut, I got stitched up. When Larry would hurt you, he would send you out of the ring and bring in the next fighter. He knew you weren’t doing him any good if you were hurt. When he trained for Cooney, I was the only one he would work with for a week or two before the fight. It was a job to me. You had better be in good shape.
KH: I knew Larry long before promoting up in Easton. How was he to work with and has he stayed in touch with you over the years?
MS: Larry was a good guy to work for. If you needed something he would give it to you. He helped with the burial for my daughter when she was killed. He always gave me what I needed. It was important that you were honest with him. We were in a gym one day and he left his locker open with all his money and jewelry. I went to him and told him about it and he asked me to lock it for him. His brothers were like brothers to me. I was like family.
KH: I remember coming to your house and you telling me how you built your fireplace. Are you still in that line of work today? Doing anything with boxing?
MS: Yes I am. Matter of fact I’m doing some concrete work this week-end. I have tried working with some young boxers but they are not dedicated today. They want to come in the gym when they want to. That is not the way it is done.
KH: We will have to get together some week-end and maybe get to a gym.
MS: I would look forward to that and the story when it comes out.
e-mail Ken at: email@example.com
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