The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with…Curtis Parker

by on Dec.27, 2014, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley

All photos courtesy of John DiSanto of Phillyboxinghistory.com

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Curtis Parker did not so much ease his way onto boxing’s front page as much as he exploded across it. With arms pumping and head bobbing, Parker looked like Joe Frazier and fought like Joe Frazier and with all our quaint little TV sets tuned in back in the early ’80s, he absolutely detonated across our screens. And when I say detonated, baby, I’m talkin’ something like that blast that went off in Alamogordo in ’45.

DH: Curtis, you’re originally from Philadelphia, are you not?

CP: That’s right. Born and bred and I’m still here. And believe me, I know Philly.

DH: Tell me a little of your background growing up. Any boxing history in the family?

CP: Well, there were 5 of us kids in the family – 3 girls and 2 boys – but nothing really connected to the sport. I had heard my father did a bit of boxing, but (laughing) I also heard he did a bit of street fighting too.

DH: Where did you start out and at what age?

CP: Well, I think I was around 14 or 15 at the time and I was actually playing High School football. We had to go down to the PAL gym to weigh in and of course, I didn’t know where I was going and went in the wrong door. I entered the boxing gym and I was absolutely fascinated with what I saw. I met Willie Reddish, Sonny Liston’s old trainer, and I got to talking with him. Before I knew it he had handed me a permission paper to be signed by my mom to allow me to box. Of course (laughing), someone signed that paper, but it wasn’t my mom. I didn’t want her to know what I was doing.

DH: Who was instructing you at this time?

CP: Willie Reddish, Sr. and Jr. They were running the place. It was Willie, Sr. who instilled that Joe Frazier style in me and I progressed very quickly. That style will either take you up or take you down fast.

DH: How did you fare as an amateur?

CP: Pretty good. I won Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Golden Glove titles. I lost in the semi-finals of the ’76 National Golden Gloves down in Miami, but won the ’77 National Golden Gloves in Honolulu at light middleweight. I beat Clint Jackson in the finals, which was really something since he had been to the Olympics the year before.

DH: You turned pro at 18. Was there ever a doubt that you would be turning professional?

CP: I didn’t want to hang around another 4 years for the Olympics to roll around again. See, boxing is not a sport you want to hang around for a long time, so if I was going to do it it had to be now.

DH: Who did you turn pro with?

CP: Willie Reddish was my trainer, but my mom actually had a hand in managing me. (laughs) She had a piece of the rock.

 DH: You were barely 19 and having your 4th pro fight when tragedy struck. I know it’s a sore spot with you, but if you can tell me about the Jody White fight.

CP: Jody White passed away after our fight. It was a very unsettling time for me. I gave my whole purse to Jody’s family and considered leaving the game altogether. But I had to get my head around the fact that there was something wrong there. It was only a 4 rounder and it was only his second fight. Something went undetected with Jody and it could have happened in his next fight. It was just an accident.

 DH: You were immersed at this time in those Philadelphia cauldrons – sometimes called gyms. Were the Philly gyms as rough as the tales we hear?

CP: Oh, yeah! They’d rough you up good in a sparring session. And I would know, because I was one of the guys roughing them up. (laughing) They didn’t like me much back then.

 DH: Who were you working with?

CP: Oh, I’d spar with anyone, I wouldn’t care. But I’ll tell you a funny story. Do you remember hearing stories of a fighter who gets hit and sees 3 of his opponent and the trainer tells him to hit the one in the middle? Well, that actually happened to me. I was sparring with Bennie Briscoe of all people when he hit me with something wicked and I actually saw 3 Bennie Briscoes coming at me. I tell this to Willie Reddish in my corner between rounds and he tells me to go for the one in the middle. The funny thing was, I was so wobbly, (laughing) I really was trying to hit the fella in the middle.

 DH: In July of ’79 you took on one of Philly’s great middleweights. Tell me about your fight with Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroe.

CP: Y’know, that was one of the greatest fights ever held at the Philadelphia Spectrum. It was my pressure and infighting against his experience and skill. It was spectacular and one of my greatest wins.

DH: In your next fight you took on former jr. middleweight champ Elisha Obed. Tell me about that one.

CP: Well, officially I stopped him in 7 rounds, but I kinda think he stopped himself so that I wouldn’t. He sort of fell out of the ring and I don’t think he liked it when the spectators were pushing him back in. But I stopped him shortly after that.

 DH: From the time you turned pro up to late ’79 you fought almost exclusively at the Blue Horizon or the Spectrum. Who was promoting you at this time?

CP: Russell Peltz. He was a good promoter.

DH: Yet, you switched base of operations to Atlantic City. Why was that?

CP: As you get older you see the game differently. I wasn’t fighting for trophies anymore. I wanted to make the most money possible and they were televising boxing nationally at this time out of Atlantic City. There was nothing personal about it, although I don’t think Russell was too happy. But, in Atlantic City, I was never off the TV. I was promoted there by Murad Muhammad, still semi-managed by my mom and was now being trained by Georgie Benton and ‘Slim’ Jim Robinson.

DH: Your first fight in New Jersey was against David Love of San Diego. Love seemed to hold a hex over Philadelphia fighters. He had beaten Bennie Briscoe, ‘Boogaloo’ Watts, Willie Monroe, Perry Abney and was looking to make you number five. Tell me about that fight.

CP: I remember this fight so well because it was my 21st birthday and I was determined to succeed on national television. I stopped him in 9 rounds and, man, let me tell ya, I was so surprised to hear Love had a few more fights after this. Because the way I fought him, I thought I put him into permanent retirement.

Curtis Parker (right) in his April of ’79 bout against Arnell Thomas at the Philadelphia Spectrum.

Curtis Parker (right) in his April of ’79 bout against Arnell Thomas at the Philadelphia Spectrum.

DH: In August of ’80 you headlined at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in a real old-school showdown. You were 17-0 taking on 26-0 Dwight Davison of Detroit. I gotta tell you, dude, out of your crouch, he looked a foot taller.

CP: Oh, he was, no doubt. I was 5′ 8″ and like you say, out of a crouch, and he was like 6′ 2″. His height and reach was a big part of his win. I never fought anyone with that kind of reach. This was a big Don King promotion.

DH: Your next fight was back in Atlantic City against the top middleweight contender Mustafa Hamsho and again, nationally televised. But before we get into this I have to tell you a funny story. Back in the day, a buddy of mine and I would bet a few bucks on every fight. I picked you to win and he chose Hamsho. After the 10 rounds was completed I had a score of 7-3 – the same as judge Richard F. Murry – in your favor and my buddy scored it 6-4 for you. So certain was he on the outcome that he paid me off before the decision was announced. What a dark comedy it was when we had to re-exchange the money after that decision was announced.

CP: That was absolutely the worst decision. I beat him all over, put 12 stitches in his face and they gave him the fight. There was a promise of a title shot to the winner, but I found out after that he already had signed for a title fight with Marvin Hagler before the fight. They protected the deal, gave him the decision and gave him the title shot. I look back now and, although I don’t like it, I do understand it. There was politics and money involved and I do get it.

DH: A year later the two of you rematched and this time I thought it was close. He got the decision again, but this time I wasn’t stomping around cursing everything in sight over it. What did he do so differently this time around?

CP: Nothing. This was all my fault. I didn’t have the same patience this time. I felt I had already beaten him and simply wanted to knock him out. All I did for 10 rounds was throw haymakers and I let the fight get away from me.

DH: You went on a nice little winning streak after the Hamsho rematch, beating among others, Tony Braxton and Kenny Bristol, when you were matched with undefeated John Mugabi down in Tampa. With your similar bruising styles, I think everyone knew this was going to end early.

CP: This fight was always going to end early because I never came in this light. It was a contracted weight of 156 and this was a struggle for me. I was dieting and not eating to make that weight and I had nothing. No punch and weak as could be. I swear, a boy could have stopped me that day. And of course, Mugabi stopped me early.

DH: In January of ’84 you were matched with undefeated Donald Bowers. Now, Bowers won the National Golden Gloves title at light middle the year after you did. Had your paths crossed before?

CP: I believe they did but I’m not 100% on that.

DH: Tell me about your fight in Atlantic City.

CP: Well, I wanted a good showing after the Mugabi fight and I came in in great shape and handed him his first loss. It made such a difference weighing in as a full middleweight. Dan, I don’t look good small.

DH: In your next fight you lost a close one to top contender Alex Ramos over 12 rounds. A fight that I thought was made for you. Were you starting to feel a little burned out by this stage of the game?

CP: I don’t know if it was so much being burned out as it was the fact that I didn’t have the same interest as I did when I started out, and it may have shown. I think I still gave the fans a good fight that night, though.

DH: In late ’84 – early ’85 you really looked like your old self, beating nice prospects Billy Robertson and Ricky Stackhouse. But between those fights you packed the Sands Casino one more time. Tell me about your fight with Frank ‘The Animal’ Fletcher.

CP: Dan, that was a Philly fight, but we should have met much earlier in our careers. I really thought this was going to be something like the first Bennie Briscoe – Cyclone Hart fight. You know, a toe-to-toe war. But I don’t think he was the same fighter that he used to be and I blew him away in about 2 rounds. I tell you, though, I was determined to win that night.

DH: Your last number of fights against Michael Olajide, Frank Tate and Michael Nunn seemed to be cookie-cutter opponents. All fast boxers, undefeated and standing at 6′ 1″. At 5′ 8″ these were not the type of fights you should have been taking. Were these the only money fights around?

CP: Oh, man, I know what you mean. They were one after another. By this time I think the promoters were using me for their up and coming fighters. You know, so they could brag, ‘I beat Curtis Parker!’

DH: Your last fight – against Michael Nunn – you subbed for Doug DeWitt. How much notice were you given for this Vegas fight?

CP: Let me put it this way, I was in the gym but not ready for a fight. I took it for the payday, but I still got out there and tried my best to get under that reach. It just wasn’t meant to be.

DH: You called it a career after that fight. Although only 29, did you feel spent?

CP: Y’know, I was still OK, but it was time to get out. I was smart enough to pack it in when I did. Some just don’t know when to let go.

 DH: Curtis, at any time during your career were you engaged in talks for a title fight?

CP: Only at the time of the first Hamsho fight. Like I said, he had already signed for the title fight with Hagler, but if I had won, the title fight would have been mine.

DH: If you were to speculate, how do you think a fight between you and Hagler for the world middleweight championship would have gone down?

CP: Dan, at that time, it would have been a heckuva fight. I can honestly say I could see one of us getting stopped and hurt. And unless he was having a really bad day…it probably would’ve been me. Believe me when I say, Hagler was no joke.

DH: Curtis, your crowd-pleasing style enabled you to fight on national TV approximately 12 times. Were you seeing good money from the televised fights?

CP: It was OK. The business end could have been better and I’m sure I could have seen more in the purses. But I did make a career high of about $100,000, which I think was the Dwight Davison fight.

DH: Curtis, you’ll have to clarify an old gym-rat rumor that has been knocking about for a few years. Did you once school Michael Spinks in a sparring session?

CP: (laughing) Yes, I did. But I was still an amateur and I think Mike was just a first year pro, so we were both young at the time.

DH: What did you get into in retirement?

CP: Well, I owned a seafood store for awhile and had some property, but I’ve been a Stationary Engineer for the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for the last 30 years now.

DH: What regrets – if any – did you have from your career?

CP: I had a couple. I regret agreeing to come in so light for the Mugabi fight. I don’t know what I could have done differently in the first Hamsho fight. It was like the deck was stacked against me in that one. I fought a perfect fight only for the decision to be taken from me. And I regret the career sliding away from me. For instance, later in my career I get a call from Sugar Ray Leonard. I don’t know who he was training for, but he needed an aggressive style to help prepare him. I turned him down. I thought to myself, ‘I’m no sparring partner. I want to fight Sugar Ray Leonard for real!’ Dan, these were all things I had to learn to accept. I had to get it in my head that business was business.

DH: Curtis, last question. How is Curtis Parker today?

CP: Oh, I feel great. I’m not married anymore, but I have 4 grown daughters and 8 grandchildren. We’re all close and we’re all looking forward to spending Christmas together.

 

Parker working the heavy bag, under the watchful eye of trainer Willie Reddish.

Parker working the heavy bag, under the watchful eye of trainer Willie Reddish.

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If one entered an arena in the hopes of seeing a Curtis Parker fight, and found Fred Astaire sharpening his cleats…well, one has walked into the wrong room. If there was one thing guaranteed at a Curtis Parker fight, it was non-stop physical abuse. And the only pirouettes that would be performed, would be that of his opponent before stretching out on the resin. For, win or lose, one thing that can always be said of Curtis Parker, was that he always gave the fans their money’s worth.

See ya next round

 

Dan Hanley

pugnut23@yahoo.com

 

 

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