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It's not too often that you get a nice heart-warming story in boxing, so when you get one it's a breath of clean, fresh air. I started covering the career of middleweight Alex Ramos from the time he won four golden glove titles in New York City in the late 1970's (1977-80). Ramos was on the USA Boxing Team from 1978-80, but when then-president Jimmy Carter decided to play political hardball with Russia and boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Ramos was denied his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. (Tony Ayala, Bernard Taylor, Mitch Green, Tony Tucker, Johnny Bumphus and Davey Moore were also on the 1980 Olympic Team). Ramos' amateur record was 189 wins, 9 losses with a whopping 132 knockouts. Ramos was a happy-go-lucky kid with an effervescent personality and one of the best left hooks in boxing. He also was burdened by an exuberant love for wine, women and song, and in boxing that is not a very good thing. With Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel as his managers, and George Benton as his trainer, Ramos was one of "Tomorrows Champions" and his pro career was off to a booming start. In 1984 he won the USBA Middleweight Title with a unanimous decision over Curtis Parker, who at the time was the number one ranked middleweight in the world. He also beat future light heavyweight champion J.B. Williamson. But then Ramos' boxing career started to crumble. He did win the CaliforniaMiddleweight title in 1986, but losses to Ted Sanders and James Kitchen, and a disputed loss to John Collins set Ramos back. Ramos fought off and on the next decade, but he never displayed the genius in the ring that he had earlier in his career. There were looses to future champions Murray Sutherland and Michael Nunn, and a loss to Jorge Castro in Argentina. Then literally the roof caved in, and Ramos, fighting the demons of alcoholism and substance abuse, found himself homeless and penniless living on the streets. He "awoke from the darkness" as he describes it, following a dream about Joe Louis and other fighters who died penniless and humiliated. He entered rehab, and today Ramos, now only 37 years old, fights the biggest fight of his life trying to stay clean and sober. In 1995, Ramos founded the Retired Boxers Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping former boxers who are now down and out and looking for some dignity in what is left of their lives. The RBF executive director is Jacquie Richardson. Ms. Richardson has twenty years in marketing and public relations and 10 years in grant writing and fund development. Ms. Richardson said, " I've written over $5 million in grants, so I'm very good at what I do and I'm very picky. I've been working with Alex for a little over a year now and we have made progress. We have found ways to help fighters in trouble, and a the same time, get the word out to the public on the difficulties far too many retired fighters have once they leave their glorious days in the ring. While the job seems overwhelming, it would surprise you how little an effort it takes sometime to make a real difference. We have made referrals for medical care, rehab and even had a surgical procedure donated for a fighter."
The mission of the RBF is to assist retired professional boxers, especially those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse problems, hopelessness and the effects of pugilistic dementia (the medical term for punch drunk). Their goal is to identify and build resources that are available and accessible to retired boxers under five areas of service. They are: *Financial services to help boxers in critical need of financial assistance. *Rehabilitation services, including physical therapy, personal and peer counseling, substance abuse treatment and support groups. *Housing Services to those boxers who are homeless. *Youth Services whereby the RBF will organize activities to assist disadvantaged youth under Kids Gloves Boxing Foundation Programs, including summer boxing camps. *Senior Citizen Programs to provide supportive services to senior citizens, including assistance with simple daily tasks such as transportation and assistance with personal business. Richardson and Ramos also find the time to visit with fighters who are lonely and in need of company. One such fighter is former great featherweight and junior lightweight Bobby "Schoolboy" Chacon, who is also battling substance abuse and pugilistic dementia. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Chacon can barely remember his address, let alone his nickname. Still, Richardson and Ramos feel that fighters like Chacon deserve better, and they socialize with Chacon often, trying to restore the former champ's spirit of self worth. Ramos is now spending time in Orlando, Florida as the camp supervisor for his old pal Hector "Macho" Camacho. Ramos and Camacho have been friends for 27 years, both growing up, like myself, in the mean streets of New York City. Even though he is retired as a fighter, Alex still gets up a 4:15 a.m. every day to put in his roadwork. The first day Alex woke up Camacho that early, Camacho yawned, rubbed his eyes and grumbled some unhappy words. So Alex decided 6 a.m. was early enough for Camacho to begin his daily training routine. For my 25 years in boxing, I've heard numerous people, most of them with deep pockets and short memories, pay lip service to developing programs to assist retired boxers who are in need. Until now, only boxing historian Irv Abramson has done a damn thing. The rest talk the talk, but only Abramson, and now Ramos and Richardson walk the walk. If you can find it in your hearts and in your pocketbooks, you can make a donation to the RBF at: The Retired Boxers Foundation, 3359 Bryan Avenue, Simi Valley, Ca 93063.