The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with…’Lightning’ Ray Lampkin

by on Feb.18, 2016, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley

Lampkin 1

In the Pacific Northwest of the early ’70s, as the days of Eddie Machen, Thad Spencer and Andy Kendall were coming to an end, the Aristotelian phrase, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’, came into play. For there was an emptiness in the belly of the fan needing to be sated. And without fanfare, armed only with a manager who was more raconteur than three-piece suit, Ray Lampkin exploded across the city of Portland like the northern lights on a bleak cul-de-sac.

DH: Ray, are you originally from Portland?

RL: No, I’m actually from Monahans, Texas. I was about 5 years old when my parents divorced and we moved with my Dad to Portland where he had family.

DH: Tell me about family life growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

RL: Well, there was 5 of us kids and my Grandmother had a real hand in raising us. And you know…they made it work.

DH: Was there any family history in boxing?

RL: Absolutely none.

 DH: So without any influence what attracted you to the sport?

RL: (laughing) Y’know, there’s no good way of saying this, but I was a bad kid. I actually liked beating up people. My Grandmother and Father didn’t even like leaving me at home with my brothers and sisters, which will tell you what kind of kid I was. But one day when I was nine or ten I spotted a fight poster. Now some people will tell you they had boxing idols from watching them on TV. I didn’t. I just fell in love with those posters. Seeing the fighters in their fighting stance. It was like, man, this is what I wanted to do.

DH: Where did you start out?

RL: The Knott Street Gym, which eventually became the Matt Dishman Community Center. I was taught by Clyde Quisenberry, Dave Petersen and a fella named Gus whose last name I can’t remember. There was all kinds of activities at the Center, but I just took to the boxing.

DH: Tell me about your amateur career.

RL: I started out with my first fight weighing only 45 lbs. and I lost that fight. But in ’58 I won my first Novice tournament. Now I know most will laugh, but my trophy for that tournament was a belt buckle with the year on it. But from there I moved up to the Open class as I got older and eventually fought in 8 Golden Glove tournaments, winning 5 and the other 3 as runnerup. These tournaments were huge because they were referred to as the Northwest Golden Glove tournament, which consisted of fighters from Oregon, Seattle, Tacoma and Canada. The tournament was fought over two days with us fighting 2 and 3 times a day.

DH: You turned pro at the age of 20 in July of ’68. Now, I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that that timeline coincides with the ’68 Olympic Trials. Were you in any way close to making the team?

RL: No! But you are right that this was what I was going for. I needed a title to get the invite to the Trials and having won the Northwest Gloves that year I was eligible for the Nationals held in Ohio. It’s funny now that I think of it, but despite having won the tournament five times, this was the first time I went to the Nationals. (laughing) I just didn’t go the other four times. There was an issue I had with getting serious about this sport and it showed in the tournament. In my very first fight as a matter of fact. It was very close and I could have won, but in that third round I showed fatigue to everyone at ringside. See, I was a smoker and I never put the cigarettes down while fighting amateur. My corner gave out to me and told me I had to get serious, so I cleaned up my act after that, but the chance at the Olympics was gone.

DH: Who did you turn pro with?

RL: (laughing) No one. I turned pro without a manager or trainer and fought my first 10 pro fights just fighting anyone Sam Singer – the promoter in Portland – would set me up with. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I couldn’t do everything myself and if I was going to go anywhere in this business that I needed a manager and trainer. So, I signed on with Mike Morton and was trained by Jack Bracke.

 DH: Your old stablemate, Andy Kendall, once told me that Mike Morton was the greatest self-promoter he had ever seen. Is that how you would sum him up?

RL: (laughing) Oh, yeah. He called himself Mike ‘Motormouth’ Morton and he was good. He had the connections. And I immediately felt the results when they now had me sparring with fighters like Denny Moyer, Richie Sue and Len Kesey. All world class fighters from the Portland area.

DH: It wasn’t long after you signed with Morton that he sent you down to Miami for a couple of fights. Was this for greater exposure?

RL: Yes, I fought Nestor Rojas and Bill Whittenberg down there. And they were both very experienced. But I beat them both and was gaining experience myself.

DH: After Miami you returned to Portland to take on the very talented Felipe Torres. Describe that fight to me.

RL: Well, what I remember most was the sports pages, with the headlines, “Lampkin pitches a shutout.” I had won every round from Torres.

DH: You followed the Torres bout with wins over Mike Mayon and ‘Lobito’ Montoya. What struck me was the fact that Torres, Mayon and Montoya all had very similar styles. They wouldn’t take a backward step, they all had rock-jaws and were sort of clubbing-like sluggers. Was Morton preparing you for a certain style of opponent?

RL: (laughing) Mike was good, but I don’t think he ever thought that far in advance.

Lampkin, at left, versus DeJesus in close.

Lampkin, at left, versus DeJesus in close.

DH: In your next bout you traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico to take on top contender Esteban DeJesus for the NABF lightweight title. DeJesus was coming off his non-title win over Roberto Duran, so this was huge. Tell me about the fight.

RL: Dan, we really should have gotten down there earlier than we did to acclimate ourselves to the water and to check out the facilities. My main gripe with this fight was we were inaugurating the new Roberto Clemente Stadium with a brand new ring to boot. And the problem here was the canvas. I couldn’t get any traction on it and was slipping and sliding all over. My corner was using a scissors trying to scuff up the soles of my boots so I could grip into the canvas, but it didn’t work. I was down three times in that bout and two of them were slips. I just couldn’t get to DeJesus without sliding and lost the decision.

DH: In June of ’73 you traveled to New York to take on one of the hottest lightweights on the east coast in Chu Chu Malave at the Felt Forum. The media loved Chu Chu. You really upset the applecart, didn’t you?

RL: (laughing) Oh, I really pissed off some people with that one. The newspapers ran two headlines in the sports pages before and after the fight. The first one read, “Title for Chu Chu” and the second one read, “Lamp turns light out on Malave.”

DH: How did the fight unfold?

RL: Well, I was beating him fairly easy until around the sixth round. Beginning with the start of the sixth, when the bell would ring, he would run at me hoping to nail me coming off my stool. Now he was getting desperate to do that. So I was instructed by my corner between the 7th and 8th to be ready and catch him running at me. I caught him with a right hand coming off my stool and took him out that round. (laughing) What I remember most was how pissed off his manager was in the dressing room. Oh, man, was he hot. He was screaming, “They told me Lampkin couldn’t fight! And we brought him 3,000 miles so he could knock us out?!”

DH: In mid-’73, ABC-TV was running a televised summer boxing series from the Felt Forum and you were invited back for a rematch with Esteban DeJesus over 12 rounds for the ‘American’ lightweight title. With the rankings you two held was there any promise for a shot at the world title for the winner?

RL: You know, I don’t recall what went on before that fight. There may have been a promise but my head was wrapped up in my physical health at the time, because I really shouldn’t have taken the fight.

DH: Could you explain?

RL: I was suffering from gall stones at the time. I couldn’t run during training and I couldn’t move much and got beat over 12. Seriously, I could have died in that ring that night. But I had Mike telling me, “You can beat him, Ray!” (laughing) Mike was always a good talker. But back then was so different then it is now. If I hadn’t taken that fight when I did, there would have been a very good possibility that I wouldn’t have got another chance.

DH: In late ’73 you headed down to Mexico to take on highly ranked Tury ‘The Fury’ Pineda in his stomping grounds of Mexicali. Was this a gamble on Mike’s part in keeping you viable against the top contenders?

RL: (laughing) I think Mike had more confidence in me than I did. But let me tell you what happened down there. I dropped Pineda in the 3rd round, I won every round and at one point I had him hanging out of the ropes and they still wouldn’t stop the fight. So the fight went the distance and, right enough, two of the judges had me a one-sided winner. But you know the third Mexican judge actually scored it 95-95. This is the kind of thing that happens in the other guy’s hometown.

DH: I was very surprised in your next fight – losing to Angel Mayoral in Las Vegas. Not that he wasn’t an excellent fighter, but I didn’t see it coming. What happened in that fight?

RL: Y’know, no excuses, I just had a really hard time with his southpaw style and he took the decision.

DH: In April of ’74 you knocked out Chu Chu Padilla in Los Angeles and then took off for five months, which was unusual for you. I believe I heard at this time they were trying to get you Jimmy Heair. Do you recall?

RL: I don’t. Mike was always trying to get me fights, so I would always hear names back and forth. I heard he was trying to get Heair, I also heard he was trying to get Al Ford of Canada. But I ended up fighting and knocking out Petey Vital for my second fight in Los Angeles.

DH: I believe it was about this time I had heard Mike Morton fired off four ambitious challenges on your behalf at the champions at lightweight and junior welter. He challenged Roberto Duran, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Antonio Cervantes and Bruno Arcari. Was this another gamble to see if anything would stick?

RL: Wow, I didn’t even know he did that. I’ll tell you one thing about Mike. He was always working for you.

DH: You were on an outstanding winning streak which took you to March of ’75 and your shot at the world title against Roberto Duran in Panama. I thought you fought a remarkable fight that night against Duran. Tell me what unfolded in your own words.

RL: Dan, this arena we fought in was like an oven and by the 13th round my corner had run out of water. Like you said, I fought the fight of my life, but in the 14th round I ended up in a position where my hands were down and Duran just caught me with a left hook and dropped me. But the worst part was that my head hit the canvas…hard! I was unconscious and dehydrated and was stretchered off to the hospital.

DH: How long were you hospitalized?

RL: It was only for a few days. They wouldn’t let me fly home immediately until they were sure I didn’t have a blood clot. But my left leg was paralyzed and I arrived back in the States in a wheelchair. But you know, for someone who lost, I was met getting off the plane by a mob of well-wishers and fans and received congratulatory phone calls from the Governor of Oregon and President Gerald Ford. Imagine if I had won.

DH: Tell me about your recovery.

RL: Well, I had to see a neurosurgeon once a week and of course there was no sparring for several months until I was 100%. But I was keeping in shape and one day at work, on a lunch break, I went on an 11 mile run with TV cameras following me. I felt good and was ready to return.

DH: It sounds unbelievable after your ordeal, but you were actually back in the ring seven months later. You rattled off three wins over somewhat modest opposition, before heading off to New York to fight Vilomar Fernandez in Madison Square Garden. Now, Fernandez was world-rated, but I thought he was made for you. So when he dropped you and outpointed you over 10 rounds, was there any alarms going off at that point that there may be something wrong?

RL: Dan, I’ll tell you what went on that day. My mind simply wasn’t on that fight. I had come home to an empty house. And I mean that literally. My girlfriend had rented a U-Haul and completely cleaned me out. Then I had to fly out to New York, weigh-in, eat and fight that night. All during that fight I was only thinking of where my belongings were. That was one hectic day for me and I gave Fernandez a gift and a very good day. But obviously because of what I went through with the Duran fight, all eyes were on me. And now New York was refusing to allow me to fight in the state, despite never checking me out medically. They held a lot of sway and now even Oregon was watching me.

DH: You still managed to run off a couple of wins in Portland before taking on top ten rated Randy Shields. Again, like the Fernandez fight, I never felt he had the punch that could bother you. After being stopped, was the decision to pull the plug immediate?

RL: Well, you have to remember, Randy Shields was a top-rated welterweight. Mike felt that if I beat a welterweight I would have a chance to regain my rating and confidence at lightweight. But Randy was just too big and it was time to retire.

Lampkin 3

DH: You were only 29 at the time of your retirement. What did you get into?

RL: Well, throughout my career I always worked. I didn’t have the kind of management team that was picking up the tab. I paid my own bills. I was a butcher at a slaughterhouse. I had a great boss who always gave me time off for my fights and I continued with it after retiring from the ring until the place closed down. I then worked sales for Pepsi-Cola for a time before getting into construction. Today I’m owner and operator of Lampkin General Contracting, LLC.

DH: Ray, how’s your health today? Any lingering effects from a tough career?

RL: Not from the career, but I have had a couple of heart attacks. I had triple-bypass surgery and have a defibrillator implanted. But for 68 I’m doing OK.

 DH: I understand there’s a ‘Lightning, Jr.’ out there making a bit of noise?

RL: (laughing) That’s right, my son, Ray, Jr. But he really waited too long to go pro. He was in the Olympic Trials and had beaten a lot of fighters that had a successful pro career. But he walked away for a few years and he’s 32 now. He’s doing alright though, fighting down in Florida.

DH: How’s the rest of the family?

RL: My wife, Versa, and I have been married 26 years now. She had 3 kids before we met and I had 8, so it’s a big family and we’re doing well.

DH: I always felt for you when I would see that skier wiping out every week on the intro to the Wide World of Sports. Because the CBS Sports Spectacular – who aired your fight with Duran – would use that knockout in their intro.

RL: (laughing) Oh, Man, I know what you mean. Every week I had to see myself getting KO’d if I wanted to see a sporting event. Just something I had to live with.

DH: Ray, you fought in such a talented era. Any regrets on your career?

RL: Well, the DeJesus fights never sat well with me. I still think I could have done better with a third fight. But, like you said, it was the era I fought in and as I said before, there was no such thing as postponements then because you wouldn’t be given another chance. Today is different. There are so many champions now that there’s something wrong with you if you can’t get a title shot today. But I can always say that I fought for the world title when it meant something.

 

Ray Lampkin was such an honest pro. A no-frills, punch-the-clock type fighter who simply thrived on ‘getting in there.’ I could wax nostalgic on this type of fighter all day, but it would lose its luster amidst the superficial importance of ring entrances and the confrontational weigh-ins that prevail today. But let me tell ya, I’ll take a Ray Lampkin over an abundance of these 12 round champs of today. Because he was a fighter who fought for the world title when it meant something.

See ya next round,

 

 

Dan Hanley

Pugnut23@yahoo.com

 

 

 

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