Former Champ Succumbs to Cancer
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Boxing has lost another warrior. Heavyweight champ Michael Dokes died over the weekend in Akron, Ohio, succumbing to the liver cancer that proved to be his toughest foe. His 54th birthday was on Friday, August 10. Nicknamed “Dynamite,” the former amateur star and pro champion earned a record of 53-6-2 with 34 KOs.
During a fight back in 2009, I had a chance to chat at length with the prizefighter, who at the time was living in Las Vegas.
Arriving early at the South Point Hotel and Casino, I ran into the former WBA, WBC, NABF champion as we were entering the arena. There was some time before the bouts were to begin so my boyfriend and I spent a long time visiting with Dokes (who had been invited to attend the fights by co-promoter Shelley Williams). The pugilist had retired from the ring in 1997.
He had a storied amateur career and a promising future as a pro. Most say he had great potential but was thwarted by personal demons including drug addiction. During his fall from grace, he was arrested for drug infractions and also served several years in prison after being convicted for a brutal attack on his fiancée.
But on this night back in ’09, I was not going to quiz him on these tragic downfalls. And he didn’t seem like he wanted to discuss the horrible crimes he served time for either. He wanted to relive the best years of his life. During our conversation, he remained upbeat and open as he told us about his glory days–of traveling and training with some of boxing’s biggest icons. In the ’70s, he was part of a special exhibition with Muhammad Ali and Michael told us a lot of humorous stories of this heyday. Dokes said he loved being part of Ali’s camp and sparring with “The Greatest.” Just 18, he had been a highly-decorated amateur before he turned pro. The Ohio puncher said Ali treated him very well and he really enjoyed that special time in his life. He also spoke about working with promoter Don King and all that entailed. As an impressionable teen, being alongside Muhammad Ali and Don King was an incredible thing to him.
Dokes was just a kid then, a teenager getting the chance of a lifetime. His eyes would widen while recanting adventures from his time with the superstars. One thing that stood out during our banter was Michael’s laugh. It was so distinct I never forgot it. When he was reliving the highlights of his youth, the Golden Gloves champion would stop and crack up over his own jokes. But this was no ordinary chuckle. I watched him time and time again as he’d stop in mid-sentence for a laugh–throwing his head back, mouth wide open, eyes closing, while letting out a long chorus of cackling. In the boxing arena, his laugh echoed off the concrete, bouncing off the walls.
His laughter was so memorable that after a while I found myself waiting and anticipating the next time he’d break out in another loud chuckle.
While he may have been bitter for the paths chosen, Dokes still loved the sport. That was clear as I listened to him speak. Yes, he had his fair share of demons, defeated by a quagmire of personal battles that knocked him down. And yes, perhaps his full potential and talent was never realized, potential spoiled by the cocaine addiction that put a stranglehold on his boxing career and his life.
We all exchanged numbers and we promised to try and stay in touch. But as it often happens, I never ran into him again. Then a couple of years ago, word spread that the ex-champ was battling cancer. Last month, our mutual friend, Shelley Williams told me that the former slugger was in hospice care. Williams said Michael’s sister had confirmed the worst; everyone knew it was just a matter of time.
The boxing community began to reminisce about “Dynamite.” Dokes had faced the faced the likes of Riddick Bowe, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Evander Holyfield, Mike Weaver, Randall Cobb and many more during his time in the spotlight. His fellow fighters loved him and during the fights in Vegas (the last time I saw Dokes), I had him pose with heavyweight Tony “TNT” Tucker and bantamweight champ and Olympic Silver Medalist Wayne “Pocket Rocket” McCullough. The men had been called up into the ring and introduced to the crowd. Michael was beaming as he soaked in the applause from the fans.
The loss of Michael Dokes has affected those in boxing circles. One fellow champion that is really going to miss him is “Relentless” Lamon Brewster. The Indiana fighter, now residing in Southern California, is gutted by the passing of his friend and colleague. “I lost one of my idols and good friends,” Lamon said. Brewster told me he would like to honor Dokes, another gladiator gone too soon.
Lamon commented that Michael took him under his wing when he was just coming up as young boxer entering the ranks. While working with Dokes, his confidence and skill level both got a boost from the Akron boxer.
“Rest in peace to former world heavyweight boxing champion “Dynamite” Michael Dokes,” a saddened Brewster said. “Thank you for believing in me, brother!”
Michael Dokes battled in the ring while battling devilish temptations in his personal life.
As the boxing world mourns the loss of an ex-champ, a Ten Count for “Dynamite.”
I can still hear his laughter echoing in the halls.
Rest in peace, Champ.
Photos courtesy of Michele Chong
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