View Full Version : Randie Carver article
03-28-2011, 03:40 PM
Was reminded of the Carver tragedy in a thread that was in NSB, thought I would share this article I found a while ago on him about his life and rise in the sport.
I was a big fan of him and for me this is probably one of if not the saddest day in boxing, enjoy.
03-28-2011, 03:41 PM
Headstones and markers dot the landscape at Calvary Cemetery in southeast Kansas City. The midday sun shines through oak branches, bright light falling on the area where cemetery records say Randie Carver is buried.
Steven St. John is looking for the unmarked grave of the man whose death changed boxing in Kansas City. St. John paces the grounds at Block 10, Section 38, trying to find his old friend.
The woman behind the desk says he’s out there somewhere.
By the time Carver’s head hit the canvas on Sept. 12, 1999, the ripples had begun to spread. The night was supposed to lead to better things for Carver, who was defending his super middleweight championship at Harrah’s North Kansas City Casino & Hotel. The fight was on national television. If all went right, a fight with superstar Roy Jones Jr. was likely next.
After 10 brutal rounds, Carver collapsed, his brain injured and swollen. Two days later, one of Kansas City’s most gifted and popular boxers was dead at 24.
Boxers die sometimes after fights — a side effect of a sport that thrives on brute strength and violence. There are many requiems written for dead fighters, but few are so poignant as the saga of Randie Carver because on that September day 11 years ago, boxing in Kansas City perished along with him.
“When he went down in the ring, it broke Kansas City’s heart,” says Tony Holden, who was Carver’s promoter. “It broke the spirit of boxing.”
The future looked good for Carver, the rising star in the midst of a strong local boxing scene. For decades, Kansas City had been a great boxing town, with hometown fighters such as Tony Chiaverini in the 1970s and ’80s and Tommy Morrison in the ’90s.
“If you look at boxing’s heyday, it’s all predicated on who’s fighting and if there’s a local star,” longtime fight promoter Joe Kelly says. “Kansas City is what I would call a boxer town, not a boxing town.”
The community fell in love with Carver, and kids idolized him. Then the city lost its rising star, and all that remained was the lingering image of a battered icon being carried from the ring.
Promoters and trainers left town. Local casinos, which as they were growing had leaned on boxing as a major entertainment draw, distanced themselves from the sport. Kids turned to safer activities. Nationwide, marketable fighters aged and mixed martial arts planted seeds that would later become a phenomenon. As boxing struggled through a national decline, one of the sport’s hotbeds was going cold almost overnight.
“It hurt so bad for Kansas City and boxing,” says St. John, who was Carver’s publicist. “When that happened to him, it was like boxing died.”
A man and a kid jog together on a trail in Idaho. They’re on vacation. It’s the late 1980s.
The kid wants to run ahead. Wants to get there faster — wherever “there” is. John Brown tells Carver to go ahead, but not far. Run to the edge of where Brown can see him, then turn back. Carver is barely a teenager.
While Brown is training and grooming Morrison, he’s also Carver’s first full-time boxing coach. But their bond goes deeper. Carver’s family fractured after his father moved to Arkansas when Randie was 8, leaving his mother, Barbara, to care for eight youngsters. Young Randie finds solace in boxing gyms, and Brown learns that the kid is athletic and determined. Brown invites him to spend summers with his family, living at their home and tagging along on vacations.
“He just needed some guidance,” Brown says now.
Brown works Carver hard. He tests the boy’s mind, body and heart. The cheerful, optimistic kid keeps passing Brown’s tests. As usual, he wants to do more.
Carver shares his dreams during those trips, talking about someday being a champion and, later, a coach himself. Brown tells the kid to slow down; he can reach his goals only if his work ethic matches his desire — and if he follows Brown’s coaching precisely.
“The closest I ever had to a son,” Brown says. “We were made for each other.”
Municipal Auditorium is packed, and the buzz is growing. It’s June 15, 1995.
Morrison is fighting Donovan “Razor” Ruddock for the vacant International Boxing Council heavyweight championship. Among the 6,500 spectators in the downtown arena, some wave signs with “TOMMY” printed in block letters. Morrison is from Jay, Okla., but he lives and trains in Kansas City.
Randie Carver is sitting in the stands. He’s a 20-year-old amateur boxer who is studying the sport from all angles. He pesters Holden for an all-access pass so he can attend news conferences and watch from behind the scenes.
He watches as Morrison is knocked down in the first round — only to rally in the sixth for a technical knockout. The crowd roars and celebrates that a hometown boy has won a championship in the heart of Kansas City.
As memorable as the fight is, Carver sees something else that night: a city in the heartland establishing itself as one of the sport’s great breeding grounds.
“There was such a frenzy over boxing in that market,” Holden says. “They couldn’t get enough.”
Carver is the total package. Fast, strong and ambitious. And he has charisma, that extra ingredient that makes a superstar.
He’s a Kansas City kid, raised on tough backstreets near 31st Street and Lister Avenue. Of Barbara Carver’s children, only Randie avoids the temptations of the streets. Some are involved in neighborhood fights. Others are into drag racing. A stepbrother, Charles Taylor, is shot to death. When things are at their bleakest, the family turns to Randie. He’s the one who, at least in his mother’s eyes, can do no wrong.
“All her life,” says James Carver, an older brother, “that’s what she wanted him to do: to make it and do something positive.”
Carver’s optimism is infectious. He’s going to do something with his life, and he invites everyone in Kansas City to come along.
“When he got in front of a crowd, he stole them,” Holden says. “If somebody wanted to come out and talk to him, he’d be out there until the line quit.
“It was just a whole different relationship that Randie had with the city. Tommy was pure athletic. Randie was pure hometown boy.”
Boxing is growing, too. There are dozens of fights each year, and boxers represent many of Kansas City’s neighborhoods. Craig Cummings from Columbus Park. Jesse Aquino from westside south. Carver from Westport. Kids look to those fighters, who chose boxing over drugs and violence, and see a path they can follow.
The better Carver becomes, the more Brown makes him work. It’s paying off: Carver wins a national Golden Gloves championship, one of two national amateur titles.
Brown has Carver awaken at 6:30 a.m. to run six miles. At 9, he clocks in at Ringside, Brown’s boxing equipment warehouse, then spends lunch in the weight room. He finishes his shift in the customer service department — Brown says now that it would’ve been a mistake to hide someone so effervescent in the stock rooms — and heads to the gym to work on fundamentals.
For years, Carver does what his coach asks. But as Carver’s reputation grows, Brown says, outsiders begin telling Carver that Brown is too demanding. That Carver is being held back. It leads to doubts and arguments.
“Stuff happens in families,” Brown says now.
Later, Carver sits in Brown’s office and says he intends to turn pro. Morrison’s rise has been derailed after an HIV diagnosis, and Kansas City needs a new kind of star. It’s 1996. Carver is 21.
Brown has coached hundreds of fighters, recommending professional boxing for only a few. He tells Carver it’s too early; his body and mind aren’t ready. Besides, they have a deal: Do it Brown’s way or do it alone.
“It’s not something you do pretty close or almost,” Brown says. “The consequences could be dire.”
Carver erupts, telling his coach that his demands are unrealistic. He says he’s turning pro anyway. Carver wants to run ahead of his coach again, as he once did on those trails in Idaho.
Fine, Brown tells him. But this time, don’t bother running back.
03-28-2011, 03:41 PM
Carver and St. John sit together one night, watching as a one-sided match turns ugly. St. John, who is Carver’s media liaison, grimaces. He tells Carver that if he is ever beaten like this, he’ll throw in the towel.
Hearing his friend’s words, Carver recoils.
“He got real serious,” St. John says. “He said: ‘You’d better never throw a towel. I’d rather die in the ring.’ ”
Carver wins his first 19 pro fights before beating William Bo James in May 1999 for the North American Boxing Federation’s super middleweight championship. He fights two more times in three months and agrees to another match in September in Kansas City, against a brawler named Kabary Salem.
Two weeks before the Salem fight, Carver is in California to watch a boxing tournament, and he hears a familiar voice. It’s John Brown. Years have passed since their split. The two men shake hands, and Brown tells his former protégé that he’s doing well.
Then Brown notices that Carver looks heavy. He weighs 181 pounds, 13 pounds above his fighting weight. No problem, Carver tells his old coach, he’ll lose the weight in time.
Sure enough, he weighs in at 167 pounds. But others think Carver looks worn down. His marathon fighting schedule — the Salem fight was his sixth match in nine months — has taken a toll. Some advise Carver to skip it. But he can’t, especially in a nationally televised title defense. Not when he’s so close.
Carver has inspired a new generation of youngsters. Just as Chiaverini and Morrison stirred something in him, now he’s doing the same for young men such as Olijuwan Jones, whom Carver invites to sit ringside as he fights Salem.
So many years later, Jones can see the fight in his mind.
Carver looks tired. Everyone thinks that. Then Salem head-butts Carver in the first round. Jones hears the sound it made. The referee, Ross Strada, issues a warning to Salem’s corner.
“The damage was already done,” Jones says now.
The fight continues. But Strada can tell something is different about Carver, a friend who sometimes spends hours in Strada’s Kansas City pizzeria.
“He just didn’t look right,” he says.
Jones will say that Carver’s punches lack their usual bite. He seems to be in a fog. Strada says he consulted Carver’s corner after the eighth and ninth rounds, asking if he should stop the fight.
“We’re fine,” Strada remembers Carver’s manager, George Smith, telling him. “All he had to say was, ‘No, we’re done.’ ”
Smith will say that there are no indications Carver is injured, and Carver is winning on the judges’ scorecards.
“Absolutely no idea,” Smith says now. “How do you stop the fight when you’re winning?”
Salem keeps head-butting Carver, and some will say that Strada ignores the infractions. Others suggest Strada doesn’t end the fight because, like others close to Carver, he can’t bear to give up on him.
As the 10th round begins, a cloud of concern has gathered. Carver begins to wobble. He falls and struggles to reach his knees. He tries to stand three more times before Strada ends the fight.
Carver’s team rushes the ring. Holden will say that when he reaches Carver, his lips are moving. He believes Carver is trying to apologize for letting everyone down.
As Carver’s family waits two days at North Kansas City Hospital, the community absorbs the news that a much-admired fighter is dying.
On Sept. 14, 1999, a doctor tells the family that Carver is brain dead. They’re advised to take him off life support. An hour later, Randie Carver is gone.
“My life changed forever,” says Fannie Carver, one of Randie’s sisters. “My family changed, too. Randie was like the glue that held us together.”
Kansas Citians look for someone to blame. Was Salem a dirty fighter? Did Strada ignore signs that Carver was injured? Salem wasn’t suspended, and Strada wasn’t sanctioned. Strada, Smith and ringside doctor Michael Poppa are among those named in a lawsuit that is later settled with the family.
“I didn’t let it happen,” Strada says. “It just happened. It was boxing.”
Some believe Carver pushed himself too hard and wasn’t in proper condition. Smith disputes that notion. Others think one bad night turned devastating. Brown says he thinks that Carver didn’t train adequately and that his rapid weight loss might have dehydrated him, leaving his brain susceptible to injuries.
“The perfect storm,” Brown says.
To Brown, Carver’s death feels like losing a child. Holden, the promoter, finds he can’t watch a fight without screaming for it to be stopped at the first sign of danger. Smith, Carver’s trainer, never manages another fighter. Poppa stops overseeing boxing matches. Strada never referees another fight.
Even Salem, who retires in 2005, loses his love for the sport.
“That kind of thing kind of hurts my heart,” says Salem, now a construction worker in New York. “I hate boxing; I’ll be honest.”
The images of Carver’s injuries still fresh, a generation of kids is forbidden to box. Fannie Carver will say that her son and Randie’s young nephew, Chuan, played many sports — but boxing is out. James Carver named his son Randie, but that’s as close as the 7-year-old will get to following in his uncle’s footsteps.
The anxiety isn’t limited to Carver’s family. In 1999, there are 41 pro boxing events in Missouri; a year later, there are 27. The sport continues its decline; there are 22 shows in 2008 and 23 in ’09.
Ken Gray is the Kansas City representative for Golden Gloves. He says there were 25 to 30 boxing gyms in the metro area in the early to mid 1990s. Now, he estimates, there are about half as many.
“People still have a bad taste in their mouths,” says Kelly, the fight promoter. “Boxing fans had hooked their wagon to Randie. Then that happens and you don’t want to be around it.”
Even the casinos back away. In a city that once had its pick of major shows, casinos either discontinue or reduce the number of boxing events.
“That incident was kind of the determining factor,” says Katie Knox, the advertising manager at Harrah’s. “A horrible incident that we just didn’t want to be associated with anymore.”
A door opens, and the sound is unmistakable. Boxing gloves pounding leather bags and punch mitts, shoes sliding across canvas. A buzzer keeps time inside the Turner Golden Gloves Boxing Club in Kansas City, Kan.
Turner is an uncommon sight: a crowded, local boxing gym. The gym’s core represents the faint heartbeat of Kansas City boxing. Jeremiah Graziano and Lenroy Thompson are Brown’s top prospects, but neither was born here. Most of these youngsters haven’t heard of Randie Carver.
“I just heard he died,” says Arrias Dawkins, 20. “That’s all I really know.”
These days, Carver is a cautionary tale that Brown shares often: train hard, be smart and listen to your coaches — or you might wind up like another boxer with so much potential.
For years, Brown kept an oversized photo of Carver in his office at Ringside: Brown, his daughter Mary Beth and Randie, smiling together. When Brown listened to restless boxers who thought they knew a better way, he’d point to the picture. That kid thought he knew everything, too, Brown would say, and it usually ended the argument. Carver used to be the fighter every Kansas City kid wanted to be. Now he’s what none of them wants to be.
At Turner Boxing Club, a 25-year-old boxer is punching a heavy bag. The national Golden Gloves tournament is approaching, and Olijuwan Jones wants to be ready. Jones does remember Carver, and he knows this is how Carver did it.
Jones says the sport is different now. When Chiaverini was finished, Morrison was there, and when Morrison was finished, Carver was there. But after Carver’s death, no one emerged. There wasn’t the same drive for greatness, and boxers couldn’t ignore the threat of injuries the way they once had.
It doesn’t help that mixed martial arts’ popularity has surged, hastening boxing’s nationwide decline. Kelly now promotes more MMA events than boxing shows, and an MMA event drew a large crowd last month to the Power & Light District. If a perfect storm killed Randie Carver, a similar one delivered a fatal blow to Kansas City boxing.
Jones says his own career suffered because a city that once had world-class trainers, promoters and competition has become a boxing ghost town.
“They used to call me the future Randie,” he says during a break. “He showed me how to be a man. To lose that…”
Jones pauses and shakes his head.
“But the show must go on,” he says, and when the buzzer sounds, Jones raises his gloves and gets back to work.
St. John walks through Calvary Cemetery with his head lowered, trying to find Carver’s grave. The terrain is seamless, keeping the secret that a Kansas City boxing icon is buried here.
Carver’s family never added a grave marker. His mother, Barbara, thought it would add another layer of finality, confirm that her boy was really gone. So a marker won’t be erected until after her death. She bought all 12 spots in this section. She wants the family to someday be together again.
St. John stops and crosses his arms. He worries that Carver is being forgotten. St. John is quiet for a long time.
“You don’t have to come out here to remember Randie,” he says. “There are plenty of other ways. Every time I see a kid with headgear on, I think of him.
“This is the worst part of these last 10 years: What would he have become? Where would boxing have taken Randie? Where would he have taken Kansas City?”
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
05-01-2013, 07:52 PM
From the words of a British rock group in the lyrics of a song:
"Some days last a 1,000 years, and others flash past like a flash of a spark"
As we look back and remember the story of a "Kansas City Star". It has been nearly 14 years, and like a big gray rain cloud, the sorrow and despair remain in the air concerning
the loss of the one they called Randie Carver, a National Golden Gloves champion from 1995
and a promising boxer with an undefeated pro record until that tragic moment in 1999. But,
alas, the sadness remains. Now is the time to blow those symbolic clouds away
and remember the bright golden star known as Randie Carver beyond tomorrow.
05-02-2013, 08:04 AM
Read this with gentle rain outside. That was a mistake.
That was a great article. Very well written.
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