The good fight

Thirty years ago, Curtis Cokes was the world-champion welterweight. Now, he trains young boxers and just wants to be recognized in his hometown.

"He was ready to quit anyway," Lord says. "Against LaCruz, you could tell his legs were gone. It wasn't the same Curtis. But he came to me and said, 'Let's get the most money you can.' He didn't need to fight Napoles. But he had to." Two months later, Cokes tried to regain the title from Napoles in Mexico City, with the same result: he was knocked out in 10 rounds.

Cokes stayed in the ring until October 5, 1972, when he beat Ezra Mzinyane in South Africa. But it was a meaningless victory, padding on a record that stood well enough on its own. Cokes had taken too many beatings, and it was time to call it a career.

He began managing and training after that, and he even did a little acting, appearing in John Huston's fine 1972 boxing drama Fat City opposite Jeff Bridges and Stacy Keach. Playing Earl, Cokes' performance is deadpan and hilarious; for a boxer, he wasn't a bad actor.

He trained pros and amateur fighters throughout the 1970s and early '80s; he even tried managing a few fighters, but found the job distasteful, at best--he far preferred being in the corner to getting matches for fighters. At first, he trained boxers that no one else wanted, and eventually he took a job with the city of Dallas' parks and recreations department, prepping amateurs for the Golden Gloves. But he left the job in 1994, when he was working at the Anita Martinez Recreation Center. The center's director, Ruben Mendoza, became infuriated when Cokes took one of his fighters, Quincy Taylor, to the North American Boxing Federation title fight in Boston. Cokes also accompanied another of his pros to Los Angeles, taking sick time for that trip.

"There was not a policy against pros working out [at Anita Martinez], but he was training pros on city time," Mendoza said in 1995. "That's double-dipping."

But Cokes sees it differently: "It was out of jealousy," he says. "It was all about jealousy. So I left. It was no big deal. It was time to move on anyway."

Last August, Mayor Ron Kirk attended one of the regular Curtis Cokes fight nights at the Bronco Bowl and honored the champ for all his work with the city and his years spent as Dallas' only world-champion boxer.

It's the day after Cokes has learned he will be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, and already he has received a few dozen calls wishing him congratulations.

In the early afternoon, as the pros and amateurs file in and out of the Home of Champions, Michael Irvin walks through the door and gives Cokes a warm greeting. They are old friends: The Cowboys wide receiver hangs out here often during the off-season, between mini-camps and the community-service hours. Irvin, dressed in workout grays, isn't hassled in Cokes' low-key gym.

"Congratulations, man!" he tells Cokes, grabbing his shoulder. "Congratulations."

"Thanks, man," Cokes says, beaming. "Now I'm gonna go out and see if I can run some down-and-outs." He laughs.

"Don't go changin' on me when all them women come runnin' down here going, 'Oh, Curtis, Curtis, Curtis,'" Irvin tells him.

"Aw, no," Cokes says, as though it's a possibility.
Veteran trainers, or at least the very best of them, insist that good fighters can't be made; they take little credit for their fighters' wins and losses--they either have the talent, the smarts, and the goods, or they get beaten up.

But in 1980, Cokes wrote a book titled The Complete Book of Boxing, in which he insisted that "anyone who is a good athlete can be taught to box." He wrote that a boxer needs to have coordination of mind and body, a slow pulse rate ("to keep a fighter cool"), patience, a thick skin (so he doesn't bleed). And he wrote how a trainer is, most of all, an "amateur psychologist" who can create desire in a fighter who has none.

Cokes has known his share of successes with young fighters: In 1995, he won the WBC middleweight title with Quincy Taylor. He also helped turn Nigerian heavyweight Ike "The President" Ibeabuchi into a title contender; in June 1997, Ibeabuchi beat David Tua in a WBC intercontinental title fight on HBO.

But Taylor has long since left Cokes, signing with Don King and moving to Miami. Cokes says that King promptly arranged for Taylor to lose to one of his other fighters, though Taylor will still come to Dallas occasionally to spar with Marquez Reed or Alex Bohema. "I don't let Quincy come in here and play with me," Cokes says. "I just let him work on his own."

Ibeabuchi's career disappeared somewhere between Williamson County, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona: Last September, The President was arrested outside of Austin on charges of attempted murder-suicide when he ran into a concrete pillar on I-35, apparently on purpose. A 16-year-old boy was also in the car at the time. Ibeabuchi pleaded guilty to the charges on April 6, 1998, and received 120 days in county jail, which he has already served; now, he's in Phoenix, training for one more shot, and the world yawns in anticipation.

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