It is no secret that Boxing is one of the more infamous sports in history. From allegations of fight fixing to cheating, foul play and a litany of bizarre characters, our beloved sport is no stranger to controversy before, during, and way after a bout.
From the head of the mob Frankie Carbo to the unmovable presence of Don King, and the mysterious influencer Al Haymon, gangsters and chancers have pervaded the corridors of power for decades.
Boxing though is all about the fighters themselves. From contemptible loudmouths to violent brutes, as you’d expect from a business that picks up its stars from the hoods and the streets, sticks them through the grinder and churns them out the other side, history has thrown up a cavalcade of dubious pugilists. This list could go on and on, but let’s take a look at seven of its more infamous players.
Before his fight with Chris Byrd Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley tried to get inside the thinking of one of boxing’s most enigmatic characters.
Hailing from Isuoichi, Nigeria, Ikemefula Ibeabuchi is a former heavyweight boxer who made headlines during the 90s for closely contending with David Tua and a then-unknown Chris Byrd. He also had a rather impressive record of 20 wins and 0 losses, 15 of those wins coming by way of knockout.
However, Ike would make himself more known for his increasingly bizarre behavior outside the ring. Shortly after his fight with Tua, Ike abducted his then 15-year-old son from his former girlfriend which resulted in an accident, leaving the boy permanently injured. And then there was that time he interrupted a dinner he had with promoter Cedric Kushner by brandishing a knife and started screaming obscenities.
However, his most infamous incident involved attacking an escort worker on the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on July 1999 when the woman requested payment for her services. He was charged with Battery with Intent to Commit a Crime and was served a sentence which lasted until November of 2015.
He was arrested a year later for violating the terms of his probation. As with many of these fighters, talk of a glorious comeback has flitted around from time to time. Ibeabuchi, as unstable as he was, represented a ferocious risk to fighters in the ring and the public outside. Now 46, the man they called the president will never lace up the gloves again in any reasonable capacity. Some 20 years after his last professional outing Ike is a what-might-have-been story.
Unlike other boxers on this list who started their careers before ending up in prison James Scott actually started his career while in prison. Hailing from Newark, New Jersey, Scott was doing time in Trenton State Prison, and that was where he got introduced to the sport of boxing. After being released in 1968, and then incarcerated again for robbery, Scott decided to pursue the sport where he became Trenton’s light-heavyweight champion.
Scott was actually a rather competent boxer, managing to win 10 bouts with 1 draw and even defeated Eddie Mustafa Muhammad -then known as Eddie Gregory- and ranked as the WBA No.1 Light Heavyweight contender.
Sadly, Scott was removed from the rankings of the WBA as the association feared that his reputation as a convict would ruin the image of the sport – ironic concern from that particularly sanctioning body given their own activities over subsequent years. Also, there is the fact that Scott’s opponents had to enter the jail where he was serving time just to fight him, increasing the risks towards their safety. From that point on, Scott would retire from boxing with 19 wins, 2 losses, and a draw.
In 2005, after serving a 28-year term, Scott finally tasted freedom. His final 13 years were plagued by dementia and he died in a nursing home in 2018, aged 71.
Tony Ayala Jr.
Hailed as a boxing prodigy, Tony Ayala Jr. was the son of boxing trainer Tony Ayala Snr, who groomed him and his brothers for a lengthy career in the sport. Ayala, Jr. would eventually rise to the middleweight division where he would make a name for himself as a savage, but
However, Ayala was an unpleasant and deeply troubled person outside the ring. He admitted to using heroin before at least 3 fights, and had assaulted women twice before his most infamous act, occurred. Ayala burgled the home of his neighbour, a young school teacher, and sexually assaulted her on New Year’s Day, 1983.
He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was released on 1999. 17 years after his last pro punch Ayala did the only thing he could and laced up the gloves, some 17 years past his destructive prime. A sketchy return overall saw him lose the only two meaningful bouts he was involved in. Yory Boy Campas forced him to retire after eight rounds in 2000. Anthony Bonsante knocked him out in the 11th-round of a 2003 IBA affair in Oklahoma.
A career that promised so much when it began in 1980 had petered out into the sad spectacle of a chubby, balding scrapper replacing the highly talented punching prospect who had once adorned the front cover of the Ring Magazine just waiting to be crowned as boxing’s next star.
Ayala would be arrested again in 2004 for violations of his probation and released a decade later. He would die on May 12, 2015 from an apparent drug overdose at the Zarzamora Street Gym in San Antonio, Texas. Drug paraphernalia was reported to be near his corpse at the time of grim discovery.
Born on Walvis Bay, Namibia, Harry Simon would make a name for himself when he represented his country as a welterweight boxer in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Losing against Puerto Rico’s Anibal Acevedo would not define Simon who turned pro in 1994 and built a career in neighbouring South Africa.
He would eventually win the WBO Light Middleweight and Middleweight titles in 2000 and 2001 respectively, successfully defending the latter in 2002 in a fight against Armand Krajnc. Simon defeated Ronald Winky Wright, Kevin Lueshing and Wayne Alexander along the way – remaining undefeated.
However, in 2002 when at the peak of his powers, Simon ended up in a motor vehicle accident that claimed the lives of a Belgian tourist couple and their baby. He was convicted of culpable homicide in 2005 at the lower courts and would lose his appeal on 2007, ending up having to serve his two-year prison sentence.
Due to his inability to defend his title while the case was pending, he had to be stripped of his WBO belt when he had to serve his sentence. Simon was released in 2009 and still holds the world record of the longest undefeated streak in professional boxing, currently still running 24 years after he turned pro.
Naturally, after release from incarceration, he was never close to competing at the type of pre-prison levels. Simon’s sketchy career has seen him win the IBF’s international Light Heavyweight title against Geard Ajetovic in 2013. Still campaigning as a faded 46-year-old version of his former self, Harry was busy knocking out a hapless Tanzanian as recently as November, 2018.
James Butler Jr.
Nicknamed the Harlem Hammer, James Butler Jr. made a name for himself in the super-middleweight division where he accumulated 18 wins against a solitary defeat. That early loss came at the gloves of Richard “The Alien” Grant in what was both men’s third professional contest. Grant would become an interesting player in Butler’s career moving forward, but a string of wins saw Butler snare a shot against Germany’s IBF ruler Sven Ottke where he lost by unanimous decision.
It was apparent early on that Butler took his losses harshly. Straight after the Ottke loss he was paired with old nemesis Grant, a Jamaican based in New York, by this point sporting a mediocre 13-8 record. Butler was primed for revenge and would silence Grant by any means necessary.
What transpired after the result announcement showed the deeply flawed nature of Butler. To say this was not even the most infamous incident in his life shows his character. “The Hammer” was in a charity bout with Richard Grant for the benefit of the New York Firefighters who responded in 9/11. When he lost, Butler sucker punched Grant with his bare fist, dislocating the latter’s jaw. Grant leaning in to hug Butler as James landed the unforeseen blow. Butler was then convicted of assault and sent to the Riker’s Island penitentiary.
However, what landed him on this list was his suspected involvement in the murder of Sam Kellerman, brother of sports analyst Max Kellerman. Prosecutors claimed that Butler struck Kellerman, his friend for over 10 years, over the head with a hammer and torched his apartment to cover up the crime.
Butler would plead guilty to murder and arson and sentenced to serve 29 years in prison. One can only speculate why Butler killed Kellerman, but many believed that the latter told the latter off for being a rather irresponsible housemate as Butler was living with Kellerman while he was attempting to revive his boxing career.
If boxing ever had an official list of bad boys, chances are Mike Tyson would be on the top of that list. Undoubtedly, Tyson has an impressive record in the ring. His achievements include being the youngest heavyweight title holder in history at 20 years old, stopping numerous opponents in the first round on the way. Over his career “Iron” Mike amassed a widely lucrative set of purses. In his prime he unified the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles.
However, something that has stuck with Tyson throughout the years has been his propensity to unleash an unsavoury personality in front of the media, in the ring, and in his personal life. He was known for his hard-hitting style of fighting and his utter disrespect towards boxing authorities and his opponents. Tyson once said he wanted to push Bruce Seldon’s nose bone up into his skull and kill him. Another infamous rant revealed he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’ children. He later bit Lewis’ leg during a press conference brawl and tried to break South African Frans Botha’s arm during a 1999 encounter.
But perhaps his most blatant act of unsportsmanlike behaviour came when he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their 1997 rematch, leading to his inevitable disqualification.
Tyson has also been charged with the rape of then 18-year-old Desiree Washington, former Miss Black Rhode Island, in a hotel room in Indianapolis. He was convicted and sent to serve six years at the then Indiana Youth Centre (despite being 25 years old when he committed the rape). He would also have to register as a Tier II Sex Offender under federal law for his crime.
In recent years, Tyson has mellowed down and is greatly ashamed of his past antics. However, his legacy as one of boxing’s fiercest personalities, both inside the ring and out, remains to this day.
A boxer from Puerto Rico, Luis Resto had an average career of 19 wins, eight knockouts, eight losses, and two draws. However, Resto’s record as a pro boxer would be overshadowed by one major incident.
Shortly after his fight with Billy Collins Jr. At Madison Square Garden on June 16, 1983, it was discovered that Resto’s gloves felt thinner than normal when he went on to shake the hands of Billy Collins Sr.
Billy Collins’ son had just finished the bout with serious injuries, including a torn iris and permanently blurred vision. Broken and dejected, bearing the physical and mental scars of such a punishing defeat, Billy Jr descended into alcoholism would later die in a car accident which his father believed was an apparent suicide.
After a month of investigation, the State Boxing Commission of New York declared that Resto’s trainer, Panama Lewis, deliberately removed padding from Resto’s gloves and that Resto himself was aware of such tampering.
The duo were charged with conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon (ie Resto’s tampered fists). Stripped of his boxing license, Resto retired from his career and worked as a trainer and cornerman in New York’s boxing scene. He also denied for years of not knowing of the illegal tampering made on his fists before the fight.
However, in 2008, Resto not only recanted his statement of not knowing of the removal of padding but alleged that Lewis also soaked his hands in Plaster of Paris, giving his fists an unfair increase in punching power.
He would also repeatedly visit Collins Jr.’s grave, asking for the latter’s forgiveness. The fantastic, yet tragic, HBO documentary “Assault in the Ring” tells the story in every grim detail.