The U.S. Census for 2010 claimed there were nearly 15 people in poverty for every millionaire.
It’s unclear, though, how many of those 15 were boxers who, at one time, had been living large.
Perhaps more so than its sporting cohorts on the football field and baseball diamond and elsewhere, it seems the squared circle is an incubator of tales of financial handwringing—where fighters who came from zero amassed great sums of cash, only to lose it in a hail of excess, deceit or simple imprudence.
For every Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao these days, there are thousands of anonymous pugs slugging it out for minimum wage in the local armory or nightclub, then getting up the next morning for the regular job that keeps the lights on.
Click through for a list of fighters who had the good life, but saw it go bad.
A record-setting heavyweight champion in the ring, the legendary “Brown Bomber” was among the first cautionary tales outside of it—thanks to chronic difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service.
Joe Louis defended his title more than two dozen times and made plenty of cash during a 12-year reign that ended with his retirement in 1949, but he was soon back at it to pay off debts that quickly ran up as a result of suspect recordkeeping and money management.
In a final irony, Louis’s funeral in 1981 was partially paid for by former two-time foe Max Schmeling, who handed Louis his first loss in 1936 and was on the receiving end of a brutal one-round KO two years later.
Two reigns as a world featherweight champion don’t get a guy as far as they used to.
The native Scotsman was at or near the top of the 126-pound world for three solid years in the early days of the new century, but his mastery of combat in the ring didn’t extend to handling the business and other affairs on the other side of the ropes.
Scott Harrison spent prolonged time behind bars, thanks to recurring issues with substances and saw several homes repossessed during a ring hiatus that stretched from his final title fight in 2005 through an initially successful return seven years later.
His most recent fight, against prospect Liam Walsh last month at London’s Wembley Arena, ended in a unanimous 10-round decision loss—his first defeat since 2003 and just the third of a 32-fight career that began in 1996, when Walsh was 10 years old.
He’s considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time, but the original “Sugar Ray” wasn’t at all immune to financial troubles in spite of the virtuoso skill that yielded 173 wins in 200 career fights.
A series of ring purses in excess of $4 million were not enough to stave off a string of bad fortune after the close of his fight career that included failed relationships, cursed businesses and the long arm of the IRS.
Signs of trouble were visible as early as 1955, when a report in a New York newspaper indicated imminent foreclosure action on Ray Robinson’s Harlem nightclub, Sugar Ray’s.
Robinson died in 1989 at age 67.
The Polish native turned German defector took home as much as $70 million, according to reports, from a pro career that began with 48 consecutive wins, 38 knockouts and three title belts at 175 pounds between 1991 and 2003.
His unbeaten string was snapped by Julio Cesar Gonzalez via split decision, and a subsequent post-retirement match with Fabrice Tiozzo ended in a sixth-round TKO.
He reportedly lost 30 million Euros in the days after his career, including a pair of divorces.
The financial concerns spread to his former promotional company, Universum-Box Promotion, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Other boxers promoted by the organization included heavyweights Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko and middleweight Felix Sturm.
The former Olympic gold medalist within 13 months of turning professional, but the end of his days on the sport’s top shelf, also signaled a stretch of prolonged trouble for Leon Spinks.
He filed for bankruptcy protection in 1986 from creditors to whom he owed $301,000, while claiming the $4.5 million he’d earned in the ring had been frittered away to just a $500 wardrobe and a $1,600 per month salary.
His career ended for good in 1995, when he lost an eight-round decision to Fred Houpe that dropped his record to 26-17-3.
By 2010, he was living in Nebraska while working at a McDonald’s as well as a local YMCA, and running afterschool programs for children.
Californian Fernando Vargas retired after dropping the final three fights of a 10-year pro career, but the drama of the ring has apparently followed him into presumably calmer activities.
He was reportedly on the short end of schemes that cost a half-million dollars, thanks to the dubious financial advice of the subsequently jailed Joe Pecora.
Others who drank from the Vargas trough included an organization called Global Sports & Entertainment, which took several other former athletes for nearly $45 million after promises of high-yield returns usually reserved only for European dignitaries.
Vargas has occasionally been rumored on the verge of a comeback, but he’s still not fought since a loss to Ricardo Mayorga in 2007.
The Detroit boxer known as the “Hitman” had a role in some of history’s most lucrative bouts—including losses to Marvin Hagler and Ray Leonard—but he wasn’t nearly as legendary once the spotlight left.
Though he made as much as $40 million during his fighting prime, Hearns was under pressure from the IRS within the last several years to pay back about $1 million in taxes and mortgage expenses.
He was facing foreclosure proceedings on his home as well.
Hearns won his last title in 1999 and lost it a year later, then retired until a two-fight comeback in 2005-06 that resulted in wins over journeymen John Long and Shannon Landberg.
Bowe won two fights with the rugged Andrew Golota, but retired after the second one.
The consensus heavyweight champion of the world after toppling Evander Holyfield in the first of their trilogy fights in 1992, Riddick Bowe had some $15 million when he initially retired after a rematch with Andrew Golota in 1996.
His post-ring career featured an aborted enlistment in the Marines, a prison stay following a chaotic incident with his former wife and five children, and, ultimately, a bankruptcy filing.
He returned to the ring for two wins in 2004-05, then fought once more—beating Gene Pukall by unanimous decision—in 2008, but has not returned in spite of repeated rumors.
“No matter what, God is on my side,” Bowe said to the New York Times in 2009. “I’m not perfect, but I’m not the worst, either. God brought me this far. He’s not done with me yet.”
The “Real Deal” is apparently the “real life” answer to the question: How does someone go bankrupt after earning $250 million in the boxing ring.
In the latest post-penthouse twist, Holyfield, according to TMZ, could have his driver’s license suspended if he fails to pony up more than $325,000 in delinquent child support payments.
A $14 million debt led to the ex-champ losing a 54,000-square-foot Georgia mansion last year, and he’s encountered frequent problems trying to keep current on payments for his 11 children.
He was reported this week to have requested a $250,000 purse to fight Polish prospect Krzysztof Zimnoch in October. Zimnoch’s management refused the offer and is planning a counter.
“Iron” Mike Tyson amassed between $300 million and $400 million during his pro career, and, while on top of the mountain, reeled in as much as $30 million for single fights.
Ultimately, though, the paydays stopped, and the bills came due for a lifestyle that had included purchases of homes, cars, jewelry and animals. He filed for bankruptcy in 2004 with the claim that he was $23 million in debt and owed $17 million in taxes.
His recent renaissance has included a role in the hit comedy The Hangover in which his proclivity for exotic cats was made common knowledge.
Tyson fought his last title fight against Lennox Lewis in 2002, then won just once more before finally retiring in 2005 at 50-6 overall, including victories in 12 title fights.