|Steve Little’s Battle In And Out of The Ring
By Ken Hissner (April 9, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
Former WBA super middleweight champ Steve Little discovered a bigger battle outside the ring. It was a battle that he lost at the age of 34. Several people close to him were willing to share their experiences in his fight to the top and his struggles thereafter.
Little’s cousin Myron Taylor had won a National Golden Glove title in 1980 and would later fight for a world title. His other cousin Meldrick, would become IBF light welter and WBA welter champion.
The boxing blood line was rich.
There were several gyms in Reading, Pennsylvania, like the PAL and K&O Boxing Club (Kline & Ormsbee) where he started an amateur career that totaled over 100 fights. His trainers were Frank Rapino and Paulie Jackson. Little would turn pro in December of 1983 in Atlantic City winning his first 5 fights until April 1984. He would lose back to back fights against a pair of 4-0 fighters named Tony Montgomery and Joe Summers.
Little came back to win 5 straight including a win over previously unbeaten Glenn Wolfe (17-1). He then found himself in San Angelo, Texas against the former Olympic champ Mark Breland (2-0) who would later win the WBA welter title. “Little was winning but ran out of gas,” per Mark Kondrath, an advisor. Breland took the decision.
Again he would battle another 4-0 fighter named Joe Walker to a draw in 8 rounds. Walker would later defeat future champion Terry Norris prior to
winning the WBA and WBC light middle titles. Before the month was out Little was back in the ring winning a split decision over Sanford Ricks (19-1-1) in Ricks back yard of West Orange, New Jersey.
Next was a short notice rematch with Wolfe (18-1) in Tampa. “He had to strip nine pounds the night before to make weight, a common occurrence with him,” said Rich Ormsbee who ran one of the local gym’s and worked in the corner. “He had Glenn beat until fatigue set in and had to retire on the stool,” he added.
In January 1982 Little lost a 12 round majority decision for the state title against Philly’s southpaw Hugh ‘Buttons’ Kearney (8-0) at the legendary Blue Horizon. “It was a chess match with Steve being the stronger of the two. He chased Kearney for 12 rounds but couldn’t catch him. It could have gone either way,” said Ormsbee.
Little would travel to Sacramento to face former WBA welter champ Pipino Cuevas (31-11) whom he beat by decision. He would come back in Detroit, beating Kronk’s David Braxton (18-2), a former WBA light middle title challenger. In August 1986 at the Felt Forum in New York again he was matched with another Kronk boxer, Tyrone Trice (25-1), but this time losing the decision. Less than a month later he was at the Forum, in Inglewood scoring a knockdown in the 7th over David Gutierrez (16-0-1) but lost on all the judge’s scorecards by 1 point.
Several fights later Little was fighting for the USBA title against Philly’s Robert ‘Bam Bam’ Hines. “It was a good fight and he was a good fighter,” said Hines at a recent boxing show. Before the year was out Hines would win the WBA light middle title. At ringside were a group of former ‘associates’ of Littles. It read like the HBO series The Soprano’s with Dan and Sam Marricolli. Sam died in prison. Vito Gentile, cousin of Troy. Alfredo Marchio, Reading bail bondsman and promoter. Frankie Rapino who managed and trained Little. Carmen Graziano came in later as a trainer while Joey Giardello and Muggsy, his partner were also involved.
In his second appearance in Reading, he beat Jerry Williams (7-3). Little would lose back to back fights. First, in December 1988 to future WBC light middle champ Terry Norris (18-2) in Las Vegas for the NABF title. “He was making Norris miss like crazy, but that one right hand caught him square on the chin,” said Marshall Kauffman, friend of Little’s and trainer of contenders Hasim Rahman and Rob Calloway. It ended in the 6th round.
In March 1989 back in his home base of Atlantic City, Little lost to future WBC super middle champ, Davey Hilton (25-0-1) by decision. A month later he finds himself in a WBO light middle title bout with southpaw John David Jackson (18-0) in Auburn Hills. It would be the champ’s first defense in stopping Little in the 8th.
Steve was retired for 17 months and like most fighters got the itch to make a comeback. He was now becoming a successful car salesman but also a bored one. “I saw him at the Berkshire Mall one night and he expressed to me he wanted to make a comeback. I knew they were looking for an opponent for Tyrone Frazier, and asked if he was interested, and he was,” said Ormsbee. “I have to give credit to Frank Rapino his trainer for changing Steve from a hit and run guy to a real brawler that led him to the title,” added Ormsbee. Ormsbee was cut out of the picture at this point. The fight was supposed to be for the state super middle title but Frazier came in at 176. Little lost by split decision but the title was vacated due to Frazier coming in over the weight limit. “His true fighting days only started with this fight,” said Ormsbee.
Sandwiched between two wins was a loss to Adam Garland (16-1) by majority decision. Almost a year to the day would be a rematch with Frazier (19-3-3) again at the Blue Horizon. This time Frazier made weight, but Little won a split decision in 12. At the start of 1992 hard punching Merqui Sosa (19-2, 15 KOs) was brought into the Blue Horizon. “Steve’s training routine consisted of strictly sparring. He would spar over 20 rounds every night, with all weight classes. Occasionally he would work on the punch mitts, but never any exercise routes or even heavy bags. It was amazing how he could pick it up or ease off according to the skill level of his sparring mate,” said Ormsbee. “Steve made a big mistake by taking his new found slam-bam boxing style in the ring against Sosa. The bell rang and he took it right to Sosa toe to toe. Less than a minute into the round Sosa caught him with a solid left combo that had him hanging on for dear life. How he made it through the round we’ll never know,” said Ormsbee. “The second round through the last he was a boxing machine, outscoring Sosa all through the fight. He definitely won,” added Ormsbee. “Steve said it was the hardest puncher he ever met,” said Kauffman. Though one judge had Little ahead by 5 points, it still ended in a draw.
After two easy wins, Little found himself fighting for the title again in February 1994 in the UK after being off for 14 months. Michael Nunn (42-1) was the WBA super middle champ at the time promoted by Don King. “Little knew he had the opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone knew if he trained he could win. James ‘Corky’ Taylor took over as his trainer for the Nunn fight. We watched them train night after night on the speed bag, heavy bag, punch mitts, sit-ups, and wind sprints. He was like a man possessed,” said Ormsbee. “For the first time in his career he was in shape like never before,” he added.
“Here is something few people knew. Little was left handed. He possessed terrific power in his left hook, but his right hand was very weak. He dropped Nunn in the 1st round with a sharp left hook which enabled him to keep Nunn on the defensive the rest of the fight,” said Ormsbee. Little would win a split decision and become the new WBA super middle champion. Beating a King fighter meant he was now a King fighter. Where he made his mistake is he hired Butch Lewis, Michael Spinks former manager, to be his negotiator. You can only imagine how that when over when Butch called Don. Instead of an easy defense 6 months later Little found himself in of all places Argentina, in August of 1994. His opponent was a tough southpaw Frankie Liles (24-1) who had previously stopped Sosa in the 12th round.
“Steve was so busy signing autographs and making public appearances that he had no time to train,” said Ormsbee. Little lost his title by decision in a not so close fight.
Though he would fight another four years he might as well have packed it in waiting for another phone call from King to fight for a title. He split in his last 7 fights, 3-3-1.
Little went 19 months without a fight until he decisioned Columbian Camilo Alarcon (13-1), in Miami for the WBC FECARBOX super middle title. This was March 1996. His next fight was five months later for the vacant IBC super middle title against Dominican Joaquin Velasquez (22-11-1) winning a lopsided decision.
Little’s last opportunity came in June 1997 weighing 187 against James Toney (54-4) for the vacant IBO cruiser title. What a fight! Steve stood there and took everything Toney had and gave back some. “Steve was too heavy, and lost in 12,” said Ormsbee. He got an easy knockout win in Reading and then a USBA cruiser title bout with future champion ‘King’ Arthur Williams (26-4-1), losing in 12. “A year later he went to Denmark and got robbed in a six rounder against Cuban Ivan Camacho (12-2), fighting out of Denmark,” said Kauffman. A year later he finished out his career in Woodlawn, Maryland fighting to a draw in 8 with Courtney Butler (19-4-1) November 3rd, 1998. “He got robbed again,” said Kauffman.
“He would allow people that knew nothing about boxing into his corner just to make them feel good. He would give someone his last dollar if he had it,” said Kauffman.
“I remember how he was struggling financially and he had just got $400 for an exhibition and bought a kid a pair of sneakers that cost $80. That kid was my son Travis, when he was 12. I was upset with Steve, but all he was doing was showing love to a kid and doing something that he has done over and over. That’s who Steve was to me (a giving person),” said Kauffman.
Kauffman helped Little train Denmark’s heavyweight Brian Nielsen. Little also helped l light heavy contender Julian Letterlough get ready for his fights even while going through treatments. Little’s toughest battle was ahead, with cancer. He passed away January 30th, 2000, at the age of 34. When you enter Kauffman’s gym on Elm Street, Reading, you see two large posters on the wall. One is current IBF welter champ Kermit Cintron, whom Kauffman trained and managed, while the other is Steve Little.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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