The recent passing of former Lightweight Champion of the World Edwin Valero was shocking news in itself, but the horrific circumstances surrounding his death along with the brutal murder of his wife was even worse. Sadly, this is just the latest in a long infamous line of tragedies that have befallen some of boxing's greatest champions and brightest stars. I've often wondered if boxing had an ominous cloud hanging over it because of such a shallow past of events; if there was an underlying curse that surrounded it. This most recent occurrence made me start to believe that it is more than just a thought. Let's take a look back at just some of the most notable and you decide for yourself.
In the storied history of Mexican fighters and champions, none may be greater than former featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez (pictured above). With a career record that stands at 44-1-1, one would assume he had a long and prosperous career. Unfortunately, he only began to scratch the surface of his incredible talent when tragedy struck this great champion. In 1980, at only 19 years of age, he won the featherweight title by defeating another great Mexican fighter Danny 'Little Red' Lopez. Over the next year and a half, he would go on to defend the title against some of the most legendary names of the sport and best fighters of the era, such as Juan Laporte, Azumah Nelson and an all-time classic battle against former Jr. Featherweight Champion Wilfredo 'Bazooka' Gomez. Being 18 at the time and extremely proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, I cried on August 21, 1981 when Sanchez stopped Gomez. Little did I know that a year later, almost to the day, I would cry again; only this time it was for Sanchez. On August 12, 1982, Sanchez died instantly when he crashed his Porsche sports car along a federal highway in Mexico. He was only 23 years of age.
Deaths in the ring are an unfortunate reality of the sport. When one enters the squared circle, they do so knowing that one punch alone, let alone an accumulation could be fatal. This is nothing new as back in March, 1962 Benny 'Kid' Paret, former Welterweight Champion, died after a devastating onslaught from Emile Griffith. Exactly one year later, Featherweight Champion Davey Moore, after a title bout against Sugar Ramos, collapsed in his dressing room after the fight and died several hours later. In 1982, the whole world witnessed on national television the brutal back and forth battle between former Lightweight Champion Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini and Korean contender Duk Koo Kim, which would ultimately cost Kim his life at the end. However, no one could have anticipated what would happen on February 25, 1995 when then Middleweight Champion Gerald McClellan stepped up in weight to challenge Super Middleweight Champion Nigel Benn. After an exciting, yet punishing fight, McClellan dropped to his knee twice in the tenth round, eventually being counted out. After walking back to his corner, he collapsed into consciousness a short time later, never to be the same person, let alone fighter, ever again. While he did not ultimately die of his injuries, the person known as Gerald McClellan died. He suffered extensive brain damage that left him blind, deaf and unable to fend for himself without the care of his family.
In 1983, after compiling a record of 22-0 and with a title fight looming against Jr. Middleweight Champion Davey Moore, no relation to the aforementioned namesake above, Tony 'The Baby Bull' Ayala, threw it all away at the age of 19 when he broke into his neighbor's home and sexually assaulted her. Because he had two prior incidents for similar type behavior, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Miraculously, after 16 years he was given parole and resumed his boxing career. However, after winning six high profile fights, all by knockout, he injured his hand in his next fight, ending his comeback bid and eventually his freedom. After more run-ins with the law, including a charge in 2003 of having sex with a 13 year old girl, he was finally busted for good in 2004 for speeding and having drugs in his possession. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. Oddly enough, the Davey Moore he never got to fight would also meet a strange and tragic ending. In 1988 upon leaving his home one morning, Moore would step out of his car to open the garage door and the car rolled backwards, pinning Moore against the garage door. He died at the scene.
Regarding troubles with the law, there are many, here are but a few of the more serious. After winning a world title in 1988, Michael 'Second to' Nunn was sentenced to 24 years behind bars at the beginning of the millennium for cocaine possession with intent to deliver. In 2001, former heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi pleaded guilty to battery with intent to commit a crime and attempted sexual assault against a lap dancer regarding an incident in his hotel room. In 2004, former USBA Super Middleweight Champion James 'The Harlem Hammer' Butler was convicted of murder after beating to death his friend Sam Kellerman, younger brother of noted boxing analyst Max Kellerman, with a hammer, then setting the body and his apartment on fire in an attempted cover-up. In 2006, former heavyweight champion, Trevor Berbick was beaten to death with a two-inch thick steel pipe by two assailants at a church in his native Jamaica. One of the two murderers just happened to be Berbick's 20 year old nephew.
Finally, last summer in a span of only one month, former champions Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti and Vernon Forrest all suffered mysterious and violent deaths. Forrest was still active in his career and had recently regained his Jr. Middleweight title, which he had lost the summer before. Their deaths along with the latest incident concerning Valero and the various tragedies mentioned above are sadly, but only a few of the many that surround the sport of boxing and its participants. This sport, for all its glory, is dangerous enough without one having to worry if there is a dark cloud with an underlying curse that hangs over it.