Former boxing champ Rocky
Lockridge is homeless in Camden
by Todd Schmerler for The Star-Ledger
Sunday June 28, 2009
Rocky Lockridge sits high on a stoop,
giving himself a lofty view of the intersection of 7th
Street and Chestnut in Camden.
There's a convenience store on the corner, but it's not
drawing as much interest as the woman openly dealing drugs,
shouting, "Five dollars, five dollars," to anyone who
In the midst of it all, a brown sedan
stops, the car idling in the middle of the street. A
middle-age man gets out and quick-steps to the top of the
stoop to greet Lockridge with a fist bump and a quick
man-hug. After a few quiet words, he gets back into the car
and drives off.
Others take turns approaching Lockridge to exchange
pleasantries. One is a 20-something girl named Laquicha
Smith, who seems excited to tell an outsider about the
special man sitting on the cement steps.
"That's Rocky. He's the champ," she says. "He's still got
The Champ looks out across the familiar street corner, his
head held high. But his face is swollen by scar tissue
around the eyes and more than one tooth is missing. A silver
metal four-prong walking cane he now needs to walk is
balanced across his knees.
His fingers tremble as he lifts a cigarette to his lips and
his voice is raspy and hard to make out.
"Everybody kisses me, calls out, 'Champ, Champ, Champ,' "
Lockridge says. "I get joy being around them because they're
going through the struggle, same as me."
The struggle is living on the streets of Camden, where
Lockridge has been for more than 10 years. It has been a
long way to fall for a two-time world boxing champion.
Lockridge, who climbed the rankings while fighting out of
Ice World in Totowa from 1978-81, has no money. His body
tilts to one side when he walks, the result of a stroke he
says he suffered three years ago. His scraggly, graying
beard makes him seem far older than 50, the age he reached
on Jan. 30.
He admits he has a more than two-decades-old drug problem --
"I do quite a bit of drinkin' and druggin'," he says -- and
that he's been estranged from his ex-wife and kids for
nearly that long.
won't take all the blame for his predicament. He blames the
boxing industry for much of it.
"I'm bitter. I'm very bitter," he says, the words coming out
slowly and unsteadily. "I made some mistakes, a whole lot of
mistakes, but they were beyond my imagination. The blow that
was put upon me was harder to take than the blows, or any
blow, for that matter, that I received in the fight game."
It didn't have to be like
this for Lockridge.
A former world champion suffering financial difficulties is
hardly shocking, considering the history of boxing, lack of
formal education of most fighters and the absence of a
pension or retirement plan from any of the sport's governing
Lockridge was different.
Particularly bright, articulate and good looking, Lockridge
was a natural in front of the cameras and seemed to enjoy
his time in the spotlight. After relocating from Tacoma,
Wash., at the age of 19 in 1978, Lockridge lived in Paterson
as he came up through the ranks, fighting for Main Events,
an enterprise of the Duva family, with his early fights at
Ice World, a cavernous converted skating rink in Totowa.
Lockridge was the rare fighter who considered a post-boxing
career. He looked studious, wearing wide, horn-rimmed
glasses, and took classes in business at William Paterson
University in Wayne for two years.
Kathy Duva, now the CEO and then the publicist for Main
Events, remembers Lockridge being different.
"Rocky was always a low-key person with an easygoing
personality," she says. "He was quiet, articulate, a
After two unsuccessful attempts to win a featherweight title
in the early '80s, Lockridge moved up to super featherweight
and the extra five pounds suited him. He won a couple of big
fights and then knocked out Roger Mayweather -- the uncle
and trainer of current superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- in
the first round to win the WBA title on Feb. 26, 1984.
The Mayweather fight, a one-punch
knockout, lasted only 91 seconds and launched him to a new
level in boxing circles. Lockridge was 25 with a record of
He and his wife, Carolyn, took his
winnings and moved from Paterson to Mount Laurel, a tony
suburb of Philadelphia in South Jersey. Carolyn gave birth
to twins Ricky and Lamar on August 23, 1984.
The future was bright.
Boxing careers usually
are short. So when Lockridge lost his title to Wilfredo
Gomez in 1985, then lost a year later to Julio Cesar Chavez,
no one would have been surprised if Lockridge had reached
He won his next two fights and earned another title shot,
stopping Barry Michael after eight rounds in England in 1987
to win the IBF super featherweight title.
A year later he lost his title in a unanimous decision to
Tony Lopez in a brutal 12-round bout that was named 1988
Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. He would lose the
equally bloody rematch a year later, then retire after one
last victory in 1989.
As bad as his beatings were in the ring, the abuse he put
his body through when he was out of it may have been worse.
After each fight, Lockridge says he would party "two
weekends." He snorted cocaine and abused alcohol, drinking
"whatever was around," he says.
When he needed money, he says he would ask the Duvas for it
and they would always give it to him. Now, he says they
shouldn't have been so forthcoming.
"Not only was I not in control financially, but it really
didn't matter to me at the time," he said. "I wanted the
best for myself and my loved ones. There was never any
resistance in terms of saying, 'Champ, you're out of order
with the financial thing.' It is what it is. It is what it
Lockridge says he was "raped financially," but there's no
evidence of that. Kathy Duva said Lockridge made money, but
not the kind one could expect to live on forever. Even
Lockridge admits his biggest payday came from the fight with
Chavez, and that was only $200,000, he estimates.
"He had a family, children, divorce, he bought a house,"
Kathy Duva says. "The money goes away. People who abuse
drugs end up in desperate straits frequently. That's a
shame, but it's a choice they make."
After 2 1/2 years out of the ring, Lockridge attempted an
ill-fated comeback at age 33 under new management based in
The comeback lasted just two fights -- both losses.
His final record: 44 wins, 36 knockouts, 9 losses and $0 in
Carolyn and their two boys had moved back to Tacoma
a year and a half after Lockridge's original retirement, in
1991, but the family didn't stay together for long.
Rocky and Carolyn split up shortly
thereafter -- partially, Lockridge says, due to the stress
of being broke and partially because he didn't know what to
do without boxing. Drug addiction, Lockridge admits, may
have played a part, too. Carolyn Lockridge could not be
reached for comment.
In 1993, at age 34, Lockridge moved back to Camden. Alone.
"I could not handle not being involved in the fight game,
not being a fighter or even partaking in the fight game as a
trainer and/or manager," he says. "My wife, Carolyn, we both
were somewhat slapped in the face and she realized Rocky
couldn't handle the blow, what is he going to do? I just
didn't know how to handle that. Her and I both began to see
that we weren't going to be the team that we at one time had
been -- inseparable."
Lockridge took a job working for William Jones & Son, Inc.
in Camden, a drum and barrel company on Liberty Street,
where he cleaned and painted barrels for $8 per hour
starting in January 1994.
Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for burglary -- the
first time -- but was sentenced to five years probation,
according to court records. Three years later, he was
arrested for burglary again, this time serving 27 months
before being released in July of 1999.
He hasn't worked since.
When he got out of jail, he found he had nowhere to go and
ended up on the streets.
"I don't know exactly what happened or how it happened or
what happened at that particular time in my life," he says.
One thing he does remember is going back to using drugs.
"I knew a lot of people who I partied with here in Camden
after a victory," he says.
Lockridge says that if you're going to be homeless,
Camden is the place to be. There are many different places
that will give you a free meal, many shelters that will put
you up for a night.
Lockridge lives on the $140 a month and
food stamps he receives from the government -- as well as
pocket change he gets from panhandling. He says the stroke
he suffered three years ago makes it difficult to walk, no
less hold a job.
He sleeps in shelters occasionally but
admits he's had issues committing to a shelter because the
curfew is sometimes as early as 7 p.m. Lately, he has slept
in a mosquito-infested abandoned row house around the block
from his regular corner.
And he continues to have troubles with the law, though his
last arrest -- for criminal trespassing in May -- resulted
only in community service.
Lockridge's troubles are similar to issues many other former
fighters face. In many cases, some feel it's inevitable.
Former middleweight Alex Ramos, a friend of Lockridge's who
founded the Retired Boxers Foundation in 1998, says boxers
aren't equipped to handle life out of the ring. They are not
trained in financial responsibility and, unlike other
sports, there is no union to turn to for help.
"Boxers don't come from the Ivy Leagues and Beverly Hills,
they come from ghettos and Third World countries, looking to
get themselves out of poverty," he says. "A lot of times
it's sad what happens to a lot of fighters when they
Scott Frank, who fought out of Ice World at the same time as
Lockridge, says promoters and managers (in Lockridge's case,
the Duvas) should be responsible for putting aside money for
when their boxers can't fight anymore.
"Lou always said Rocky was like a son to him, so how do you
do that to your son?" Frank says. "He made enough money that
they should have put some away for him, they should have
taken care of him.
"What's $200 a week for life for a guy like Lou? Rocky
fought his heart out for him."
Duva says he would be open to offering Lockridge a job
training boxers -- but only if he stays clean and sober.
Pettigrew, a mail carrier and Camden resident, has
befriended Lockridge in the last year after hearing that a
former world champ was living on the streets. He looks out
"He's a nice guy, he just needs to find his way again,"
Pettigrew says. "People call him The Champ, they greet him,
hug him. People still look up to him. Any time I see him,
that's what I see.
"It has to be hard, going from living in Mount Laurel to
Lockridge doesn't mind losing his house as much as losing
As he sits on his stoop, smoking a cigarette, he talks about
why he is finally ready to turn his life around, find a
place to live, give up drinking and drugs.
"I'm going to get it back together and say no to drugs," he
said. "I've got a family that I want to spend some time with
'til my time is up on Planet Earth. I'm on a mission now,
perhaps even greater than my mission before. My kids need me
in their lives, experience being the best teacher."
(left) jokes with his friend Charles Braxton on a street
corner in Camden.
Lockridge says he recently was tracked
down by his son, Ricky, now 24, who lives in the Washington,
D.C., area near Lamar. The twins were surprised to find out
a few months ago that they have a half-brother, Ramond
Dixon, 22, born in Camden but who now also lives in the D.C.
area. The three have become close -- but they remain distant
from their father.
"I remember spending time with him when I was 3 or 4, but he
was never there at a steady pace," Ramond, known as
"Ron-Ron," says. "Even though my dad wasn't there for me
growing up, I never really had harsh feelings. I never was
really upset. As a man now I can see that people make
Ricky Lockridge has mixed feelings.
"It's sad. It hurts," he says about his dad's predicament.
"But I never lost confidence in my dad, he's a strong
Lockridge says reuniting with his boys is his inspiration
for cleaning up his life.
"Now I'm ready for this, mentally and physically, to get me
back on track," Lockridge says. "I am in dire need of that
kind of support and I want it. I've been knocked down. Now
I'm finally ready to get back up."
The Retired Boxers Foundation says it will help him -- like
his kids and Duva -- but only will do so if he gives up
drugs and alcohol and sticks in a shelter.
"Rocky would be eligible for supplemental security income,
which would provide a monthly check, housing and Medi-Cal,
but one of the requirements is that he is sober," Jacquie
Richardson, executive director of the RBF, says. "Boxers
don't always want to accept help. Beyond brain injuries, the
shame is overwhelming. They have regrets about what they
didn't do, the mistakes they made, and it's really hard to
forgive themselves. It keeps them hiding out where they
Lockridge says the need to see his sons and help them avoid
the mistakes he made is the motivating force to clean up and
accept the help of outsiders.
"Edumacation is the best occupation," he jokes. "Knowing how
to handle your money, stay educated in all the areas so
perhaps what happened to me will never happen to anyone
"It hurts. It hurts. In more ways than one, it hurts. How
can you be a great man, father and husband ... how can you
be a great champion and not be a great father, husband? Dad?
It hurts. But I'm still alive. I can't make up for the lost
time, but I can just get there, be there, spend the rest of
the time with my wife and children and give them the time
that I have left."