Looking Back at These 16 Former Heavyweight Champs!

By Ken Hissner - 02/29/2024 - Comments

One might wonder why I picked these former 16 world heavyweight champions to look at. I either talked to them, met them, or had a picture with them.

Two former champions I met when they were boxing commissioners. I was next to them but didn’t speak to them. One was Floyd Patterson, 55-8-1, in New York, and when I heard him speak, I was surprised how low his voice was. Getting stopped by Ingemar Johansson and Sonny Liston I’m sure took its toll on him.

I remember talking to Cus D’Amato and he mentioned when he no longer trained him and after a loss in a press conference Patterson was asked “had your back gone out before on you?” He pointed to Cus and said “Cus will tell you.” Cus asked Patterson “Did you have your special shoe on?” Seems one leg was shorter than the other and he had a lift on one shoe. Patterson said he didn’t and it was what cost him.

The other was “Jersey” Joe Walcott in Atlantic City. I remember when he lost to Marciano in their first fight. Marciano’s stablemate Hank Cisco went into the dressing room of Walcott’s after the fight and heard the ring physician say “this man had a bone broken under his eye and should never fight again.” Being controlled by the mob they put Walcott who was ahead in their fight with Marciano needing a knockout to win and into the rematch with Marciano certainly putting their money on Marciano who stopped Walcott in the first round.

No. 3 I met champ Jimmy Ellis 40-12-1, at Deer Lake in 1978. We talked how he split in two fights with Ali in the amateurs. No. 4 Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, 44-10-2, taking a picture together and he had an eye on the ladies the entire time.
I had my picture with No. 5 Leon Spinks, 26-17-3, at IBHOF in 2011 and 1985 in New York where he was fighting Kip Kane. Meeting him in New York he was the kind of guy you wanted to hug. He had that warmth about him. He and his brother Michael 33-1, were so different. Michael was quiet and reserved, not Leon.

No. 6 Larry “Easton Assassin” Holmes, May 2019 and 1983 both in Easton. I knew him from being in sales covering his area and thought he was a Jekyll and Hyde for you didn’t know which Larry you were going to meet. In 1984 I promoted a show at the Easton H.S. and asked his brother Mark an unbeaten boxer at the time if he wanted to do an exhibition on the show and he said yes, but you have to ask Larry for he’s my manager.

Larry said to me, “I’m not putting my brother on some rinky dink show. A little later that day I watched him sparring and he stopped and walked to the ropes and said to me “I ought to kick the shit out of you. Next time I tell you something don’t go to my brother!” I hesitated correcting him because he’s the kind of guy that would knock you down and kick you in the head in my opinion.

Several years later at a press conference he nailed him saying “didn’t Nick Wells stop you twice in the amateurs? Adding “you don’t really think you beat Tim Witherspoon and Carl “The Truth” Williams, do you?” ”Holmes was livid. His partner Jay Newman came to me saying “hey buddy, can you calm it down?” I showed him a picture of Holmes and I together and he said “oh Ken, its you.” I told him, “Jay you know I can’t stand this guy!”

I got a picture with WBO champion Ray “Merciless” Mercer, 36-7-1, June 2018 at the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame for a photo op. I met Michael Spinks, February 2017, at Chase Center, Wilmington, DE, at a show. Another time in Philly when I asked him about sparring with a team member Chuck “White Chocolate” Walker, and gave him a 1976 Olympic team picture.

Muhammad Ali, 56-5, 1973, I saw him after his loss to Ken Norton in center city Philly. He was in a group and someone said to him, “next time you fight Norton be a man not a boy!” Ali replied “did you call me Roy?”

Two weeks later I saw an article about his home and I went to Cherry Hill, NJ, to his home and his then wife Belinda whom I asked “can I talk to the cham?” She came back five minutes later and let me in. When he appeared I asked him “why didn’t you give Doug Jones a rematch?

I also saw Ali prior to fighting Holmes sitting in his dressing room looking really out of shape and I looked at his belly and asked “why are you taking this fight?” He had a big belly and patted it and said ‘I like my ice cream.” It would be the only time he was stopped. This was in September of 1980. Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs, 60-6-1, in 1980 in AC. Just for a photo shot.

Last time I saw “Smokin” Joe Frazier was in June 2011, at the Fraims Boy’s & Girl Club, Wilmington, DE. He was visiting the kids and nice as could be. I asked “didn’t George Benton train your son Marvis in the amateurs and you took over in the pro’s?” Marvis was a National Golden Glove champ with a boxer’s style.

Joe took over and turned him into a slugger like him which was a big mistake. Marvis was 10-0 when he lost to Holmes 44-0 in the first round. Holmes said after the fight “that’s for the whippings your daddy gave me in the gym.” Six wins later he was again stopped in the first round by Mike Tyson. My initial meeting was at Joe’s gym while watching someone on a heavy bag and behind me heard “hey move, or I will use you for a heavy bag!”

Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, 43-1, was at a North Philly Gym. I could hardly understand him when he spoke. I knew I could never interview him over the phone. “Iron” Mike Tyson I met in 1982 where he lived in the Catskills. He was still an amateur and we watched films in his bedroom. He loved watching Jack Dempsey. No socks, no robe. When he was 16-0 when he called me asking about his opponent Dave Jaco. I told him not to worry and it was over in the first round. Then again in AC when he was champ and his trainer Kevin Rooney asked if I wanted to say hi to Mike in his dressing room. I went in and he ran over putting his arms around my waist and picked me off the floor. My only thoughts were “I’m glad he likes me.”

Pinklon ”Pink” Thomas, 43-7-1, at Steve Traitz’s Montgomery County Boy’s Club Gym, in Eagleville, PA. He was sparring with ‘Big” Joe Thomas one of MCBC’s boxers. I called him recently when he was inducted into the CA HOF. Previously when I sent him a 20 page booklet I did on Traitz. Real nice guy. “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 55-13-1, at Ali’s Deer Lake, PA, camp where he was young and sparring with Ali. Had a picture with him and remember telling him I thought he beat Holmes. He was usually at most Philly fights and a very sociable person.

I met James “Bonecrusher” Smith, 44-17-1, at a show in Atlantic City. W talked about his career and going the distance with Tyson.

The sixteenth person was WBA champion Ernie Terrell, 46-9, who called me at 1am from Chicago, 2 hours behind me in time. He was promoting a show and wanted to know if I had any boxers for the show. He was inducted into the NJ BHOF.