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 taught himself how to fight, how to duck, how to win. He had his share of trainers, but nobody knew more about boxing than he did. Nobody could tell him how to dance in the ring; nobody could tell him how to throw punches, or how to take them. He never wanted to fight in the first place. His true love was baseball--he dreamed of playing alongside Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers; he fantasized about covering the infield at Ebbets Field. It almost happened too, but the pro scouts and coaches down in Florida in 1955 told him he didn't have what it took and sent the kid on his way.

So the teenager came back to Texas and found himself standing in the boxing ring. He didn't plan it that way--it just happened; and it made his mother so unhappy, she couldn't bring herself to watch her son engage in the sweet, bloody science of beating up and getting beaten. Her boy would never have an amateur fight. He was a pro from the beginning, when the first bell sounded and the first punch landed and the first fighter fell. He won his first 11 fights, two by knockout.

Eight years after his first bout, the boy with no experience, who taught himself how to keep from getting knocked out, was crowned world champion. In 1966, they proclaimed him king of the welterweights, and for the next three years, he defended his title, taking on all comers.

Fighting with grace and elegance, he was all sinewy muscle and deep soul, quick to get out of a punch's way, quicker still to land a few of his own. His old black-and-white fight films--some against tomato cans who challenged him for the championship belt and should have stayed home, some against men who beat him on their way to becoming fight game legends--don't do him justice. He was a dazzling fighter, always moving as though the ground were on fire; his arms were thin, but even now, watching him on grainy gray film, you can still feel the sting of his straight left or his right jab.

He was champ until 1969, when, for the first time, someone managed to turn his young face into a bloody mess. He retired then, came back for a few fights, retired one more time, then quit for good in 1972, putting to rest a 14-year career in the ring during which he won 62 fights--30 by KO--and lost only 14. That should have been enough to make him a legend.

But instead, that fighter's name is missing from so many of the history books, and he can't help but wonder why. He is, at best, a passing reference mentioned in between the names of legends of the game. Writers do not mention his victories, his three-year tenure as the World Boxing Association's welterweight champion. They write instead of his April 18, 1969, defeat by the Cuban-born Jose Napoles, who took away his title at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles.

Only Arthur Ashe's slender book A Hard Road to Glory: Boxing, written by the tennis star five years before his death in 1993, provides any substantive mention of Cokes, and even then, it's just a handful of bland sentences. But Ashe, who penned a whole series of books dedicated to revealing "forgotten facts" about the contributions of African-American athletes, did note that after the fighter retired, "there would be no more black American welterweight champions until Ray Leonard in 1979."

"Is that right?" Curtis Cokes says when that fact is mentioned to him. He considers this for a moment, then smiles a broad, honored smile and laughs. "I'll be damned. Hell, I guess that's something to be proud of, isn't it?"

For years, Cokes has waited for a little recognition; for years, he has bitten his tongue and said nothing, trying to contain the acrimony that comes with being ignored for so long. "It becomes frustrating," he says. "You become a little bitter." Some of that bitterness wore off only last week, when Cokes received a letter from the World Boxing Hall of Fame in California notifying the champ he would indeed be inducted this October. It's an honor that has been a long time in the coming.

Although boxing history had all but forgotten Curtis Cokes, he continues to teach its lessons to young fighters to this day. He remains in the ring at the age of 61, training would-be pros and novice amateurs and young children who wander in off the streets with no place else to go. Cokes has taken wayward kids and saved their souls by building up their bodies at his Home of Champions, the Oak Cliff Gym he co-owns and operates. But Cokes realizes that if he is to be granted the glory he deserves, it may be the reflected kind, coming from one of the promising fighters he is grooming to become the next world champion.

Curtis Cokes was champion of the world at a time when the title meant something--long before the World Boxing Association and the World Boxing Council rated their own fighters and awarded their own empty titles to three-minute heroes and zeroes. When he won the WBA title in 1966, the WBC also acknowledged Cokes as champ; so, too, did Ring magazine--indeed, the belt awarded by the self-proclaimed "Bible of Boxing" meant the most to fighters back then. Cokes' Ring belt rests now in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco, and it remains his most prized possession.

The WBA never gave Cokes a belt. For some reason, they gave him only a certificate, despite the constant nagging from Cokes' former manager, Doug Lord. The WBC championship belt sits in a glass display case in the Home of Champions, Cokes' modest gymnasium on the intersection of Beckley and Saner. You might even miss the belt if you didn't know where to look for it; it's situated next to a few for-sale T-shirts and baseball caps advertising the gym, which Cokes opened a year ago with a few partners. The belt--green and gold and covered with the flags of every country imaginable--is actually smaller up close than you might think; it's hard to see because it disappears into the surroundings almost as if time had a way of shrinking his accomplishments.

Then again, Cokes' gym is not a shrine to the man who helped build it and who can be found there every day between noon and 7 p.m. training young fighters. A sign outside offers that the Home of Champions is also home to a certain world-champion fighter, and a painting of Cokes adorns one wall outside and another inside, but it's a rather sparse memorial to the man who was the first and only boxing world champion from Dallas.

Until the recent honor from the World Boxing Hall of Fame, history, for some reason, did not celebrate his achievements. And still, he is not a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in New York, though Napoles--the man who took away his crown in 13 bloody rounds in 1969--is. So are Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith, Sugar Ray Robinson, and so many other men who held the welterweight title before and after Cokes. He is not a celebrated hero in his hometown, where lesser athletes than he are made gods overnight. Though he is recognized on the streets of New York City, he is not known on the streets outside his own gymnasium in Oak Cliff. "I felt I was just as good as a lot of those people," Cokes says. "I had just as good a record, kept the title longer."

There are a lot of reasons why Cokes has been passed over. He fought long before boxing became prime-time programming, long before HBO and USA Network and ABC-TV made millionaires out of punk-ass fighters; his two losing fights in 1969 against Napoles were televised--but only in Spanish. He was left to box in front of the paying crowds, which numbered anywhere from the 7,000 who came to see him win the title from Manny Gonzalez in New Orleans in 1966 to the 33,000 who showed up in Mexico City on June 29, 1969, to watch him try to recapture the championship from Napoles.

And back then, welterweights were merely stars, not legends like the heavyweights such as Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali. Those men were larger than life, 200-plus-pounds of muscle and dynamite. Ali's shadow weighed more than Cokes' whole 147-pound body.

Then there's the matter of location: Cokes came from Dallas, not New York or Miami or Los Angeles. He was a Texas boy, fighting in the middle of nowhere, becoming a hero in anonymity. He never drew more than 7,000 to see him fight here; and back then, the crowds were mostly white, mostly affluent. Some fight folks tried to get him to move east: Cokes says that Angelo Dundee--revered as one of the greatest corner men in the history of the game, having trained the likes of Ali and Leonard--once tried to persuade him to move to New York. But Cokes resisted--he was going to live right here, even if it meant nobody knew who he was. He and manager Doug Lord, an insurance salesman, had a deal: Lord agreed never to sell his contract, no matter how much he was offered for it.

"There were some other groups that wanted Curtis to come in with them, but he stayed here," says Lord, still in the insurance business well into his 70s. "He wanted to be with his people, his friends, and his family. On two occasions, I had the chance to sell his contract, and I didn't."

Lord, who bought Cokes' contract in 1958, got Cokes a shot at the title, but he was no Bob Arum or Gil Clancy, powerful managers with deep connections. "If he had a big promoter, I think Curtis would have done better," says Texas boxing commissioner Dick Cole, who has known Cokes since 1966, when Cole refereed one of his fights. "They wanted Curtis for the Friday-night fights and Wednesday-night fights on TV. He could have fought more frequently. A lot of promoters were interested in him, and he could have had a home in Dallas and prepared for fights with Angelo [Dundee] in Miami and fought all along the East Coast. That would have helped his career. But at the same time, if he had been unhappy, it wouldn't have been a blessing to him."

Cokes was almost inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame last year, but he missed out by only a handful of votes. It didn't matter to Cokes whether he was admitted into the WBHOF or the more widely known International Boxing Hall of Fame, which publishes The Boxing Register. After all, Cokes says, the same fighters are in both halls--Ali, Robinson, Louis, Marciano. "All the big names," he says. "All the champions. It doesn't matter to me. I'm in."

Finally. But it's only the semi-colon in his career, not the exclamation point at the end.

Cokes is a trainer now, has been ever since he hung up the gloves a quarter century ago. He has his own gym now, his own fighters to train, his own champions to build.

They are men with names like James "Pearl" Harbor and Marquez "The Master" Reed or Alex Bohema, who was once the national champion of Ghana. They're hopefuls looking to make a little history of their own in a professional sport threatening to drown in its own alphabet soup--today's WBC champ is tomorrow's IBF contender is yesterday's NABF chump. The fight game just ain't what it used to be when Cokes was champ.

"You can talk about heroes," Doug Lord says. "But Curtis was one of the greatest."

The young fighter shuffles around the ring, ducking punches and throwing his own. With each jab, each right-right-left combination, the fighter--clad entirely in black, from his shorts to his skin, with sweat dripping from him like running water--emits a short, sharp cry: Pah! Pah! Pahpahpah!

Every muscle is tense; he stares straight ahead.
Pahpah! Pah!
His cries echo through the gym, where a handful of other young hopefuls attack punching bags in silence, ignoring the sounds. He keeps throwing punches even after the electronic bell rings, signaling the end of each round. There's no one to complain--on this afternoon, 21-year-old Marquez Reed fights only an imaginary opponent. He wins every round.

"That's good," offers Curtis Cokes, still in shape after all these years. "But when you turn, do it like this."

Cokes wears glasses, a T-shirt, and sweat pants, and he stands in the ring beside his young fighter and shows him how to pivot on his right leg, ducking and bending as he turns, keeping his fists ready. It takes Reed a few moments, a few faltering tries, before he learns the move. "You got it," Cokes says. "That way, you'll be ready to punch." Then the bell inside Reed's head rings again, and he returns to his solitary battle, beating up on air.

Cokes imagines a day when Reed will contend for the junior middleweight world title. Reed, after all, is the reason Cokes and his business partners--one of whom is David Wells, Reed's guardian and the private investigator who gained local notoriety in 1996 as Michael Irvin's "personal assistant"--built this gymnasium in Oak Cliff. It's the house that Reed built, where he works out every day in hopes of winning a shot at the title in a few years, before Cokes retires at 65 and spends the rest of his life on the golf course.

"It's a big responsibility," Reed says. "The pressure alone motivates me. Some people work good under pressure; others don't. I do. I like the fact that all eyes are on me. I think about that every morning when I get up and come to the gym. In the ring, it's just me and that other person, and if something happens, who else am I going to blame?"

Reed's story resembles that of so many boxers who take refuge in the Home of Champions. It's the age-old cliche of a child who escapes the projects by putting on a pair of gloves and doing his fighting in the squared circle. It's a tale about a kid who could have made a wrong turn, but instead made the right one through the doors of a gymnasium, where he could battle his demons three minutes at a time. At any given point during the day, you can find a handful of kids like that working out in the Home of Champions, sparring with punching bags and lifting weights and jumping rope. Cokes might well dream of training another world champ in Marquez Reed, but he also provides asylum to kids who will never see a fight outside his gym.

Cokes points to one 17-year-old boy battling a punching bag and says he was a young brother who used to smoke pot outside the Home of Champions until Cokes invited him inside, but only if he put out the joint, went back to school, and got his shit together.

"He was goin' bad," Cokes says of the kid, who went to live with his grandmother after his mother skipped off to Mexico or God knows where. "But he saw something he could do and enjoy, and it was boxing. When I taught him how to box, he stopped doing that other stuff. He's got a job. He got his own car. He's in high school...I promised him if he stayed in school I would turn him pro, and he reminds me of that every day. On his birthday, I went out and bought him a big bag to carry his equipment in, and it cost about $200. He almost cried. Nobody had ever given him anything."

Cokes figures if nothing else, the kids who enter his gym carrying an equipment bag full of trouble leave too exhausted to go out and make mischief. "When they're done here, they go home," he says, laughing. "They're too tired."

Marquez Reed was much the same way a few years before he came to Cokes. He was one step away from dealing drugs and throwing away his promise as a young boxer. But such is life south of the Trinity, where a kid can get rich quick selling crack--or die trying. Instead, Reed ended up at the Dallas Business and Management Magnet High School; instead, he's a national Golden Gloves champion. He became one of Curtis Cokes' most promising young fighters, a man-child who turned pro only a year ago and waits, with wound-up patience, for a shot at the title.

Reed hooked up with Cokes in 1992, when he was 16. He was just a scrawny, stumbling kid who had been a runner-up in some Silver Gloves contests but was still an average fighter. "I didn't know how to throw a punch without falling all over the ring," Reed says. Wells was his trainer then, and his legal guardian--the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal in the early 1980s for his work with the Boys Club. Even now, Reed refers to Wells as "my father"--his real dad long out of sight and mind.

In the late 1980s, Wells was running a gym in Oak Cliff called Reach for the Stars when this young kid from the projects wandered in and made himself at home. Wells, who had boxed a little but never as a pro, took the boy in and promised him the world. What he delivered was Curtis Cokes, who almost immediately taught the boy how to fight, and win. By 1995, he had won myriad national amateur titles--enough to find himself ranked seventh in the country among amateur junior middleweights.

"I thought I really knew about boxing before I met Curtis," Reed says. He is eloquent and surpassingly soft-spoken. The intensity he has while fighting leaves his voice, and he is, at this moment, just a 21-year-old student learning how to keep from getting knocked down. "Curtis taught me to be patient in the ring and how to look for the opening instead of trying to create one. He taught me how to work on my jab and be a boxer and not make the fight so hard."

Reed was 89-18 as an amateur and, for a while, ranked the top fighter in Texas. As a professional, he has a record of five wins and no losses; three of his victories came by knockouts. He did not know who Cokes was before the champ became his trainer. He was too young to know or care. But over time, he came to worship the title belt that sits beneath the glass case in the Home of Champions. He spent hours with the videotapes of Cokes' old fights, studying his moves, watching how he handled both victory and defeat.

"I don't just bring the guys tapes and show me beating up on someone," Cokes says. "I show them getting my ass kicked, because it could happen to them. You can't just stop because you get beat. You have to keep going. It's part of the game--winning and losing."

Curtis Cokes, Dallas' sole fight champion, is actually from Corsicana, where he was born on June 5, 1937; he did not move here until 1941, when his father was shipped off to fight in World War II. His mother, Emma--82 and still going strong, Curtis says--had family here and brought her son to what was then North Dallas, on Hall near Baylor Hospital. His father was an athlete, a center fielder on a freight-line company baseball team; young Curtis, when he was only 15 and a student at Booker T. Washington High School, often played shortstop alongside his old man.

Curtis went on to play a little semi-pro ball in Dallas for a while, barnstorming with the Dallas Bombers; they traveled all over the state and made nearly $25 per game. "I thought I was a hell of a ball player," Cokes recalls, but he didn't have enough big-league arm to rifle the ball from shortstop to first base. He only discovered that fact of life when, in 1955, he went to Fort Worth's LaGrave Field for a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who owned the Fort Worth Cats of the old Texas League. He did well enough during tryouts in Fort Worth to warrant an invite to spring training in Florida, but he was cut from the club after only a week.

"None of those guys ever thought I was gonna be a boxer, because I just didn't look like one," Cokes recalls. "I wasn't a big brute, a big mean guy."

Cokes was a fight fan--he adored Sugar Ray Robinson and picked up his moves--but he never even considered jumping into the ring until his baseball career ended. His parents abhorred the idea, and, at first, he was forced to sneak away from home to learn his craft, going to small South Dallas gyms where other black kids went to spar.

Although Cokes never fought in the Golden Gloves--blacks weren't allowed in the amateur competition until the 1960s--he did have a handful of amateur fights, if you can call them that: Most were in a dingy gym somewhere against another black kid. But once, right before he turned pro, Cokes went to Waxahachie and fought a Hispanic kid named Ortiz, a Golden Gloves champ, and beat him in a non-sanctioned bout.

He had trainers, guys who rubbed him down and held the punching bag and toweled him off; they were men named Robert Thomas and Cornbread Smith (a lightweight who fought in the 1930s and had a gym in Deep Ellum) and Bob Valencia. But "nobody could train me," Cokes says. "Nobody really told me too much what to do. I was a good student of boxing, but I knew what to do." Doug Lord, who met Cokes at Cornbread's gym in 1958, agrees: "Curtis was smarter about boxing than anyone in Dallas."

Emma Cokes only came to see her son fight during his title bouts; Curtis' father was there every single time his boy put on the gloves for money. In the end, Curtis' brothers also joined the fight game; one, Ernest, works as a trainer alongside his brother to this day.

Cokes' first professional fight came on May 24, 1958, in Midland against Manuel "Manny" Gonzalez, who was tough enough to have beaten future Hall of Famer Emile Griffith in a non-title contest. Cokes went to Midland expecting to lose; he was, after all, a ring virgin, and Gonzalez was undefeated in his handful of fights.

But no matter: Cokes beat Gonzalez in a six-round decision. They faced each other four more times over the course of Cokes' career, and Cokes lost only once, in a 10-round decision in 1959. They fought each other in New Orleans in 1966 for the World Boxing Association welterweight title, and Cokes defeated his old enemy in a battle that went the distance.

By the end of 1958 Cokes was undefeated--nine wins, one by knockout--when he punched Sammy Williams into oblivion in front of the hometown crowd on June 30. Over the next seven years, he fought and beat would-be legends (Cuban great Luis Rodriguez, a world champ himself for a brief while) and forgotten nobodies (Tombstone Smith and Joey Parks among their large lot). He lost only seven times, twice in nationally televised fights.

Cokes' favorite fight during that period came on February 11, 1963, against an unknown contender named Johnny Newman--who was trained by none other than Joe Louis, the heavyweight champ from 1937 to '49 and perhaps the greatest boxer of all time. Cokes had gone to Hollywood to fight Newman and ended up staying at the home of Louis and his wife. They fed the 25-year-old Curtis and cared for him before the fight, which ended almost before it began. Cokes knocked out Newman in two easy rounds.

"Joe was mad about that," Curtis recalls. "That was one of the happiest moments of my life, because that was big-time for me, knocking out one of Joe Louis' fighters. I used to watch Joe fight on Wednesday-night fights. I saw him fight Marciano. But that night, Joe walked out of the arena and got on a plane for Puerto Rico without paying me. I stayed in California two days to get my money from his wife."

Cokes got his shot at the title when Emile Griffith, the welterweight champ throughout most of the early 1960s, was forced to vacate his title after winning the middleweight title in 1966. The WBA held an elimination tournament in New Orleans in the summer of 1966 to determine the new welterweight champ. All the contenders and active past titleholders were invited, among them the Angelo Dundee-trained Luis Rodriguez (who had lost his title to Griffith in 1963) and Cokes' old foe Manny Gonzalez.

Cokes fought Rodriguez first, on July 6, and it was an easy fight, a 15-round knockout. "I was beating him every round," Cokes recalls. "I was just enjoying it." One boxing magazine referred to Cokes' win over Rodriguez as the "year's biggest upset." Six weeks later, he took Gonzalez in a 15-round decision, and he was crowned world champ. He retained his world welterweight title over the next two years, beating the likes of Frenchmen Jean Josselin and Francois Pavilla, and Argentinean hopeful Ramon LaCruz.

Both Doug Lord and Dick Cole agree that Cokes should have ended his career there, as world champ. His body had taken a pounding, his legs had begun losing their spring, and he had trouble keeping his weight below 147 pounds. Even worse, he wasn't mentally prepared to fight any longer: Cokes, who would never get rich off boxing, had lost a considerable amount of money by 1968. He invested $150,000 in a South Dallas club called The Arena, only to watch it burn to the ground. The insurance company covered only half the claim--nobody wanted to pay full coverage for losses in the ghetto.

With all this on his mind, Cokes entered the ring on April 18, 1969, in Los Angeles against Jose Napoles and was pummeled in 13 rounds. He was in the fight during the first few rounds, but toward the end, he was all but dead on his feet, a punching bag for the Cuban right-hander. Cokes' eyes were swollen shut, his nose bloodied, his face severely cut. After the fight, he spent eight hours in the hospital. He shouldn't have taken that fight.

But he needed the money, and Lord guaranteed he would make more than Sugar Ray Robinson's then-record purse of $75,000, which was at the time the highest amount ever paid any welterweight. Coke was guaranteed $80,000 for the fight, and he couldn't resist.

"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.

"He's still not well," Cokes says of Ibeabuchi. "I don't think there's going to be an ending to this story. He's a very selfish person, and nobody can control him but me, and I don't have time to do that. I'm not going to raise any kids no more. This is a business with me."

Cokes dreams of one day having a fighter as talented and as renowned as Oscar De La Hoya or Pernell Whitaker; too often he's been stuck with fighters who have great bodies and empty heads. Bohema is close. Reed needs to grow; time will do much of Cokes' work for him. He says he will retire in four years unless he gets a good boxer in fine form; the last thing he wants to do is start all over again with another project like Reed, in whom Cokes has put so much time, money, and faith.

It was never hard for Curtis Cokes to step out of the ring when his fighting days were over; the money was still there, but he knew the end had come. He could see it in the mirror, written in black, blue, and too much red. He does still dream of becoming trainer of the year some day, of becoming as well-known as Dundee or Eddie Futch or the other legendary corner men. "That would be nice," he says. "Then I would have done everything."

But he's reasonable. For now, he'd just like you to know him as a man who, once upon a time, was the champion of the world.

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