By Michael Marley
Don Thibodeaux looked more like a sideman in rock icon Jimi Hendrix's band than he did a stereotypical boxing cutman.
But Thibodeaux, a 69 year old Roseville, Mich., resident who had a heart attack about a week ago and died Friday (according to the Detroit Free Press), made a solid place for himself in big time boxing.
With his wild mane of red hair and a shaggy beard Thibodeax stood out, especially in the crowd of fighters, managers and trainers at Detroit's legendary Kronk Gym where the vast majority were African American.
A former Golden Glove champ and an art teacher, Thibodeaux was best known as the cutman for Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, working alongside Emmanuel Steward in many fights including Hearns' tough loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981.
Steward told me all his memories of Thibodeaux are good ones.
"One night Tommy got cut by Bruce Curry and it was Don's big chance to work the cut," Steward said. "But Tommy got mad at himself for getting cut and went out and knocked Curry out straightaway.
"Don and I were amateur teammates at the Brewster Center, I weighed 118 and he was 135. To Don, life and everything about it was fun, he was always laughing. Our corner for Tommy was me, Walter Smith, Luther Burgess and Don as the cutman.
"We went to New York for a fight and Don had a truck carrying his seven foot Ali statue around. We tried to put up at Madison Square Garden but the union complained," Steward said.
"Don mixed with all people, he had a black wife and later an Asian one. His two boys tried some boxing. The bumper shop was his business but he really loved boxing."
"Don was unique," boxing photographer and ex-fighter from Ann Arbor Teddy Blackburn said Saturday. "He looked like a hippie but he handled David Braxton, Duane Thomas and Hector Camacho."
According to boxing expert Lindy Lindell who wrote an epic history of boxing in Motown, Thibodeaux also trained and mansged Roger Mayweather but sold it when he had trouble landing him fights.
In the art world, Thibodeaux constructed some amazing sculptures, including a 6-foot, 9-inch one made from car bumpers in honor of Muhammad Ali. He also did a sculpture of Thomas Hearns and of another Detroit native, Brown Bomber Joe Louis.
Thibodeaux made his place in the art world and at Kronk. He took no short cuts in either field.
He will be missed in the Motown and beyond.
Michael Marley is the national boxing examiner for examiner.com. To read more stories by Michael Marley, Click Here.