By Fiona Manning
Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos, the man who has achieved more fame for his out-of-the ring efforts on behalf of retired fighters than he ever did as a boxer, this week took on Jimmy Hoffa Jr. the man who proposes to form the first ever American Boxer’s union The Joint Association of Boxers (JAB) in conjunction with the Teamsters.
Ramos, who heads up the Retired Boxers Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with fighters at the grassroots level, is concerned that any such proposed union will not benefit all fighters.
“People have been talking about a boxers’ union for 40 years,” he said. “Jack Dempsey was talking about it before I was even born and it still hasn’t happened. Look at the Muhammad Ali Act. That was passed three years ago and what has it done for fighters? It ain’t done shit.
“The Ali Act was already in place when former heavyweight champion Greg Page was injured and it did nothing to help him.”
The Bronx Bomber, Puerto Rican by birth, New York by residence and now based in California, has seen and done it all in his 40 odd years on earth.
He has first had experience at being abandoned by a sport which routinely chews up and spits out talent. And that’s where Ramos comes in. He and his partner Jacquie Richardson have sought and helped out a variety of broken down, busted up fighters.
Ramos is, you might say, right in their corner. Any talk of a union inflames the one thing he is passionate about: fighters helping fighters.
“I think The Retired Boxers Foundation can help the Teamsters gain the success that others have found so elusive,” Ramos told La Prensa San Diego this week.
“The first thing I would like to do is offer some suggestions that will insure that their mission is the same as the athletesto improve the working conditions of the fighters; to protect their rights and make sure that they are paid what they deserve for their efforts, including insurance benefits and a pension when they retire.
“The Teamsters are not the first to suggest a union for the fighters, as I am sure you know. If they have done their homework at all, then they know that the sport of boxing has a really bad reputation because of a handful of greedy, unscrupulous, exploitative people that circle the bloodied ring warriors like a shark around chum.”
To that ends, Ramos wrote an open letter to Hoffa this week, which has so far gone unanswered.
“I don’t really expect him to answer,” Ramos admitted. “People who have been around for a while know that the Teamsters have been victimizedjust like professional boxingby the same kind of power hungry thugs and criminals that give all of us a bad name.”
Ramos’ main concern is that former light heavyweight champion turned trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (who fought as Eddie Gregory) has apparently accepted a salaried position from the Teamsters to head up JAB.
According to the Retired Boxers’ Foundation, four other boxing insiders were approached before Muhammad accepted the job.
“What does it do for the fighters?” said Ramos. “Eddie is saying he has former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and a current fighter, Muhammad Abdulayev on board, as well as Bonecrusher Smith but I guarantee you, none of them has any clue what this union will or will not do.
“I talk to fighters every day and none of them have any clue what this new union is going to do for them. They’re all very concerned.
“I know that people change and I am all for giving others a second chance. I always say, “Your past is like your assit’s behind you.”
Ramos reached and wrote the open letter, which was circulated to the boxing media because he does not want this new boxing union to start off on the wrong foot.
“We fear that another organizing failure will put the idea of a union to bed for another twenty-five years,” Ramos wrote to Hoffa.
“More importantly, we do not want you to mislead the professional athletes in the sport of boxing, promising them what others have been unable to deliver for the past hundred years. Professional boxers have been clambering for changes in the sport of boxing and many superficial, but very genuine efforts have been made.
“In fact, the fellas at the Boxing Organizing Committee (BOC)Paul Johnson, Jose Chequi Torres, Irv Abramson (before he died), Tim Witherspoon and othershave been very vocal about their mission to organize the fighters and have been the most visible as well as consistent.
“If it is true that the BOC has declined your offer to join them, you will essentially be working against them. How can the unity among fighters be achieved when there is a division in the organizing entities?”
Ramos is curious about the fact that Senator John McCain, the man who wrote the Ali bill is now apparently endorsing JAB.
Again, McCain isn’t saying much and other questions have arisen about some of the ethics already employed to get the union rolling.
“I want to know if it is true that the Teamsters offered jobs to at least three of the BOC leaders to abandon the BOC and join the JAB organization on the Teamsters payroll, the job was allegedly offered to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad,” Ramos said.
The key questions he put to Hoffa were:
1. Did the Teamsters offer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad a job with the Teamsters or LRA Consulting to organize the professional boxers union/JAB? Is he on the Teamsters Union payroll?
2. Did Eddie Mustafa Muhammad initiate the proposed UnionJoint Association of Boxers or was it organized under the guidance of the Teamsters Union with the intent of having a professional boxer lead the charge?
3. JAB has publicly announced the names of two fighters as supportersone current and one retired. In addition to Holmes and Abdulaev, who else will lead this effort to organize?
Ramos and Richardson among many others feel a union along the lines of the Screen Actors’ Guild or the PGA union would work best for fighters. Just like actors head up SAG, fighters, they believe fighters should head up a fighters’ union.
“Promoter Bob Arum spoke out this week saying it will be difficult to unionize fighters because they’re not employees, they’re independent contractors.”
Richardson also pointed out that 99% of fighters don’t have money, it’s the promoters and the Las Vegas Casinos who have the money in boxing.
“I would even support a federal boxing commission,” she said. “But if it’s made up of the same guys who are already on state commissions, what’s the point?
Ramos believes there is no point to more guilds, more commissions that don’t work adequately to protect and support fighters during and after their careers.
“According to the Teamsters’ website, the National Football League organized in 1920, but waited 35 years for representation,” said Ramos.
“You can’t compare fighters and footballers. They are a team sport in a league, with a defined season. What will the Teamsters be able to offer that the AFL-CIO, the BOC and the others have failed to offer, to cement this organizing effort?
“Who joins this union? A union requires 30% of the work population it’s representing. In boxing, what is that 30% of what? All boxers? Or just the boxers in Las Vegas?”
Ramos said fighters he spoke to this week are scared. “What if they join the union and then don’t get to fight? There’s always going to be some guy out there who’s willing to fight for nothing, just to get the exposure. How do we regulate this?
“Boxing is an international sport and organizing efforts in Europe have been tentative at best.
“Reports from the fighters tell us that less than 100 fighters have joined, and collectively, they report that their opportunities to work, i.e., box for pay, have all but disappeared which is a great concern to them. How many fighters do the Teamsters need in order to make a union viable? “
For Ramos, the most important thing for fighters is dignity and respect.
“In 1960, Jack Dempsey spoke to some business people in the Midwest and he said it was TIME to organize the fightersto fight for dignity and respect. He died waiting. I got tired of waiting for a union and I got tired of the talk. I for one do not want to go to my grave talking about a union for fighters.
“I started the Retired Boxers Foundation in 1998 and started a campaign called “Fighters Helping Fighters.” While the Teamsters are working with the Joint Association of Boxing and while we all wait to see if they can make it happen, the retired fighters will continue helping each other.
“There are others who are tired of waiting, including all of the Ring Organizations and groups like the Golden State Boxers Association. Former heavyweight Gerry Cooney continues to do what he can to help fighters and God knows that there is enough for all of us to do to restore the dignity our athletes deserve, whether it is a proper burial, new teeth or a job.
“For the old timers, it’s too late for a union. In the meantime, while the Teamsters initiate collective bargaining in boxing, the Retired Boxers Foundation will continue to pay for Juan Antonio Lopez’s chemotherapy and Joey Gambino’s new dentures,” Ramos said.
“I will continue to help Olympic Gold Medalist, Andrew Maynard, apply for his Veteran’s benefits, and I’ll keep checking to see if Bobby Chacon has a roof over his head.
“Boxing is full of fighters who bow their heads in shame for believing in people who promised them the world and for all the other mistakes they made when they were champions. The fact remains that boxing reform must come from the fightersnot Teddy Atlas, John McCain or the Teamsters.”
Ramos will tell all of this to anyone who cares. Even those who don’t, usually see his side by the time he’s through talking to them.
“I’m gonna die a fighter,” he said. “I would like to leave this world knowing that the kids that follow me will not suffer like some of my friendsthat they will have the same respect that other athletes have and that they will have medical insurance and pensions when their days in the ring are over.
“This is America and I believe that all things are possible as long as people are honest and are willing to walk the talk.”
If you would like to donate money, time or boxing memorabilia to be auctioned off for retired fighters, please contact:
Alex Ramos & Jacquie Richardson
RETIRED BOXERS FOUNDATION
3359 Bryan Avenue
Simi Valley, CA 93063