Over the years, there have been many great and near great fighters. I have been blessed to walk among and personally know as well as work with some of the Best.
On March 8, 1971 the night of the first Muhammad Ali-Frasier fight, I walked into Madison Square with a man who had been my boxing idol growing up… Joe Louis! I was thrilled to be in presence and to share his VIP BOX with my friend Bobby Friedman and the colorful golfer Doug Sanders.
I had worked all over the world in crowded Arenas, but was unprepared for the cacophony that welcomed the Brown Bomber’s arrival. It seemed like the applause would never die down. With all the events I had promoted and been involved in throughout the world, I was not prepared for the adulation that showered down on this very simple, yet elegant warrior from Detroit.
I was so impressed by the moment that years later while at 20th Century FOX; I produced a movie as a tribute to this distinguished American. In my movie. “Ring of Passion” which was originally entitled “Rehearsal for Armageddon”, I bookended history of the times, the conflict between Democracy and the rising menace of Fascism by using the 1936 and 1938 Louis v. Schmeling fights.
That night in 1971, I had no idea what awaited me on the escalator ride I was to take with Ali, as I became part and parcel of most of n his fight promotions until the end of his career. The ever-overwhelming applause that Ali would receive far outlasted what Joe Louis had received that night in New York.
However, this is not a story about Ali. or for that matter Joe Louis. There will be many more for me to tell about these two Icons. This, however, is story about another friend of mine, “Randy Shields”.
Most only remember Randy as a nearly great Welterweight who took on all comers of his day. He backed away from no one. He fought for the championship five times… Wilfredo Benitez, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Pipino Cuevas. There were all worthy champions.
However, in my mind’s eye. Randy beat them all except Tommy Hearns. In that fight, hampered by a separated shoulder from a training accident, he went the full distance and lost a close, but legitimate decision in a bloody and bruising battle.
Let me take you back to the year , 1972. The place was Boston Garden. The event… the National AAU Championship. Two great young fighters were on a collision course and destined to meet in the finals. One was a Baltimore youngster named Raymond Charles Leonard and the other was Randy Shields of North Hollywood, California.
The final was all it was supposed to be. These two Gladiators put on a Boxing and Slugging exhibition that left the crowd limp from cheering. In the end, Randy Shields stood alone. Bloody, but not bowed, young Ray was the loser. This victory meant that Randy would be representing the United States on the 1973 Olympic team.
Here, fate had a strange way of mixing in, in the heat of the moment, Randy’s father sought out a local Boston Boxing Promoter named Sam Silverman. Sonny Shields, a successful Hollywood Stuntman, but a frustrated fighter, he saw vicariously through the possible success of his son what he himself had not enjoyed. Randy for his part wanted only to write poetry.
Sonny, for $10,000, turned Randy pro with Sam Silverman as his matchmaker. In the beginning it looked like Sonny’s dreams for his would be realized. Quickly, Randy took on any opponent that Silverman put in front of him and emerged victorious without a defeat in fight after fight. In rapid fashion, he established himself as a ranked fighter.
As for Raymond Charles Leonard as runner up in the AAU Championships, replaced Randy on the Olympic Team. As a member of the Victorious U.S. Team, Ray Leonard with his winning smile and his swift hands coupled with smooth movements won the hearts of every fan. Along the way, he earned the Sobriquet “Sugar”… Thus, Sugar Ray was born.
Not to take anything away from Ray Leonard who deservedly became a darling of the media and eventually a great champion, to me there will always be only one Sugar Ray. His name was Robinson, and like Mr. Leonard he was a friend of mine. Robinson fought well over a hundred classic battles in three weight classes.
Sugar Ray Leonard immediately after the Olympics was awarded a firm 10 fight TV package by ABC-TV. Like Randy, he in swift fashion won his first few fights. Thus it was only natural that the public goaded on by ABC who was looking for a big money fight matched these two undefeated fighters.
The fight was staged in Ray’s hometown of Baltimore. A venue he insisted on in order to pay back his many loyal fans that had watched him grow in his chosen profession.
Before a packed audience and on national television, the two undefeated gladiators put on a great show. However, this was Randy’s day. He, as before in the amateurs, beat Ray to the punch round after round. The late Howard Cosell calling the fight on a round-by-round basis had Randy way ahead. However, when the decision came down Ray Charles won a split decision. Since they both were on ABC’s Payroll, Howard Cosell reverted to network pitchman.
Although disappointed, Randy was philosophical and went on to fight many more times. He soundly beat most of his opponents and was never knocked out. Even when he had separated his shoulder in a training accident the day before the Hearns fight, he went the distance.
In his last fight he was still ranked in the top ten. Suffering from the flu where he had every right to call off his fight against an up and coming Michael McCrory who would eventually himself become a champion, he fought despite the fact he was vomiting in his dressing room even up to the bell. During the fight he had dry heaves hiding his discomfort in the bucket between rounds.
That night he was soundly trounced and received 132 stitches through three layers of skin in his forehead area.
It’s hard to believe that this tough ring opponent constantly found comfort between and during the days of fights to write some of the most beautiful poetry. In fact as my late wife laid dying poetry he wrote for her, amidst many a painful day, brought smiles.
Today, Randy is a screenwriter with many credits and continues to turn sweet, gentle and warm poetry. Not the kind of poetry he once exhibited in the squared circle.