Termite Watkins heard the Cheers
By Karl Hegman
The internet is a wonderful invention, particularly if you are a boxing person, as not only can you watch most any fight in the world instantly, you can interact with fans from all over the planet at the click of a mouse. Some boxing fans out there have called me a sentimentalist when it comes to boxing, and have also claimed that my mindset is stuck in neutral in the 1970′s when it comes to The Sweet Science. They are charges that I can only plead guilty to.
A ring hero of mine when I was an amateur fighter in Houston in the 70′s was local lightweight contender Maurice “Termite” Watkins, and he was a boxing Idol to most young fighters in these parts. Watkins was the youngest National Golden Gloves Champion in history at only 16 years of age, and he was based out of Florida in the mid to late 70′s as he was making his way up through the professional ranks. Watkins was a smooth moving, fluid and rhythmic boxer-puncher with a style that was very easy on the eyes, and had a left hook that could tear your guts out. I once saw him knock out a tough club fighter named “Wolfman” Morgan at the Sam Houston Coliseum with a left hook flush on the mouth that sent Morgan first airborne, and then crashing in sections flat on his back with his head whip lashing into the hard wooden ring floor.
Watkins had worked a bit with my first coach, a great man named Ray Alfred in the amateurs, and I got to meet him at the 1977 Golden Gloves when he walked over to share a few moments with Ray, and it was an experience that I will most likely always remember as he told me “good fight” and gave me a pat on the shoulder. Watkins was the picture of cool back then with the high heeled shoes, the hair brushed back, the open collared shirt with the sports jacket and the gold chains and watch. Picture John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” and that was Termite. He did fight and lose a hotly disputed decision to 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Howard Davis Jr. in the Summit, and then won a few more fights to get a crack at Saoul Mamby’s WBC Light Welterweight Championship on Oct 2, 1980 on the Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali semifinal fight from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Watkins fought well under the hot desert sun and took the fight to “Sweet Saoul”, shaking him with several booming right hands during the pitched battle, but in the end it was the New Yorker Mamby who retained his title via unanimous decision. Of course, it helped that Saoul was managed by the one and only Don King and the fight was held on a Don King promoted card. Watkins soldiered on with a few more wins and then took on former WBC Super Featherweight Champion Alredo “El Salsero” Escalera on November 12, 1982 in the Orange Bowl in Miami on the Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello 1 under card, but dropped a decision to the hard hitting and flamboyant “Snake Man.” Watkins retired after that fight, but made a comeback six years later and put together a winning streak before retiring for good and pursuing other business interests which fit his always loquacious personality to a tee.
Watkins did gain international notoriety by becoming head coach of the Iraqi Olympic Boxing Team in 2004 after he was deployed there as a civilian fumigator contractor. He is the subject of a book by Suzy pepper and forthcoming movie that is based on the biography.
Watkins developed a nasty cocaine and alcohol habit in those post retirement years, but kicked it after rededicating himself to his religion and unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, a far cry from the party boy of the 70′s and 80′s. I did reconnect with him briefly last year at the Elite Gym when I tried to get my friend, Light Heavyweight powerhouse Chris “Hurricane” Henry to join forces with him, but Chris decided to walk his own path in boxing, much to my chagrin as my efforts went for naught. Watkins opened the Fighter Nation Gymnasium at his church, Fellowship Of The Nations on 13305 Woodforest Blvd. Houston, TX. 77015 in January and it is a real gem as far as boxing gymnasiums go replete with carpeting and air conditioning and is open to kids of all religious denominations.
Forming the nucleus of the gym with Termite is David Peredia, and the gymnasium is home to the Elite Boxing Club, and as well as serving as home base to some of the very best amateur fighters in Houston, Fighter Nation hosted the 2012 Houston Golden Gloves and is also slated to host the local Junior Olympics tournament in late April. Boxing has always served as a launching point and bridge to young fighters for their future endeavors, and not wanting to see an over the hill Erik Morales take another beating on Saturday night at the Reliant, I instead opted to check out the amateur fights there. I am somewhat jaded towards amateur boxing as I left the sport with a bitter taste in my mouth some thirty years ago and in truth I was not expecting very much out of today’s kids, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised and proved myself wrong yet once again.
The sportsmanship between the fighters is what caught my attention first of all, with the trophy winner placing a consolation ribbon around the loser’s neck. I can remember back in the 70′s when brawls between opposing fighters and even opposing coaches spilled over into the parking lots after the contest in the ring. I can also recall in Houston boxing when a young man was judged the victor or loser not by their deeds in the ring, but by the color of their skin. Fortunately for the fighters and boxing in general, this once vile practice appears to be a thing of the past now.
Fights are stopped much more quickly these days, even on a nosebleed. While I disagree with this practice of stopping a fight on a simple bloody nose, I do agree that the fighters are more well taken care of than the bloodshed and near death fights of yesterday. Amateur boxing with no headgear and foul cup was oftentimes more brutal than the professional ranks, and the referee’s main purpose back then was to count to ten. These are good people that volunteer their free time to officiate in amateur boxing, and their ranks are quickly becoming depleted as Termite put out a plea on the PA system for volunteers to help with the officiating duties in the future.
Two kids that couldn’t have been over 10 years of age a piece put on the best fight of the night, and in 3 one minute rounds they must have combined to throw over 500 punches in the whirlwind melee that had the crowd standing in the aisles applauding and yelling at the top of their lungs. 16 year old Light Welterweight “Cadillac” Deville Alexander showed good poise in giving his opponent a standing eight count and winning a decision, and head trainer Rudy Silva is very high on this young man’s future ring prospects. The southpaw Alexander is more Sugar Ray Seales than Pernell Whitaker, but does have that familiar squat style of “Sweet Pea” and if his interest allows and his dedication is great, he could go a long way in the sport.
The Elite Boxing club at Fighter Nation had three Golden Glove Champions from the big tournament in January including the Outstanding Boxer of the tourney, young flyweight phenom Marc Torres. Training and representing the club also is of course 2012 Olympic Trials flyweight Champion Marlen Esparza, whose ring exploits have been chronicled several times before here on the CBZ. The fights were a lot of fun and I got the impression that the folks in charge of the festivities genuinely care about the safety and well being of the kids, traits that were almost non-existent during my tenure in the simon pure ranks.
The kids training at the Fighter Nation may see before them a graying and middle aged man working them on the hand pads and putting them through their daily boxing drills, but little do they know that they labor in the presence of a fighter that once was a true rock star in every since of the word. While his greatness as a fighter may now be just a memory for those of us lucky enough to be involved in that wonderful era of boxing, the greatness of the man remains very much intact to this day. Self-actualized and a good man of God and character, Termite Watkins has finally attained World Champion status in the arena of life putting others before himself.