by Todd Schmerler/For The Star-LedgerSunday June 28, 2009, 12:30 AM
Rocky Lockridge sits high on a stoop, giving himself a lofty view of the intersection of 7th Street and Chestnut in Camden.
There's a convenience store on the corner, but it's not drawing as much interest as the woman openly dealing drugs, shouting, "Five dollars, five dollars," to anyone who passes.
|Former boxing champ Rocky Lockridge is homeless in Camden|
In the midst of it all, a brown sedan stops, the car idling in the middle of the street. A middle-age man gets out and quick-steps to the top of the stoop to greet Lockridge with a fist bump and a quick man-hug. After a few quiet words, he gets back into the car and drives off.
Others take turns approaching Lockridge to exchange pleasantries. One is a 20-something girl named Laquicha Smith, who seems excited to tell an outsider about the special man sitting on the cement steps.
"That's Rocky. He's the champ," she says. "He's still got it."
The Champ looks out across the familiar street corner, his head held high. But his face is swollen by scar tissue around the eyes and more than one tooth is missing. A silver metal four-prong walking cane he now needs to walk is balanced across his knees.
His fingers tremble as he lifts a cigarette to his lips and his voice is raspy and hard to make out.
"Everybody kisses me, calls out, 'Champ, Champ, Champ,' " Lockridge says. "I get joy being around them because they're going through the struggle, same as me."
The struggle is living on the streets of Camden, where Lockridge has been for more than 10 years. It has been a long way to fall for a two-time world boxing champion.
Lockridge, who climbed the rankings while fighting out of Ice World in Totowa from 1978-81, has no money. His body tilts to one side when he walks, the result of a stroke he says he suffered three years ago. His scraggly, graying beard makes him seem far older than 50, the age he reached on Jan. 30.
He admits he has a more than two-decades-old drug problem -- "I do quite a bit of drinkin' and druggin'," he says -- and that he's been estranged from his ex-wife and kids for nearly that long.
But he won't take all the blame for his predicament. He blames the boxing industry for much of it.
"I'm bitter. I'm very bitter," he says, the words coming out slowly and unsteadily. "I made some mistakes, a whole lot of mistakes, but they were beyond my imagination. The blow that was put upon me was harder to take than the blows, or any blow, for that matter, that I received in the fight game."
It didn't have to be like this for Lockridge.
A former world champion suffering financial difficulties is hardly shocking, considering the history of boxing, lack of formal education of most fighters and the absence of a pension or retirement plan from any of the sport's governing bodies.
Lockridge was different.
Particularly bright, articulate and good looking, Lockridge was a natural in front of the cameras and seemed to enjoy his time in the spotlight. After relocating from Tacoma, Wash., at the age of 19 in 1978, Lockridge lived in Paterson as he came up through the ranks, fighting for Main Events, an enterprise of the Duva family, with his early fights at Ice World, a cavernous converted skating rink in Totowa.
Lockridge was the rare fighter who considered a post-boxing career. He looked studious, wearing wide, horn-rimmed glasses, and took classes in business at William Paterson University in Wayne for two years.
Kathy Duva, now the CEO and then the publicist for Main Events, remembers Lockridge being different.
"Rocky was always a low-key person with an easygoing personality," she says. "He was quiet, articulate, a wonderful guy."
After two unsuccessful attempts to win a featherweight title in the early '80s, Lockridge moved up to super featherweight and the extra five pounds suited him. He won a couple of big fights and then knocked out Roger Mayweather -- the uncle and trainer of current superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- in the first round to win the WBA title on Feb. 26, 1984.
The Mayweather fight, a one-punch knockout, lasted only 91 seconds and launched him to a new level in boxing circles. Lockridge was 25 with a record of 32-3.
He and his wife, Carolyn, took his winnings and moved from Paterson to Mount Laurel, a tony suburb of Philadelphia in South Jersey. Carolyn gave birth to twins Ricky and Lamar on August 23, 1984.
The future was bright.
Boxing careers usually are short. So when Lockridge lost his title to Wilfredo Gomez in 1985, then lost a year later to Julio Cesar Chavez, no one would have been surprised if Lockridge had reached the end.
He won his next two fights and earned another title shot, stopping Barry Michael after eight rounds in England in 1987 to win the IBF super featherweight title.
A year later he lost his title in a unanimous decision to Tony Lopez in a brutal 12-round bout that was named 1988 Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. He would lose the equally bloody rematch a year later, then retire after one last victory in 1989.
As bad as his beatings were in the ring, the abuse he put his body through when he was out of it may have been worse.
After each fight, Lockridge says he would party "two weekends." He snorted cocaine and abused alcohol, drinking "whatever was around," he says.
When he needed money, he says he would ask the Duvas for it and they would always give it to him. Now, he says they shouldn't have been so forthcoming.
"Not only was I not in control financially, but it really didn't matter to me at the time," he said. "I wanted the best for myself and my loved ones. There was never any resistance in terms of saying, 'Champ, you're out of order with the financial thing.' It is what it is. It is what it is now."
Lockridge says he was "raped financially," but there's no evidence of that. Kathy Duva said Lockridge made money, but not the kind one could expect to live on forever. Even Lockridge admits his biggest payday came from the fight with Chavez, and that was only $200,000, he estimates.
"He had a family, children, divorce, he bought a house," Kathy Duva says. "The money goes away. People who abuse drugs end up in desperate straits frequently. That's a shame, but it's a choice they make."
After 2 1/2 years out of the ring, Lockridge attempted an ill-fated comeback at age 33 under new management based in Washington.
The comeback lasted just two fights -- both losses.
His final record: 44 wins, 36 knockouts, 9 losses and $0 in the bank.
Rocky, Carolyn and their two boys had moved back to Tacoma a year and a half after Lockridge's original retirement, in 1991, but the family didn't stay together for long.
Rocky and Carolyn split up shortly thereafter -- partially, Lockridge says, due to the stress of being broke and partially because he didn't know what to do without boxing. Drug addiction, Lockridge admits, may have played a part, too. Carolyn Lockridge could not be reached for comment.
In 1993, at age 34, Lockridge moved back to Camden. Alone.
"I could not handle not being involved in the fight game, not being a fighter or even partaking in the fight game as a trainer and/or manager," he says. "My wife, Carolyn, we both were somewhat slapped in the face and she realized Rocky couldn't handle the blow, what is he going to do? I just didn't know how to handle that. Her and I both began to see that we weren't going to be the team that we at one time had been -- inseparable."
Lockridge took a job working for William Jones & Son, Inc. in Camden, a drum and barrel company on Liberty Street, where he cleaned and painted barrels for $8 per hour starting in January 1994.
Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for burglary -- the first time -- but was sentenced to five years probation, according to court records. Three years later, he was arrested for burglary again, this time serving 27 months before being released in July of 1999.
He hasn't worked since.
When he got out of jail, he found he had nowhere to go and ended up on the streets.
"I don't know exactly what happened or how it happened or what happened at that particular time in my life," he says.
One thing he does remember is going back to using drugs.
"I knew a lot of people who I partied with here in Camden after a victory," he says.
Lockridge says that if you're going to be homeless, Camden is the place to be. There are many different places that will give you a free meal, many shelters that will put you up for a night.
Lockridge lives on the $140 a month and food stamps he receives from the government -- as well as pocket change he gets from panhandling. He says the stroke he suffered three years ago makes it difficult to walk, no less hold a job.
He sleeps in shelters occasionally but admits he's had issues committing to a shelter because the curfew is sometimes as early as 7 p.m. Lately, he has slept in a mosquito-infested abandoned row house around the block from his regular corner.
And he continues to have troubles with the law, though his last arrest -- for criminal trespassing in May -- resulted only in community service.
Lockridge's troubles are similar to issues many other former fighters face. In many cases, some feel it's inevitable.
Former middleweight Alex Ramos, a friend of Lockridge's who founded the Retired Boxers Foundation in 1998, says boxers aren't equipped to handle life out of the ring. They are not trained in financial responsibility and, unlike other sports, there is no union to turn to for help.
"Boxers don't come from the Ivy Leagues and Beverly Hills, they come from ghettos and Third World countries, looking to get themselves out of poverty," he says. "A lot of times it's sad what happens to a lot of fighters when they retire."
Scott Frank, who fought out of Ice World at the same time as Lockridge, says promoters and managers (in Lockridge's case, the Duvas) should be responsible for putting aside money for when their boxers can't fight anymore.
"Lou always said Rocky was like a son to him, so how do you do that to your son?" Frank says. "He made enough money that they should have put some away for him, they should have taken care of him.
"What's $200 a week for life for a guy like Lou? Rocky fought his heart out for him."
Duva says he would be open to offering Lockridge a job training boxers -- but only if he stays clean and sober.
Orlando Pettigrew, a mail carrier and Camden resident, has befriended Lockridge in the last year after hearing that a former world champ was living on the streets. He looks out for Lockridge.
"He's a nice guy, he just needs to find his way again," Pettigrew says. "People call him The Champ, they greet him, hug him. People still look up to him. Any time I see him, that's what I see.
"It has to be hard, going from living in Mount Laurel to living here."
Lockridge doesn't mind losing his house as much as losing his family.
As he sits on his stoop, smoking a cigarette, he talks about why he is finally ready to turn his life around, find a place to live, give up drinking and drugs.
"I'm going to get it back together and say no to drugs," he said. "I've got a family that I want to spend some time with 'til my time is up on Planet Earth. I'm on a mission now, perhaps even greater than my mission before. My kids need me in their lives, experience being the best teacher."
Lockridge says he recently was tracked down by his son, Ricky, now 24, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area near Lamar. The twins were surprised to find out a few months ago that they have a half-brother, Ramond Dixon, 22, born in Camden but who now also lives in the D.C. area. The three have become close -- but they remain distant from their father.
"I remember spending time with him when I was 3 or 4, but he was never there at a steady pace," Ramond, known as "Ron-Ron," says. "Even though my dad wasn't there for me growing up, I never really had harsh feelings. I never was really upset. As a man now I can see that people make mistakes."
Ricky Lockridge has mixed feelings.
"It's sad. It hurts," he says about his dad's predicament. "But I never lost confidence in my dad, he's a strong person."
Lockridge says reuniting with his boys is his inspiration for cleaning up his life.
"Now I'm ready for this, mentally and physically, to get me back on track," Lockridge says. "I am in dire need of that kind of support and I want it. I've been knocked down. Now I'm finally ready to get back up."
The Retired Boxers Foundation says it will help him -- like his kids and Duva -- but only will do so if he gives up drugs and alcohol and sticks in a shelter.
"Rocky would be eligible for supplemental security income, which would provide a monthly check, housing and Medi-Cal, but one of the requirements is that he is sober," Jacquie Richardson, executive director of the RBF, says. "Boxers don't always want to accept help. Beyond brain injuries, the shame is overwhelming. They have regrets about what they didn't do, the mistakes they made, and it's really hard to forgive themselves. It keeps them hiding out where they are."
Lockridge says the need to see his sons and help them avoid the mistakes he made is the motivating force to clean up and accept the help of outsiders.
"Edumacation is the best occupation," he jokes. "Knowing how to handle your money, stay educated in all the areas so perhaps what happened to me will never happen to anyone else.
"It hurts. It hurts. In more ways than one, it hurts. How can you be a great man, father and husband ... how can you be a great champion and not be a great father, husband? Dad? It hurts. But I'm still alive. I can't make up for the lost time, but I can just get there, be there, spend the rest of the time with my wife and children and give them the time that I have left."