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||A Champion And A Gentleman
- The Junior Middleweight Champion Ralph Dupas
By Uwe Betker
"You're looking for what?" referee Harry Krause was shocked. Ralph Dupas staggered back to his corner, where his helpers were on their knees and looking for something on the ring-floor. The referee went to the ringside physician and complained: "Who the hell okayed Dupas to fight wearing contact lenses? This fight is over!" It was the September 8, 1966 and the end of Ralph Dupas' boxing career.
Ralph Dupas was born on October 4, 1935, and grew up together with 10 siblings at the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans. He was the second oldest. His father Peter was a fisherman who only sporadically made a decent living. Ralph's brother Anthony remembers this time - although reluctantly - very well. He says even today, that those were hard times, that they were poor and that they lived in the ghetto, where street fights were daily part of life. Anthony prefers to reminiscence about the successes of his brother Ralph.
Like many of the other skinny kids in the French Quarter, also Ralph found his way to "Whitey" Esneault gym in the St. Mary's Italian Church. As the others, he was sent away by Esneault with the advice to come back in a couple of years "when you are able to keep your hands up." He was still too young, but he didn't become discouraged. Professional boxing was the only ambition and hope he had to get away from the life of poverty that he had known so well. Ralph regularly attended the nightly workouts at the gym. When he was 13, he gathered his courage together and spoke to Esneault again. Already his first training session showed that he was a native talent. Esneault was so impressed that he let Ralph participate in his regular amateur matches. In the following years all six brothers of Ralph (Al, Anthony, Bert, Claude, Eddie and Mike) took up boxing, but only Anthony became a professional. The Dupas brothers were a hometown sensation. Already after one year Ralph ran out of opponents, and he wanted to start making money with boxing as soon as possible.
Ralph convinced Whitey to let him turn professional. On August 07, 1950 the 14 years old schoolboy Ralph Dupas had his professional debut, after changing his year of birth to be able to obtain his license. After he was knocked out in his eighth professional fight against the South-African Kid Centello in the second round, on October 30, 1950, he changed his style of boxing. By moving quickly out of the reach of his opponents he made it almost impossible for them to land a punch and soon became known under the nickname "Native dancer", the name of a then famous racehorse. This "nom du guerre" was well suited because of Ralph's excellent footwork, his nimble and effective evasive actions and the effortless dance-like movements to avoid dangerous situations. His only weakness was the lack of punching power.
The German boxer Siegfried Burrow, one of his former opponents, described this style precisely: "Dupas was very fast." Sandro Mazzinghi, who dethroned him as a world champion, characterises him in a more detailed statement: "Dupas was a great gentleman in the ring, very elegant in his body movements; a real world class boxer like Sugar Ray Robinson when it comes to the speed of his punches."
Well before his 16th birthday Ralph fought main events. In 1953, at the age of 17, he was fourth in the world ranking when he beat number 5 ranked Armond Savoye (June 29, 1953) and top ranked Johnny Gonsalves (September 21, 1953) on points.
After this, the "Ring" magazine considered Dupas during the next 10 years as one of the 10 best boxers in his weight class, first in lightweight, then in welterweight and later as junior middleweight. Dupas was in the ring with the best of his guild. When de did not beat them up in the first run-up, he beat them in the rematch. Among his opponents where the former champion Paddy DeMarco and world class boxers Frankie Ryff, Cisco Andrade, Kenny Lane, Vince Martinez, Johnny Busso, Joe Miceli, Mickey Crawford, Gaspar Ortega and Ramon Fuentes.
Not until five years after having been ranked on the top 10 list, on March 07, 1958 in Houston, Texas, at 22 years of age, did he get his first shot at the title, the world championship in lightweight against Joe „Old Bones" Brown. However, before he could get into this fight for the world championship a serious judicial delay in his fighting career occurred which should have devastating effects both on his personal and professional life. Influential people, the local Mafia, tried to claim part of Ralph's purse. As the fighter he was, he was not about to share his hard-earned money with them. As a result of his refusal the mobsters spread the word that Dupas had mixed blood. He was declared "coloured".
This was possible because of the same reason that allowed Dupas to get a boxing license as a kid. Ralph did not possess a valid birth certificate. At his birth his parents could not afford a state licensed mid-wife and thus did not receive an official birth certificate. He was also a rather swarthy looking man.
At this times in Louisiana fights between whites and coloured were not sanctioned, a classification as coloured meant therefore heavy financial losses for Ralph. Litigation was initiated to overturn this race-reclassification. Eventually a decision in Ralph's favour was made and Ralph's fight with Joe Brown rescheduled. Dupas had problems making the weight and went into the fight dehydrated. His brother remembers that during the whole fight he did not see a single drop of sweat on Ralph's body. Dupas lost by KO in round 6. It was rather ironic that Joe Brown was definitely not white and also a New Orleans native.
Subsequently Ralph won bouts with, among others, Gil Turner, Frankie Ryff, Kenny Lane, Rudell Stitch, Charley Scott, the future middleweight champion Joey Giardello, Del Flanagan and the former welterweight champion Virgil Akins. On July 13, 1962, on his 116thprofessional fight, Ralph once again fought for the world championship, this time as a welterweight against Emile Griffith. The fight went the distance of 15 rounds and it was hard and well balanced. Both could have been declared the winner, but also this time Ralph's endeavours were in vain and he lost on points.
One year later, 1963, he was given another chance, this time as a junior middleweight. This weight class had been introduced a year before and Danny Moyer, Dupas' opponent, was the first world champion.
Shortly before his third attempt to earn a belt, on January 30, 1963, Dupas stood in the ring with the greatest boxer of all times Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson, who outweighed Ralph by 12 pounds, was in the twilight of his career, but the brilliance connected with his reputation shone so bright that the majority of the judges didn't see what was actually happening in the ring. For that reason Ralph lost the 10 round bout on points. Angelo Dundee later described this verdict as the worst decision of all times.
In spite of this loss, three months later, he fought again for the world championship. On April 30, 1963, in his home town, he beat Danny Moyer in a close fight on points. It was his 123rd fight and his 100th victory.
He defended his title successfully in a rematch with Moyer in Baltimore on June 17, 1963. This time it was an one-sided affair and he won it by unanimous decision.
During the second defence of his title on September 7, 1963 Milan, Italy against the rugged and hard hitting Sandro Mazzinghi, he lost by a KO in round 9. Mazzinghi remembered this fight well. In his own flowery diction he said: "During all rounds of this fight I was amazed by the fluid movements of his upper body, the elegance of his footwork and the speed of his arms, where his magnificent punches originated." Also in the rematch on December 02, 1963 in Sydney, Australia Ralph was counted out, this time in round 13. In this bout he suffered one of the most brutal KOs in the long history of boxing. The first 11 rounds were close and hard fought, Mazzinghi landed the harder punches but Dupas countered well. In round 13 Dupas stumbled more than he fell after a bunch of punches - he got up, was hit on the right temple and went down again. The referee counted, Dupas managed to get up on his feet once more but couldn't stand upright, his gloves nearly touching the canvas. In his complete helplessness Dupas was an easy target for Mazzinghi who shot a right to the head and floored Dupas again. And again Dupas was about to get up when the referee finally stopped the fight.
Ralph Dupas' boxing career was now rapidly coming to a close. In 1964 he was again in the ring with Emile Griffith but didn't get to the length. After an unnecessary and very ungratifying effort to make a comeback he hung his gloves for good in 1966.
Dupas continued to earn his living with his hands as a black-jack dealer in Cesar's Palace in Las Vegas. One of his colleagues was Harry Krause, the referee who had ended his career. Ralph worked as a dealer for 13 years when problems with his memory forced him to quit his job. To pay his rent he picked up aluminium cans and trash in a park in Las Vegas. His brother Anthony rescued him and brought him back to New Orleans to move in with him. At present Ralph Dupas lives in the Harahan Guest House, a nursing home in New Orleans. There he fights against an opponent that even such a great boxer like him cannot beat, the Dementia Pugillistica.
Anthony Dupas, who spent almost his whole life with his brother, characterises his brother as a genuine gentleman. Anthony loves to tell anecdotes to illustrate this. Ralph purchased a house for his parents and siblings with the first big purse he earned and only after that considered buying one for himself and his wife. Another story that Anthony likes to recount is about the second fight that his brother had with Frankie Ryff on May, 17, 1955. Ralph dominated his opponent, a notorious bleeder, at will. Ryff bled profusely from several cuts. Ralph requested the referee to stop the fight to protect Ryff, but the referee refused. After this, Ralph only hit Ryff to the body to avoid wounding him seriously- he won on points. This fight also still holds the record as the biggest non-title gate in New Orleans.
Anthony remembers also how Willie Pastrano came to his brother to ask for his help to lose weight. Pastrano who was called "Fat Willie" or "Fat Meat" in the French Quarter was a friend since childhood. Both had worked together as shoe-shineboys on Bourbon Street and at the evening they had thrown the money together and split it up. Ralph worked with him diligently until Pastrano lost more than 100 pounds. At the same time Ralph taught Willie his light-footed style of boxing, the fluid moves and the quick side-to-side movements. Pastrano became so good that he was crowned world champion (light heavyweight 1963-65). Years later he was hired by Angelo Dundee to teach this same style of boxing to a young man from Louisville, Kentucky. This youth was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr..
Ralph Dupas balance-sheet after 16 years as a prizefighter reads as follows: 135 fights, 106 wins (18 KO), 23 losses (7 by KO) and 6 ND's. Although he was only junior middleweight world champion for 4 months and 8 days, he was still one of the greatest in the history of boxing.
His successes were hard earned, he trained constantly. His brother Anthony called him a "training demon". He went to the gym and resumed training the day after he became world champion.
Ralph Dupas stood in the ring with eight world champions: Virgil Akins (welterweight 1958), Joe Brown (lightweight 1956-62), Paddy DeMarco (lightweight 1954), Carmine Orlando Tilelli alias Joey Giardello (middleweight 1963-65), Emile Alphonse Griffith (welterweight 1961, 1962-63, 1963-66, middleweight 1966-67, 1967-68), Alessandro Mazzinghi (junior middleweight 1963-65, 1968), Danny Moyer (junior middleweight 1962-63) and Walker Smith Jr. alias Sugar Ray Robinson (welterweight 1946-51, middleweight 1951-52, 1955, 1957, 1958-60). With this Ralph Dupas achieved a well balanced scorecard. Four of these opponents are enthroned in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a place where Ralph Dupas would well fit into.
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