By Will Vickers
Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos is a former IBF USBA middleweight champion from Manhattan, USA. Ramos predominantly fought in the 1980’s and finished with the career statistics of 39-10-2, 24 KO’s. This exclusive interview takes a step back in time and gives us an insight into the life of a boxer with a varied career with many troughs and peaks. He came from being the middleweight champion and living the highlife with celebrities, to becoming homeless on the streets and suffering with alcohol dependency. Alex Ramos managed to overcome all of this and set up the Retired Boxers Foundation which is now an integral part of the boxing community and a haven for boxers when their careers end. Without further ado ladies and gentlemen this is what Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos had to share with us…
WV: Alex, could you give us some information and background on yourself?
I was born on January 17, 1961, in the Bronx, New York. My father was a carnival boxer and wanted me to box. I didn’t really care until I saw Muhammad Ali on the television and I found out that we both shared the same birthday! Funny how a little thing like that would make me re-think boxing! By the time I was eleven years old, I was knocking out grown men! I had a great amateur career, fighting in every tournament I could, and I won them all, including the Police Athletic League Tournament, the Empire State Tournament and of course, the Golden Gloves. I fought in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980. I won four New York Golden Gloves and was just inducted into the New York Golden Gloves Hall of Fame for winning four Golden Gloves, in four different weight categories. I am most proud of these accomplishments. I also won the AAU National Championship in 1979. I am listed as number six in the top ten Golden Gloves Fighters of all time.
WV: At what age did you begin to box? Why did you get into boxing? Why were you so good at it?
I got into boxing before I was nine years old. My mom let me take the subway in New York as long as one of the older guys from the gym went with me. That worked for a while, and one day the guys didn’t show up, so I just went by myself. My mother would have killed me, if she knew. I was good at it because I trained in some tough gyms and I just had natural athletic ability. When you are training in the gyms where the professionals are training, you learn a lot.
WV: Tell us about winning the Golden Gloves in the 1980s. Anything interesting to tell us?
I fought in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980 and won the tournament every year. I won four New York Golden Gloves and was just inducted into the New York Golden Gloves Hall of Fame for winning four Golden Gloves, in four different weight categories. I am most proud of these accomplishments.
WV: Could you tell us about your time fighting on the USA team?
I was too young to belong to the USA team, but they took me anyway! I was in camp with a lot of great fighters!
WV: Who gave you the nickname the Bronx Bomber?
I got the nickname from George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees! I fought at Yankee Stadium several times. Mr. Steinbrenner blessed me with the New York Yankee’s pin stripe robe and trunks! I am the only fighter ever to wear the authentic Yankee pin stripes in boxing.
WV: Tell us how and why you decided to turn from professional to amateur?
I turned professional after a great amateur career, with 189 fights and 132 knockouts. I always planned to turn professional, but the issue was kind of forced when then President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1984. I was tagged to be a gold medallist, but I never got the chance. Funny thing is that President Carter allowed us to go to Moscow and fight the opponents named for me in the Olympics, and I won every fight, including the Cuban fighters. No Gold Medal, and it certainly took away the chance for making a professional debut with a splash! Just not meant to be.
WV: Shelly Finkel trained you? What is so special about him? And how did your relationship begin and develop?
Shelly Finkel was my manager. I was his first fighter. He managed Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whittaker, and now has Deontay Wilder. I signed with Top Rank, but somewhere in the middle, Shelly and Lou Duva created and started Main Events, both of which still exist and are quite successful. My main trainer was Georgy Benton and Janks Morton. Both were disciplinarians, which I needed!
WV: Tell us about how you defeated Curtis Parker in 1984 to become the champ?
I was considered a good technical boxer and I had a tremendous punch! Against the advice of my trainer and my manager, I did not box Curtis Parker. I could have won a lot easier, but I wanted to shut some boxing writers up about my ability to take a punch. Remember, I was still young! I engaged Curtis in his fight—an inside fight. The fight was brutal, and it made the point I wanted to make.
WV: What did it feeling like becoming the champion? Did it change you at all?
It’s kind of funny but boxing even in the amateurs made me a chick magnet. That was everything for me, all the way through my boxing career. It was also the demise of my career. They said I “lost the battle with Cupid,” and they were right! When I became the champ after Parker, I got more attention from writers and other boxing people. I wanted a shot at a world title, but it never came to be. I always say, “God don’t make no mistakes!
WV: After you retired you suffered from alcohol abuse and ended up homeless. Why was this? Could you tell us more about your experiences?
Yes. I was an alcoholic and I abused cocaine. Alcoholism runs in my family, and God knows that the fans wanted nothing more than to buy you a drink or slip you some cocaine. In the beginning, it doesn’t bother you so much, but as time goes on, it’s a life killer. I wasn’t dead, but I was broke and living on the streets of Hollywood. I woke up one morning and asked myself what I was doing! Did I want to die homeless and a drunk? What would my mother have thought! She had recently passed away, and I didn’t get to see her when she needed me. I wanted to help fighters like me and there were plenty of them around. I knew I did not want to die saying I “coulda, shoulda, woulda” done something to help fighters. I continue to struggle with alcohol, but I have had eight years sober, and more recently, four years. I finally figured out that having a brain injury and drinking alcohol is like putting fuel on a fire. I have suffered from everything a fighter goes through at the end of their career, including normal hydro encephaly (too much water on the brain) and had surgery to put in a shunt so that the excess fluid around my brain would drain into my abdomen. I also suffer from partial complex seizures, which is directly related to my big loss in 1984. I was hanging from the ropes, and that was the year that Shelly Finkel stopped being my manager. I managed a comeback in 1985 and got myself ranked in the top ten, and my last fight was with Jorge “Locomoto” Castro.
WV: You have set up the Retired Boxing Foundation. What is it about and what do you represent?
I started creating a foundation in 1996. I had the support of many actors and actresses, including Shirley McClaine and Bo Derek! I was kind of spinning my wheels until I met Jacquie Richardson, who had set up many non-profit organizations and was a grant writer. The year was 1998 and we are now celebrating twenty years. Jacquie learned everything she could about boxing and what happens to fighters when their careers are over. She learned a lot from me and says I am the poster boy for everything that could go wrong in boxing. Because of that, she became somewhat of an expert and has been helping many families and fighters who could get better with the right kind of treatment. At some point, you need the expertise of neurologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. No man really likes to go to the doctor for anything, but I learned to trust Jacquie and she got me to the right doctors. Just because you show signs of pugilistic dementia, does not mean that you must sit around and wait to die! There are miraculous medications that help me. For a retired fighter, the path to wellness is quite different than that of a regular person.
For example, many family practitioners would prescribe Welbutron, which is a drug that has the opposite effect on a fighter. Fighters suffer from night terrors, aggression, etc. We created a Medical Advisory Board consisting of Dr. John Stiller, neuropsychiatry specialist in Washington DC, along with Dr. Ray Monsell, a neurologist from Cardiff Wails. We also had Dr. Van Buren Lemons, who is a neurosurgeon and now the Chair of the California Boxing Commission. All three of these specialists are part of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians. They have helped save my lives and many others in the sport of boxing.
WV: Tell us any tales from the Playboy mansion that you wish? Or about Hugh Hefner. How did that all come about?
The truth? Hugh Hefner liked boxing. We knew his personal assistant, Bill, and he asked Hugh if they would host a daytime event to announce the Retired Boxers Foundation partnership with a company that was supposed to support our fundraising. He agreed, and we spent a day at the Playboy mansion, with boxing luminaries, retired bunnies, current bunnies, celebrities and boxing dignitaries. The day we were there, there was beauty all around us, with Mr. Hefner’s collection of flamingos, peacocks, monkeys, etc. It was kind of ironic to take in all the beauty, and to see the infamous grotto, and a short look to the right, to see his children’s bicycles and toys on the tennis courts.
Yes! Hugh was a family man. Even though he was still married, he had seven girlfriends who accompanied him everywhere. We also got to go to the fights at the Mansion, which ESPN produced. Lots of celebrities. The funny thing is that the celebrities of the world adore boxing. I guess it’s because they relate to the individual fighting for victory.
WV: Anything else you would like to add for your readers?
Well, looking back and reflecting on my life as I answer your questions, I see that I have lived an extraordinary life.
I accomplished at a high level, and I scraped the bottom on a couple of occasions. Now, I have short term memory, but long-term memory is tremendous. I remember every fight, every punch, every win and every loss, but what I am most proud of is the Retired Boxers Foundation, and the relationship I have forged with the Richardson Family. God Bless them!