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Hard, Dangerous Men
My Quest to Meet Baltimore’s Best Street Boxers


I suppose, in the back of it all, was my desire to connect with my uncle, who I had never met, only heard stories about, who had gone the distance with Ray Robinson. I went into it with my grandfather in mind, his view of boxing, that it was an art that tested and forged you and that some men took it into their working life, men that owned bars, worked doors and otherwise had to impose their will on stupid people.

The Police Athletic League

Boxing was something I was involved in, but not for competition. I trained at the Loch Raven Optimist Club when it was under the bingo hall and also trained at the Police Athletic League from age 13 on. I loved boxing and followed the history of boxing. But I was looking more at it for fitness and achieving my goals, namely Beating the shit out of people that gave me a hard time. Officer Dixon was the coach at the Police Athletic League where Taylor runs into Belair Road. It was something he donated his time to—they had basketball, baseball, karate, pool tables. If he had anybody with a lot of talent that wanted to go to the next level he knew where to take them. I thought he was a great guy, an older black guy, in his late forties, thin built, middleweight. He stressed keeping your chin down and hands up—protect yourself at all times and not just in the boxing ring.

The Harbor Run

I’m not sure why, it just seemed like the thing to do. I used to run the track at Harford Academy and Northern High School. Then I figured out it was six miles from my house to the Harbor. This was in the morning on the weekends and began when I was still in school and continued through this period. I would run down from Morgan State on Perring Parkway to Franklin and Harford down to the Inner Harbor. Once I got to the harbor I would get a warm water. My grandfather had told me a boxer shouldn’t drink cold water. I would get a hot dog and sit on the harbor edge on the water and eat a hotdog and then jog back. I would try to keep about ten minutes a mile. But with traffic and waiting at lights it would stretch out further. I did it quite a few times, never had any Dindu issues—of course this was early in the morning. Two six mile runs and hour-twenty one way.

I used to see the Running man, the skinny Jamaican guy with dreadlocks running, that’s all he did was run a round. I saw him many times while driving.

This man, in his sixties now, was famous in Baltimore through the 80s, 90s and early 2000s as he was seen by so many motorists doing his extreme jogging. He was the subject of a newspaper article and at least one news broadcast. He was very low key, did not compete and ate a jar of honey a day for energy. Since the Purge of April 2015 he has been beaten by a mob of feral hoodrats. It is not known if he still hazards the run.

Jake Smith and Baltimore Boxing

I was 18-19, when I went down to the Baltimore boxing club. He [Jake “The Snake” Smith] was already on Broadway. I liked it, it was a real boxing gym. I didn’t learn a whole lot there. I basically went in and sparred—got beat up. [In the author’s first book he counseled against this and cited this very gym as an example of a gym that would just throw you in the ring and see if you sank or swam] That’s basically what happened and I loved it. I didn’t need self-defense, I needed discipline. Getting punched in the face does that—went downs several times. One time it was a heavyweight the rest of the times it was welters and middles. The little guys—mentally, were worse sparring. The bigger guy hits harder but the little guy hurts your pride with the frustration of getting to him. It was fun—I don’t remember seeing Jake too much.

Jewel Box Joe

He was a guy I went out of my way to meet. I had heard from a few different people about him. [This fellow advised the author on his coaching of Dante as he stood in front of the strip club on Baltimore Street in 1995.] I just went down there and met him, he was someone I instantly liked and respected when I met him. I just had to go meet this guy. I went down the Jewel Box on the Block—East Baltimore Street—I went in and I walked past him at the door. I knew it was him—he fit the picture. I asked about him and we started talking about boxing. He told me about the old boxing gym above the Jewel Box. Ely Hanover [May have name wrong] back in the 50s, to early 70s ran the Jewel Box boxing club and he told me about the fighting Sherriff, Lou Benson, has a lot of cool stories. I didn’t ask him about the shooting and stabbing and all the dindus who he knocked out working the door on the Block. We talked boxing. He was definitely somebody I would not want to cross on the street—a very interesting guy. He was a stocky guy, weathered face, he wore a jewel on a chain on his chest [The author recalls it being a heart-shaped box.] He has a head like a dinner bell—a tough looking face and head, looked like a tough Pollack. I went in there twice to speak with him—kind of hard to remember exactly when—there were a lot of distractions.

A coincidence here is a guy who I worked with later on, his brother, owned the Jewel Box and also owned Charlie Brown’s and had the fights there.

Lou Benson, The Fighting Sheriff

I heard about Lou—a little bit of a character—a heavyweight in the 70s who they called “The Fighting Sheriff.” He actually lost his job as a sheriff after shooting someone to death, did a little time, whatever and owned the Dew Drop Inn up Philadelphia Road in White Marsh, up there by the Big Falls and Rustic Inns. I tracked him down. I went in there a couple times, would stop in from time to time and he was counting money behind the bar. Is said, “Are you the fighting sheriff?” and he said, ‘Yeah.” He told me about his last fight—or next to last—when he went to Europe and lost. He was a good guy with good stories about the fight game. I let the prison stuff lie—not of my business. He was in his mid to late 50s, a big imposing man, a heavyweight with big hands. Looked like he could have knocked somebody out pretty easily. He had some ham hocks [hands] on him. I was 21-22 by the time I met him. I’m six-three, 220 about that time.

Ronnie, Lou & Charlie Brown’s

My uncle tended bar at Brennan’s and he told me about him [Ronnie] and I went in and met him. He was fighting in those bouts down at Charlie Browns. Apparently my uncle had had some problems with patrons at Brennan’s—Timmy’s bar, before he passed away in the early 2000s and Ronnie helped him out. I met him, sat in there and drank with him a few times. He was a good, hard-working man, he ran a home improvement business. He was a tough-looking, stocky guy, probably a cruiserweight guy. We spoke about what he did at Charlie Browns, saying yeah, he fights down there.

Other people told me he was beating the hell out of people down with boxing gloves on—not exactly boxing, but with boxing gloves on. The owner of Charlie Brown’s, Lou [not Lou Benson, another guy], used to put the gloves on with patrons. He used to train with Jewel Box Joe and those guys down there, sold the Jewel Box—his dad had left it to him, I think—and bought Charlie Brown’s. He was beating the hell out of bear bellied drunks, eventually they brought the kid in who beat him [A tall blonde heavyweight trained by Tom Clark, who the author attended a Jeet Kune Do seminar with, a solid, humble fellow a little older than Ron]. They had a good time, made him smile, everybody’s got to have a hobby. But it degenerated from there and it got out of hand, then it was random people putting on gloves and throwing haymakers and the cops shut it down. It was cool and turned into a circus.

The Punishing Art

https://www.amazon.com/Punishing-Art-Boxing-Ring-Survival/dp/1533592861/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1466882016&sr=1-1&keywords=james+lafond

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