Posted: 5:38 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, 2012

Dokes left his mark on area fighters



By Tom Archdeacon

Staff Writer

After paying so much early-career dues along the backwaters of boxing – fighting in club shows and smokers in places like Pikeville, Ky., the Holy Cross High School gym in River Grove, Ill., Jenkins, Ky., and the Dayton Gym Club – Tom “Roughhouse” Fischer found himself on the grandest stage in all of boxing.

It was October 2, 1980 and the eyes of an entire sporting world – not to mention dozens of ringside celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings and Arthur Ashe — were on the outdoor ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where the aging Muhammad Ali was about to fight Larry Holmes in a much-debated heavyweight title bout.

On the undercard, Roughhouse – the short, brawling heavyweight from Dayton who had gotten his nickname after a give- no-quarter battering of a 6-foot-10 Minnesota prison guard and boxer two years earlier – was meeting Michael “Dynamite” Dokes, the flamboyant, soon-to-be-champ who sported fur coats, diamonds and a big white Panama hat outside the ring.

Before bouts, he would blow kisses to the women in the crowd, toss them a fistful of roses and then turn and give his opponent a black and blue bouquet.

Coming into the fight with Roughhouse, Dokes had won 147 of 154 amateur bouts and two national titles and was unbeaten in his first 19 pro fights. Along the way he’d fought Ali in a much-publicized exhibition in Miami and afterward The Greatest said Dokes’ hands were the fastest he’d ever faced.

Roughhouse – who had trained while also working full-time as a carpet installer, a job he still does today – had tried to find sparring partners in Cincinnati comparable to Dokes. But once the bout began, he realized how fruitless that effort had been.

“Right off it was like ‘Wow!’ His hand speed was exceptional,” Roughhouse said. “I couldn’t get by him, so I scrapped my plans and went head hunting … and that was a mistake.

“In the second round he caught me with a beautiful left hook and cut my eye. I felt it rip and I went down for the first time. When I got back to my corner, I said, ‘How is it? Is it bad?’ And I could tell by their faces. Those guys couldn’t lie. I knew then: ‘I’m in trouble.’

“Pretty soon I was just following his gloves around with my face. He dropped me a lot of times and the ref kept saying, ‘Stay down, Tom.’ But I kept getting up. I was like a white yoyo – just up and down. Finally, they stopped it in the seventh.

“I had thought I could win, but Dokes really busted my bubble. He gave me a severe blow to my ego.”

And then something totally unexpected happened.

Dokes contacted him. He claimed he wanted a sparring partner, but as it turned out, he wanted a confidante.

After paying so much early-career dues along the backwaters of boxing – fighting in club shows and smokers in places like Pikeville, Ky., the Holy Cross High gym in River Grove, Ill., Jenkins, Ky. and the Dayton Gym Club – Tom “Roughhouse” Fischer found himself on the grandest stage in all of boxing.

It was October 2, 1980 and the eyes of an entire sporting world – not to mention dozens of ringside celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings and Arthur Ashe — were on the outdoor ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where the aging Muhammad Ali was about to fight Larry Holmes in a much-debated heavyweight title bout.

On the undercard, Roughhouse – the short, brawling heavyweight from Dayton who had gotten his nickname after a give- no-quarter battering of a 6-foot-10 Minnesota prison guard and boxer two years earlier – was meeting Michael “Dynamite” Dokes, the flamboyant, soon-to-be-champ who sported fur coats, diamonds and a big white Panama hat outside the ring.

Before bouts, he would blow kisses to the women in the crowd, toss them a fistful of roses and then turn and give his opponent a black and blue bouquet.

Coming into the fight with Roughhouse, Dokes had won 147 of 154 amateur bouts and two national titles and was unbeaten in his first 19 pro fights. Along the way he’d fought Ali in a much-publicized exhibition in Miami and afterward The Greatest said that Dokes’ hands were the fastest he’d ever faced.

Roughhouse – who had trained while also working full-time as a carpet installer, a job he still does today – had tried to find sparring partners in Cincinnati who were comparable to Dokes. But once the bout began, he realized how fruitless that effort had been.

“Right off it was like ‘Wow! His hand speed was exceptional,” Roughhouse said. “I couldn’t get by him, so I scrapped my plans and went head hunting…and that was a mistake.

“In the second round he caught me with a beautiful left hook and cut my eye. I felt it rip and I went down for the first time. When I got back to my corner, I said, ‘How is it? Is it bad?’ And I could tell by their faces. Those guys couldn’t lie. I knew then: ‘I’m in trouble.’

“Pretty soon I was just following his gloves around with my face. He dropped me a lot of times and the ref kept saying, ‘Stay down, Tom.’ But I kept getting up. I was like a white yo-yo – just up and down. Finally, they stopped it in the seventh.

“I had thought I could win, but Dokes really busted my bubble. He gave me a severe blow to my ego.”

And then something totally unexpected happened.

Dokes contacted him. He claimed he wanted a sparring partner, but as it turned out, he wanted a confidante.

Meeting his match

Fifteen years later, Rocky Phillips, another compact Dayton heavyweight, met Dokes in the ring. As with Roughhouse, the bout would end up being a defining fight in his career.

Certainly, though, Rocky didn’t meet the same Dokes that Fischer did. By then, Dynamite had lost a lot of his pop and picked up some pounds. Lots of pounds.

When he weighed in for the fight at Peel’s Palace in Erlanger Ky., he tipped the scales at 282 and would have come in over 300 had rapscallion promoter Don Elbaum not gotten a finger under the weight bar.

Although Dokes had an impressive 53-5-2 record, alcohol and drug addiction had taken a toll.

In the second round, Rocky followed up a jab and a right hand with a twisting left hook that sent Dokes staggering along the ropes toward his corner. His jaw was broken.

Although Rocky would call it the greatest victory of his career, he went to the hospital afterward and apologized to Dokes, whom he said told him, “No, Rocky, I would have done the same if I could have … But I couldn’t.’ ”

Heartfelt memories

Rocky and Roughhouse have both been thinking a lot about Dokes the past few days.

The former heavyweight champ is being buried today in his hometown of Akron. He died last Saturday from liver cancer. He was 54.

Rocky talked about how “sad” he felt when he heard Dokes had died and Roughhouse felt the same:

“When I heard, it went right to my heart. Not like I lost a brother or a parent, but it hit me a whole lot harder than I figured.”

Sherrie Fischer said even though her husband had fought plenty of other name boxers – his 34-11 career would include bouts against Leon Spinks, Quick Tillis, Jimmy Young, Ron Stander and Marvis Frazier – he thinks she knows why Dokes struck such a chord:

“Over the years that’s the one fight everyone keeps bringing up. People see the scar over his eye and ask how he got it. They ask when it happened and as soon as he tells them it was on the Muhammad Ali card, they want to know everything about it.”

He tells them how it was 114 degrees when he crawled into that makeshift ring that sat atop that parking lot in the desert and was surrounded by nearly 25,000 fans.

He tells about getting nothing but a couple of butterfly stitches afterward to hold his eye together and how, as he stood in a line of boxers and celebrities greeting Ali, he finally paid attention to the small guy next to him and realized it was actor Dustin Hoffman.

Although he has a lot of memories, there is one thing that didn’t come from that encounter. That scar outside his left eye — unlike the one on the right brow — has nothing to do with Dokes.

“That goes back to my days at Ascension grade school,” Roughhouse said with a laugh. “I was maybe fifth or sixth grade and I kept pestering this girl all the time. Finally she had enough and she swung her metal lunch box around one day. Cut me good right there. I had it coming.

“Right then I learned, ‘Don’t mess with them women.’ ”

Lost title fight

Not long after being demoralized by Dokes, Roughhouse said he was “”shocked” to get a call from the unbeaten heavyweight who wanted help preparing for upcoming fights against George Chaplin and Lynn “Bullet” Ball.

“He had laid such a butt whipping on me, I wondered why he wanted me,” Roughhouse said. “But once I got there and was able to settle in and fight the way I should, we had good sparring sessions. And finally one day when everyone else had left the gym, he sat down with me and let his guard down.

“He said, ‘Tom, how am I doing?’ I was stunned, but the more we talked the more I realized he wasn’t looking for boxing pointers, he just wanted someone to talk to him and tell him he was okay.”

Later that year – in December 1982 – Dokes needed just 63 seconds of the first round to land 27 unanswered punches and stop Mike Weaver to claim the WBA heavyweight crown. But just nine months later – after claiming to have done cocaine less than 36 hours before the bout — he lost the title to Gerrie Coetzee in a fight in Cleveland.

The self-destruction continued after that, although his fistic skills sometimes lifted him above that as was evidenced in his 1989, toe-to-toe, 10-round loss to Evander Holyfield, a fight Ring magazine voted the best heavyweight bout of the decade.

But Dokes also suffered stunning beatdowns at the hands of Razor Ruddock in 1990 and Riddick Bowe in 1993. Finally, a few months after losing to Rocky, Dokes – high on alcohol and coke – violently assaulted his longtime girlfriend in Las Vegas and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Released after serving eight years and, by some accounts, having begun to turn his life around, he lived briefly in Las Vegas again, then returned to Ohio. His brother Kevin lives in Dayton and most of the rest of his family is in Akron, and they helped care for him when he got sick.

Sherrie said she heard he had become a Christian in his final years. That he had made amends. That a lot had changed.

Like Roughhouse and Rocky, I think of that now, too. I interviewed Dokes many times over the years – in Vegas and Miami, Madison Square Garden and Erlanger – and I remember something he said, something he repeated for KO Magazine.

Asked what it had been like when he became heavyweight champ, he said: “I found out once you get past the clouds, you don’t see no angels.”

Maybe that has changed now, too.

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