By Jake Donovan
For years, those attached to the fight game have scoffed at the mainstream perception that boxing is dead.
Perhaps they were speaking in the literal sense.
This weekend saw the untimely passing of yet another notable figure, when Vernon Forrest wound up on the wrong end of a deadly shootout Saturday evening in Atlanta. The former two-division champion and 1992 Olympian was
Sadly, he’s not even the last boxer to die in a July month that has claimed the lives of far too many within the suddenly not-so-sweet science.
No fewer than nine boxers/boxing personalities have moved onto the afterlife this month, including seven inside of a week. Forrest was by far the most notable of the recently deceased, and while there’s never a good reason to overlook the dead, the majority of attention paid to his career was justified.
It doesn’t make the others any less dead.
July 22 saw the passing of Mexican super lightweight Marco Nazareth, whose death stemmed from injuries sustained in a July 18 rematch with Omar Chavez. Their bout came 15 months after the first meeting, when the younger boxing son of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez was given all that he could handle before escaping with a well-earned, if not popular, decision win.
While the two fighters were on separate levels, their direct history gave justification for a rematch. Though the return go wasn’t particularly competitive, at no point did Nazareth show signs a man who was literally having the life beaten out of him. He absorbed several heavy blows at fights end, stopped prior to the end of the fourth.
It would turn out to be the high point of his evening in comparison. He complained of dizziness soon thereafter, at which point he passed out and was taken to a local hospital, where he underwent immediate brain surgery. He was reportedly in stable condition on July 20, but his brain and body ultimately shut down, passing away two days later.
He was 23 years old.
Nazareth’s death was discussed during the “Latin Fury 10” independent pay-per-view telecast on Saturday evening. Announcers Mario Solis and Raul Marquez held a ringside Q&A with Omar’s older brother Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, who was supposed to appear on the card but pulled out due to a reported rib injury. Chavez said that his brother was dealing with it as well as any fighter could, and that everyone was there to support him.
While this was going on, reports were still being sorted out of how a 36-year old promoter in seemingly good health managed to fall asleep on a Friday night yet failed to wake up on Saturday morning.
So went the tale of Octavius James, CEO of One In A Million, Inc., a promotional company that played a big role in keeping alive the club level boxing scene in the Chicagoland area.
Reports have since leaked out of James possibly suffering from hypertension, but his death remains a mystery. What can be stated with greater detail is the class and grace in which he carried himself. There was a personal feel to his club series, which ran through various Northwestern Indiana towns, including his long-running series at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville that almost always played in front of sold-out crowds.
One of his last events included the crowning achievement in the still blossoming career of female lightweight Mary McGee, who defeated Kristy Follmar in front of more than 2,200 fans at the Hammond (IN) Civic Center. Also coming out the OIAM stable are fringe middleweight contenders Michael Walker and Derrick Findley, both of whom have enjoyed airtime on ESPN, HBO PPV and Showtime.
More so than his work as a promoter, James was celebrated as a man who constantly gave back to the community. Rare was a negative word attached to his name, though in terms of what makes boxing headlines, his death had the misfortune of occurring within 24 hours of another one the sport’s good guys in former lineal welterweight king Vernon Forrest.
In addition to all of Forrest’s accolades in and out of the ring, it was the senseless nature of his death that dominated headlines ever since reports came out of his being gunned down Saturday night in Atlanta.
So much that yet another in-ring death managed to fly under the radar.
One night before Forrest went from robbery victim to yet another to fall prey to senseless street violence, a club fighter based out of the Mid-South suffered what proved to be fatal injuries over the course of his four-round slugfest in a club show in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Former two-time Junior Olympic heavyweight champion Francisco “Pancho” Moncivais was barely 21-years old when his pro career began this past April, a 1st round knockout a couple of hours from his hometown of Laurel, MS.
From approximately the same travel distance saw his second pro fight this Friday night, a four-round heavyweight clash with Bobby O’Bannon in Bay St. Louis, MS. A ringside report on Fightnews.com described the fight as the best of the night, with Moncivias scoring an opening round knockdown that began a volley in which both fighters would trade trips to the canvas.
The night ended with O’Bannon rallying back to score a fourth round stoppage, allowing his career to move forward, while Moncivias couldn’t even make it out of the weekend, never mind his 22nd birthday.
Moncivias’ career ends after just two fights, three less than the tally for Mark Leduc, perhaps the least known of the past week’s fallen fighters. Capturing Olympic silver for the Canadian boxing squad in the 1992 Summer Games, Leduc would only amass five fights as a pro before retiring in 1993.
A year later, he would become one of the first known fighters to “come out of the closet,” announcing to the world that he was a homosexual.
The use of past tense is due to his passing away on July 22 after collapsing in a sauna in a Toronto hotel. Reports indicate that Leduc, a film set decorator who volunteered with the Toronto People with AIDS foundation in his spare time, suffered a heat stroke.
He was 47 years old, 10 years younger than the subject of a far more tragic tale.
The incident occurred on Saturday, but went virtually untold before Monday afternoon, when Boxingscene.com Editor-In-Chief Rick Reeno reported the death of former fringe middleweight contender Nicolas Cervera.
The Colombian puncher, who once appeared on HBO, albeit in a losing effort to Jermain Taylor, took his own life this weekend. The end became his final solution in failed efforts to deal with ongoing marital troubles and other personal issues.
His last fight came in an ill-advised but financially motivated comeback in 2005, falling to Librado Andrade in three rounds. The stoppage losses to Andrade and Taylor marked the only times in his 41-fight career in which he failed to either win or hear the final bell. Early exits were usually the result of his own offensive actions, boasting 32 knockouts in 35 wins, against five losses and a draw.
Cervera was 37 years old at the time of his death, 11 years older than countryman William Morelo, who was gunned down Monday in his native Colombia.
Reports from various Colombia media outlets suggest the murder was done execution-style. Two gunmen opened fire as Morelo was entering the Miguel “Happy” Lora gym in the nation’s capital of Monteria. The boxer fled, only for the armed assailants to give chase on a motorcycle, with one of the men shooting Morelo in a nearby alley before fleeing the scene.
Morelo’s death comes two months after his last professional fight, a points loss to Hector Saldivia this past May in Uruguay.
His career record of 26-7-1 (19KO) included several appearances on Boxeo Telemundo, including his near-upset of Americo Santos in 2006. The bout was a back-and-forth thriller that saw Santos busted up and bloodied before rallying back to drop the Colombian in the ninth and eventually stop him with less than 45 seconds to go in the 12th and final round.
The loss came in the midst of a four-fight losing streak, prompting Morelo to take a break before returning in 2008. He avoided the loss column in four straight before dropping a decision to Hector Saldiva in Uruguay in what would ultimately serve as his final bout.
In terms of mainstream news, the old saying of “bad news travels in threes” would’ve had Forrest as the final piece of the puzzle that also included the horrific details surrounding the deaths of Alexis Arguello and Arturo Gatti earlier in the month.
Instead, the bad news travels in droves this month.
As evidenced by what made headlines and what barely received snippets, not all of the deceased were well-known in their own industry, never mind on a national or global scale.
Judging by the reactions of our beloved community, none will be forgotten. Sadly neither will the month of July, which honestly can’t end soon enough.
Rest in peace to all of the aforementioned, and here’s to hoping the month of August provides life after way too much death.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com.