10 Best Boxers Who Went to Prison

Aaron KingContributor IIIJanuary 7, 2012

10 Best Boxers Who Went to Prison

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    Floyd Mayweather was supposed to begin his 90-day—or at least 65-day—jail sentence this week in Clark County, Nev. The pound-for-pound stalwart was granted a continuance just before initiating the term of his incarceration.

    Thankfully, if all goes as planned, a showdown with Manny Pacquiao is still possible for May 5th. Nonetheless, the fact remains that if not for the plea deal to which Mayweather agreed, he could have faced serious time.

    Thanks to said plea deal, Mayweather will be serving his sentence in a county jail rather than a federal or state prison. But it gets us thinking: Who were the best boxers to have gone to prison?

    The following list includes those who were imprisoned before, during and after their careers. In some cases, the experience launched a successful career or life rehabilitation. In others, it was the end of a tumultuous existence.

    For each, it played an integral role in shaping their lives and our perceptions of them—for better or worse.

Dishonorable Mention

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    Substance abuse is a uniting factor here, as we will see in the rest of the slideshow. Johnny Tapia and "Prince" Naseem Hamed have both found recent legal trouble as a result of their preferred intoxicants.

    For James Kirkland, he struggled to leave behind a world of poverty and crime. He was imprisoned for armed robbery in 2003, and again in 2009 for possession of a firearm and violating his parole. He has since been released and had an exciting 2011 (in both a positive and negative sense).

    The most fascinating case might be that of Ike Ibeabuchi. The Nigerian heavyweight was one of the sport's fastest rising stars in the late 1990s. Within his brief 20-fight career, he scored decisive victories over a prime David Tua and future titleholder Chris Byrd.

    Ibeabuchi was, however, also a certifiable lunatic. He referred to himself as the President of the World, claimed that he was possessed by demons and repeatedly committed sexual assault.

    He was imprisoned in 1999 after attempting to rape a call girl in Las Vegas. He has been denied parole on several occasions and will likely be deported once (or if) he is released.

No. 10: Edwin Valero

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    It is uncanny the ways in which the characteristics of life outside and inside the ring intertwine. Edwin Valero is exhibit A. His 28 years were as violent, spectacular and abbreviated as were his 27 fights, all of which he won by knockout.

    Before turning professional, Valero crashed his motorcycle and sustained a fractured skull and brain bleed. As a result of complications from those injuries, Valero had difficulty attaining a license to fight in the U.S. Traveling between three continents, the Venezuelan dynamo proceeded to knockout his first 18 opponents in the first round.

    In what would be his final bout, Valero stopped Antonio DeMarco after Round 9 in February 2010.

    Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and forced to undergo psychiatric treatment for abusing his wife (among others), and in April 2010, stabbed her to death in a hotel room in Valencia, Venezuela. The next day, he hanged himself in his jail cell.

    Whatever madness drove him to destroy himself and those who loved him was also the force that drove him to the brink of greatness in the ring.

    We will never know, of course, how good he could have been. His annihilation of the talented DeMarco—who recently beat Jorge Linares with a come-from-behind stoppage—only suggests what might have come.

No. 9: Diego Corrales

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    Diego Corrales, like Edwin Valero, lived the way he fought. The subjects of Valero's story—domestic violence, motorcycle accidents and an abrupt, violent end—are repeated in that of Corrales.

    After starting his career 33-0, Corrales was stopped by Floyd Mayweather in January 2001. It would be his last fight for two years.

    Shortly following the loss to Mayweather, Corrales (40-5, 33 KOs) was charged with abusing his pregnant wife, Maria. He agreed to a plea bargain and served 14 months behind bars.

    Corrales fought his way back to the top of the lightweight division. He traded a pair of memorable fights with Cuban legend Joel Casamayor before waging one of the greatest battles in the history of the sport against Jose Luis Castillo in 2005.

    The 10th round knockout would be his last victory. Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in Las Vegas on May 7, 2007—exactly two years after his career-defining victory over Castillo.

No. 8: Dwight Muhammad Qawi

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    Born Dwight Braxton, Dwight Muhammad Qawi was a swarming force of destruction during the 1980s. He won titles at light-heavyweight and cruiserweight. His fights with Matthew Saad Muhammad garnered him international spotlight. However, it is his titanic struggle against Evander Holyfield in 1986 that has come to define his career. Despite losing a 15 round split decision, the battle is widely considered the best in the history of the cruiserweight division.

    Qawi was raised on brutally mean streets of Camden, N.J. He was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to five years in Rahway State Prison. He learned to box while at Rahway, and upon his release in 1978 at the age of 25, he began training at Joe Frazier's Gym in north Philadelphia and turned professional. He finished his hall-of-fame career with a record of 41-11-1 with 25 KOs.

No. 7: Mike Tyson

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    Little more can be written about Mike Tyson's life and boxing career. To recap, Tyson was convicted of raping an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant in Indianapolis in 1992. He was sentenced to six years in state prison, but was paroled after three.

    For many years it seemed that Tyson's life would end as tragically as Corrales' or Valero's. The relative peace that he has found in the past few years is almost as unexpected as was his loss to Buster Douglas.

    The fact that Tyson has become something of a media darling and, between The Hangover and his recent portrayal of Herman Cain, a comedic force would have seemed unimaginable eight short years ago.

No. 6: Sonny Liston

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    Sonny Liston's birth is as indeterminate as his death. But in between, there is no uncertainty about Liston's ferocity and greatness.

    Prior to his defeats at the hands of Muhammad Ali in 1964 and 1965, Liston (50-4, 39 KOs) was the most feared man in the sport and the first owner of the moniker, "Baddest Man on the Planet." The pinnacle of his career were his savage knockouts of previous heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson.

    As a young man, Liston was a notorious criminal in the St. Louis area. Over the course of his life, he was arrested 19 times for crimes ranging from armed robbery to assaulting a police officer.

    In 1950, Liston was convicted of two counts of armed robbery. He was released from prison on parole after two years. In 1956 and 1958, Liston assaulted police officers and was forced to flee to Philadelphia, where he quickly developed a relationship with organized crime.

No. 5: Bernard Hopkins

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    Before making a record 20 defenses of his middleweight title and becoming the oldest man to win a world championship, Bernard Hopkins was a troubled teen in a rough north Philadelphia neighborhood.

    At the age of 17, he was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford State Penitentiary for nine felonies including armed robbery. He was released after five years in 1988. The story of his final discharge has become legendary in boxing circles.

    When the warden told Hopkins that he'd see him again, Hopkins replied, "I ain't ever coming back here."

    He was right, and thank goodness for boxing fans.

No. 4: Charles "Kid" McCoy

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    Charles "Kid" McCoy is one of boxing's looming figures—perhaps its most famous (or infamous). He could punch like hell and was not above bending the rules to best his foes.

    He allegedly wrapped his gloves with sand paper or tape to cut his opponents more easily. Legends also hold that he once tricked welterweight champ Tommy Ryan into believing he was sick prior to their 1896 fight. He is credited as the inspiration for the phrase "the real McCoy" and the source of the your-shoe-is-untied gambit.

    Beyond these tricks, though, McCoy was one of the pioneers of "The Sweet Science." His craft and intelligence in the ring led him to a record of 86-7-10 (65 KOs) and a place as one of the greatest boxers to ever live.

    McCoy's colorful life, which at one point involved a career in Hollywood and a friendship with Charlie Chaplin, met a tragic end.

    In 1924, a broke McCoy shot the wealthy married woman with whom he had been living when she considered reuniting with her husband. The next morning he held up her antiques shop and shot three other people (none of whom were killed).

    McCoy served eight years at San Quintin and eventually killed himself in 1940.

No. 3: Pernell Whitaker

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    Unlike numerous others on this list, Pernell Whitaker's slippery, intelligent, technically-perfect style inside the ring belied his lack of discipline outside of it.

    "Sweet Pea" was nothing short of remarkable between the ropes—a modern-day Willie Pep, only with more charisma. He was, in the words of Bert Sugar, an artist.

    Meanwhile, he struggled with substance abuse and fast living throughout virtually the entirety of his fighting life.

    Late in his career, Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KOs) struggled to stay motivated. He tested positive for cocaine following a 1998 bout against Andrey Pestryaev, and was made to enter rehab, postponing a scheduled fight against Ike Quartey.

    In late 2001, Whitaker was caught carrying a packet of cocaine into a Virginia Beach courthouse. He was attending a hearing following his near overdose on the drug in March of that year.

    He pleaded guilty to felony possession of cocaine in 2002, the same year The Ring named him No. 10 in their list of the 80 greatest fighters of the past 80 years.

    Whitaker has stayed out of trouble since and is now an increasingly busy trainer.

No. 2: Carlos Monzon

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    Carlos Monzon's record is almost unimaginably good. He started his career 16-3, and wouldn't lose again in his last 81 fights. He ended his career by upending the hard-hitting Colombian legend Rodrigo Valdez.

    Monzon fought with a sort of disregard for discipline or conventional technique. Yet he carried murderous power in both hands. His conditioning was unmatched, and his chin was impervious to dynamite.

    In short, Monzon (87-3-9, 59 KOs) fought with the kind of anger and relentlessness one can only learn coming up in the hellish poverty of his early life. The refrain should be familiar by now—the demons that generated his fighting prowess also drove him to self-destruction.

    Monzon's fast living and in-born aggression caught up with him after he retired. When the movie roles in Europe dried up, he went completely out of control. He beat up his wife, his girlfriends and paparazzi.

    In 1988, while vacationing in his native Argentina, Monzon badly abused his wife before throwing her from a balcony. He was convicted of homicide and sentenced to a mere 11 years in prison. He died in a car accident while on weekend furlough in 1995.

    One legacy of Monzon's unfortunate history has been the influence on the commendable work of fellow Argentinian middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, who has been a strong advocate for victims of domestic abuse.

No. 1: Jack Johnson

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    Jack Johnson spent most of his life on the run, whether by force or on his own accord. His refusal to live by the regrettable standards of the time enabled him to become the first black world heavyweight champion. Of course, it also made him public enemy number one.

    In 1920, after a number of years defending his heavyweight crown and appearing in exhibitions abroad, Johnson turned himself in to federal authorities. He was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which was intended to halt the interstate trafficking of prostitutes.

    Johnson had merely purchased a train ticket from Pittsburgh to Chicago for his white girlfriend.

    Johnson's conviction—he spent only one year in prison—has remained a topic of political debate in the many decades since. Despite numerous efforts by legislators including John McCain, Johnson has not yet been pardoned.

    It is perhaps the most overstated cliche in boxing that Johnson was far ahead of his time in nearly every way. Indeed, his skill and out-sized personality were the model for generations of prizefighters up to and including the present-day.

    Sadly, it seems he was a trailblazer for most of the ill-fated included on this list. Poverty, the fast-life, booze and drugs and automobile accidents.

    As is evident in any number of other practices, genius is often accompanied by mania. It must be that there is a reason why the two are such frequent dance partners.