2006-07-21 / Neighbors
Simi Valley family helps boxer win his toughest fight
Seated in the living room of the Simi Valley home where he had been welcomed off the streets, Ramos listened as hosts Jacquie and Reggie Richardson and their teenage son, Jay, challenged him to get help for the substance abuse problem that had plagued him for more than 30 years.
Their words were stern and direct, but founded in love: Get clean, or get going.
"I was drinking every day. I drank as much as I could. I was killing myself," said Ramos, who fought his last sanctioned match in 1994 and had a professional boxing record of 39 wins, 10 losses and two draws, with 24 wins by knockout. "That day they told me, 'It's either this or it's that,' and 'that' was going back on the streets."
Jacquie's words cut the hardnosed fighter, who first put on the gloves at age 11, deeper than any straight right-hand or uppercut ever had.
"I reminded him of how he missed his mother's funeral because he was so screwed up and how he had always told me he felt so bad that he never got to build a house for her in Puerto Rico," Jacquie said. "Well, I said, you still have something to do for your mother, and that's get clean and sober."
Looking back, Jacquie still isn't sure what motivated her to welcome Ramos, a product of one of New York City's toughest neighborhoods, into her home the day she met him in 1998, at the grand opening of a local boxing gym.
Though she had no background in the sport of boxing, Jacquie had written grants for the gym and had heard about Ramos through her work there. She learned he was interested in starting an organization to assist boxers after they hang up their gloves.
His reason for wanting to help out grew from his own struggles. Ramos, who once graced the covers of boxing's biggest magazines, still remembers how, homeless and jobless, he had to walk 10 miles from Hollywood to Beverly Hills to pick up his last paycheck from a fight, a championship bout he lost in Argentina.
"Boxing is the only professional sport that when you retire, there's no pension, no medical benefits, and as a result, a lot of fighters-thousands of them-suffer," he said. "And these fighters are not from your Ivy League schools. They're from the ghettos, the barrios, your Third World countries. You talk to them about a 401(k) and some of these guys don't know that from a hot rod."
With her expertise in grant writing-she says she's written more than $8-million worth-
Jacquie figured she could help the damaged fighter put his passion into practice.
"Alex loves the sport of boxing so much, and he really wanted to do something for fighters like himself who left the sport and found themselves in difficult situations," Jacquie said.
Together they created what today is considered one of the most respected organizations of its kind in the sport of boxing: The Retired Boxers' Foundation. Ramos is the group's founder and face, while Jacquie is its executive director.
"It's all about fighters helping fighters," said Ramos, who was on the U.S.A. boxing team from 1978-80. "We're doing right and good in a sport that's full of unscrupulous characters."
Using Ramos' many connections in the entertainment and boxing worlds and Jacquie's
writing savvy, the foundation quickly took off and in 2000 was incorporated as an IRS 501-C3 nonprofit organization. Its goal is to "assist retired professional boxers in the transition from their glory days in the ring to a dignified retirement."
Find out more online at www.retiredboxers.org.
His toughest fight
Prior to the foundation's success, however, Ramos was still battling his demons, demons that had haunted him since growing up with an alcoholic father in the drug-ridden streets of the South Bronx.
"I have two scars on my face after more than 30 years of fighting," said Ramos, who won the first of his four New York Golden Gloves titles when he was only 16, "and both are from drunk driving (accidents)."
Nightly, Ramos begun to steal drinks from the Richardsons' well-stocked liquor cabinet, getting so drunk one evening he had to be rushed to the hospital with a near fatal blood-alcohol level. When he drank, he often turned violent and self-destructive.
"There were a lot of times we wanted to give up, when we asked God, 'Why?'
"But anybody who knows Alex knows there's something very childlike about his heart- and he was trying so hard," Jacquie said. "We were convinced if he left he'd end up dead or in jail."
It was at this point that Jacquie and Reggie, the parents of a maturing teenage boy, knew they had to deliver an ultimatum.
In response to their tough words, Ramos agreed to check himself into detox at Ventura's Khepera House. Not long after, he walked out clean and sober, having finally KO'd his dependency on alcohol.
Ramos has now been drugfree for seven years, declaring to all who will listen, "I'm going to die clean."
Because of the role they played in his recovery, the Richardsons, and especially Jacquie, have become Ramos' second family. He speaks about them with the same passion he reserves for his first love, boxing.
"I've been around the world, but never in my life, have I met such a loving family," Ramos said. "I don't care what anybody says-I would hurt for them. They are my blood. I may be a totally different color, but in my eyes, they are my family. I love them tremendously."
To this day, Jacquie still isn't sure what made her reach out to Alex-but she's happy she did.
"Alex likes to say, 'God doesn't make mistakes.' Well, I don't think it was a mistake he brought Alex into our lives. I think there was a reason for it," said Jacquie, who works as a program coordinator for Safe Harbor East.
A new purpose Far removed from the glitz
and glamour that surrounded him for much of his boxing career, Ramos now leads a simple life dedicated to the foundation.
Living on his own for the first time in his life, Ramos spends most of his days in his quaint Simi Valley apartment doing what he loves most-talking with fighters, both online and on the phone.
"I love fighters. I love the sport of boxing. And I love that I'm able to give back to it," said Ramos, who is being honored Sept. 15 in Las Vegas by the American Association of Ringside Professionals for his outstanding contributions to the sport.
The foundation and the number of its supporters continues to grow. Its list of honorary board members includes legendary boxing announcer Col. Bob Sheridan, political consultant James Carville, and Hollywood screenwriter/director Ron Shelton, who wrote the sports movie hits "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump."
"If there's any occupation in the world in need of help, it's boxing," said Shelton, a huge fight fan.
The Santa Monica resident is one of many boxing fans who still remember Ramos from his golden days as the Bronx Bomber. But it's what he has done since retiring that most impresses Shelton and many of Ramos' other fans.
"Alex is an absolute angel, Jacquie Richardson as well," said Shelton, whose wife, actress Lolita Davidovich, is also involved with the foundation. "He's doing great things and his dedication and commitment is inspiring."
Ramos, who has seen life's greatest highs and walked in its darkest shadows, was asked what accomplishment he's most proud of.
"I had a lot of success in my career-a lot-but what makes me happiest is that I'm going to die having done something for the sport of boxing," he said.