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The most shocking deaths in boxing


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The list of boxers who died tragically is not short, unfortunately. But some of them had a more violent and shocking end than others. Let's take a look at those boxers that were killed and ended their lives in a violent way.


Sonny Liston

To this day, nobody is 100% sure wether Sonny Liston killed himself or if he was killed by the Mob, but the latter theory seems more likely. What is certain is that he was involved with that organization for a while before his demise. Being the unpopular champion who was destined to stay ever after in the shadow of Muhammad Ali and even Floyd Patterson, whom he twice annihilated, I guess he saw it as not having a better choice but getting tight with the Mafia. Sonny was found by his wife who had been away for at least a week, on 5 January 1971. He had died on 30 December, at the age of 41. There were traces of heroin found in his system, but not in large enough quantities to cause his death and this was likely the cover-up attempted by the actual murderer. Liston had ruled as a heavyweight champion between 1962 and 1964 but after losing his title to Ali and then suspiciously being knocked out in one round in the rematch, his career deteriorated. That latter result was thought to be fixed. Sonny was suspected of taking a dive, for reasons unknown, although in recent years some have argued against that. Whatever really happened that day right before New Year's Eve in 1970, we will probably never know the truth.


Stanley Ketchel

One of the greatest middleweights ever and the hardest punchers ever as well, Ketchel's death was truly a tragic and unncecessary happening. He was shot dead 15 October 1910, at the age of 24, by a jealous boyfriend of a girl that was flirting with him, but with whom Ketchel had nothing to do really. Some also suspected it was a part of a robbery scheme concocted by the killer, Walter Dipley, and his girlfriend. Ketchel had held the world mw title and had famously fought the heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in an exhibition that ended when Ketchel put Johnson down and Johnson then got up and viciously knocked him out. He was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.


Bill Brennan

Known as KO Brennan, Bill Brennan was a hard hitting heavyweight who fought Jack Dempsey for the world title in 1920 and got knocked out in 12. He was an exciting fighter and was even featured in a Hemingway short story. With the money he earned from that Dempsey fight, he purchased a speakeasy nightclub in Manhattan, which eventually got him in trouble with the local mobsters who insisted to become his business partners, but Brennan refused. He was then shot outside of his club at 4 in the morning 15 June 1924, 30 years old. One of the three men arrested for his death was convicted and got 20 years in Sing Sing, but was paroled after 14 years.


Young Jack Johnson

An American heavyweight who was nowhere near of his namesake in terms of success or talent, he did manage to stop Zora Folley once but thanks to a rib injury. Johnson lost all of his other big fights, but what was most unusual about him is that he was stabbed to death by his own step-daughter in 1963 and died at the age of 35.


Oscar Natalio Bonavena

The best Argentine heavyweight ever, Bonavena was amidst a successful comeback when he was shot dead at the age of 33, after getting into a dispute with a former friend of his, Joe Conforte, owner of the ranch where he was shot. The reason was Bonavena's affair with Conforte's wife, Sally. Bonavena had showed up at the ranch demanding to speak to Joe, when at least one of his bodyguards shot him from a watch tower.


Duane Thomas

The once-bright Kronk-prospect Duane Thomas had won the WBC 154-pound title, but then lost it in his very first defense in 1987 and his career unravelled after that. In April 2000, he came back after almost 11 years away and won one fight. Only 2 months later however, 13 June, he was involved in a minor drug dispute in front of an East Detroit party store when he was shot and killed on spot, 39 years old.


Julian Letterlough

A light heavyweight ko artist and contender, Letterlough was leaving a bar with his wife in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2005, when he was shot from behind and died, 35 years old. Nobody is sure what provoked the killing, but it was one of the more shocking deaths in boxing in this century.


Agapito Sanchez

A WBO super bantamweight world champion and world class contender known for his dirty style of fighting, Sanchez was shot in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after getting into a dispute with an off-duty police officer who had been disrespectful to his girlfriend. It was 15 November 2005 and Sanchez was killed aged 35.


James Oyebola

The Nigerian-born English heavyweight James Oyebola was the British champion once and also fought for the Commonwealth title, losing to Scott Welch in 1995. The towering 6'9 Oyebola ended his career a year later and had been retired for almost 11 years, when he went to a bar in southwest London on 23 July 2007. After asking three guys to put out their cigarettes, Oyebola was inexplicably shot in the face and the leg and died 4 days later, at the age of 46. This was one of the most shocking and bizarre deaths in boxing history.


Vernon Forrest

He had been the first man to beat Shane Mosley in the pros, and he did it in the amateurs as well. Vernon Forrest was already in the twilight of his career, but still not retired and looking for fights, when he stopped at a gas station in Atlanta around 11 PM on 25 July 2009, when two men pulled up in a car and attempted to rob him. Forrest stood his ground and tried to fight them off, but he gave chase at some point and was then shot several times and died, 38 years old. His death was greatly mourned as he was a popular and respected boxer. He was a 4-time world champion, twice at welterweight and twice at super welterweight. He was also involved in philantropy.


Chris Henry

The talented but unruly Henry always looked like he was up to no good. And sure enough, he ended his life in a blaze, 15 August 2015, aged 34. He got into a dispute near a convenience store in his home town of Houston and was shot, under unclear circumstances. He had won the NABF light heavy title and beaten some good fighters.


O'Neil Bell

Whom I have written about earlier. Bell also displayed signs of troubling behavior in 2007, when he first had a scuffle with Jean Marc Mormeck during a pre-fight press conference and then later that year when he threw an axe at a sparring partner (or was it before the Mormeck fight?). After he had ended his career in 2011, on 25 November 2015 he was getting off a bus in Atlanta when four men attacked him in a robbery attempt. Bell tried to fight off his attackers but was shot in the chest and stabbed. He died at the age of 40. He had been the second man in history to unify all three major belts at cruiserweight, a feat that has since been repeated only by Oleksandr Usyk.


Trevor Berbick

Trevor Berbick's life had always been full of controversy and violence. He briefly ruled as the WBC heavyweight champion, before being famously and brutally dethroned by a young Mike Tyson in November 1986. He had previously fought Larry Holmes for the same title in 1981, and the two would remain enemies ever after, after showing animosity for each other during that fight. In 1991, Berbick was involved in a famous altercation with Holmes outside of Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood. That same year he accused his business manager of stealing money from him and attacked her, threatening to shoot her with a gun. Next year, he was arrested for raping his babysitter and also for forging his ex-wife's signature in order to get mortgage on a home. He served 15 months for both offenses and was deported to Jamaica. He fled to Montreal however and then managed to slip back to USA and he continued his boxing career, managing to get fights in USA for 4 years after that, the last one against Hasim Rahman in 1996. After being arrested in Miami in 2002 for a traffic violation, he was deported to Jamaica and this time was unable to get away. His troubled life finally came to an end when he was found dead one morning 28 October 2006. A shocking truth was then revealed: he had been killed by his own nephew and another man, with a lead pipe and a crowbar! Berbick was 52. Ironically, earlier in his life, he became an ordained minister after claiming to be able to see God at 16.


Tue Bjørn Thomsen

This rather promising Danish cruiserweight and heavyweight, who beat Nate Miller by a technical decision in 2000 to win the IBC cruiser title, was involved in a bad brawl in the early morning hours of 23rd April 2006, in a Copenhagen nightclub. Thomsen had ended his ring career in 2002 and was the only Greenland-born boxer to win a pro boxing title. He was fatally stabbed just as the police had arrived on the scene and died on spot, 33 years old. He was also the 1997 world amateur championships bronze medallist, at heavyweight. He also held a victory (by decision) over Iran Barkley, from 1998. He is the last famous Scandinavian boxer to be killed.


Corrie Sanders

One of the best South African boxers and one of the best non-American heavyweights in his time as well, Corrie Sanders stunningly captured the WBO title in 2003 with a shock upset victory when he stopped Wladimir Klitschko in only 2 rounds. Sanders had amazingly fast hands for his size (6'4 and 225 when he fought Klitschko) and also hit exceptionally hard. However, he had problems staying motivated and training enough, so he lost his title soon to the older Klitschko brother, Vitali. After retiring in 2008, Corrie pursued his other great love-golf. On 22 September 2012, he was attending a family member's birthday party at a restaurant when three armed men bust in and started shooting around, hitting Corrie who was shielding his daughter and killing him on spot. He was the only one killed. He was 46. His death was greatly mourned as he was a popular figure, during and after his boxing career. Like Vernon Forrest and O'Neil Bell, he was a victim of a robbery attempt gone wrong.


Antonio Cermeno

Known as "El Coloso", Cermeno was the WBA super bantam champion after defeating Wilfredo Vazquez sr in a big upset in 1995. He made 7 defenses of that title and also later won the WBA feather title. After retiring in 2006, Cermeno lived peacefully with his wife and children in Venezuela, but on the night of 25 February 2014, he was kidnapped in his East Caracas neighborhood and later shot, sometime that same night, after the kidnappers stopped to refuel their car and Cermerno's wife and children escaped. He was 44. It was a part of a wave of high-profile killings in the country at the time. The motive for his murder seems to have been his involvement in a peace movement which was trying to fight crime in the country. Curiously, his age was given as 49 in a national tv report of his death.


Jeff Sims

Jeff Sims was a heavyweight of the 80's who had great power but his stamina and chin didn't hold up. He put Earnie Shavers down and broke Tyrell Biggs' collarbone with a single punch. After his boxing career ended in 1991, following a first-round ko loss to James Bonecrusher Smith, Sims who had been in trouble with the law before, was shot in the chest after an argument in Liberty City, Florida, on 11 November 1993 and died aged 39. He was also the sparring partner of Ali and split his lip during sparring in 1980. At age 21, he was arrested for manslaughter. The reason for his shooting had been an argument over an Earl's Market item.


Racheed Lawal


Like his Danish compatriot Thomsen, Lawal was a victim of nightclub violence, one night on 24th of November 1996. Originally from Sierra Leone, Lawal came to Denmark when he was 7, to find his Nigerian sailor father, and settled in Aarhus (Orhoos), Denmark's second largest city. He was a 3-time Danish amateur champion as a featherweight and he won the European super feather title as a pro in December 1988, knocking out compatriot Lars Lund Jensen in 12. He made 2 successful defenses of it before losing it to the superior Daniel Londas by TKO1O, Londas would also capture a world title later. He also won the European light title towards the end of his career and also challenged Manning Galloway for his WBO welter title, but was stopped by a corner retirement in7. Lawal was a fine European-level fighter, but simply not a match for the best in the world back then. He ended his career in December 1994, after losing his European title to Jean-Baptiste Mendy by a TKO9 and retired with a respectable 25(12), 4-1 record. Lawal started working as a doorman in a nightclub in Aarhus following his retirement and it was this job that would ultimately cut his life short. On that aforementioned night, he had to refuse 5 young men of Palestinian origin entrance, because several of them were wearing track shoes, which was against the regulations. A quarrel ensued and one of them stabbed Lawal with a knife in the chest. As they ran away, Lawal at first started chasing after them, but soon thereafter he had to give it up and he collapsed. He was rushed to hospital, where he died only an hour later. He was only 30. The Palestinian youths were all aprehended but only one of them served a prison sentence, of only 12 years. Even worse, his death triggered a gunfight between the friends of the Palestinians and the friends of Lawal. He had come to find bliss in Denmark, but was murdered in an act of blind, mindless violence.

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--- Prob need a few hundred pages to fully cover this gruesome topic, but notably I put forth Trevor Berbick who sent Ali into retirement.


Trevs own retirement filled with criminal and civil woes to end up deported to Jamaica where a lead pipe and crowbar used by a nephew and aquantence finished him off.




Also Cleveland Williams was run down by a car crossing a street that had to have been speeding. Dunno if he took his last breath in the street or on the gurney, but he'd been previously pronounced dead at Ben Taub hospital from a state troupers gunfire before being miraculously brought back.


Also the original Jersey Joe Walcott was run down on a hwy, but I don't recall if he died on the spot or recovered like Steven King did not so long ago

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--- Prob need a few hundred pages to fully cover this gruesome topic, but notably I put forth Trevor Berbick who sent Ali into retirement.


Trevs own retirement filled with criminal and civil woes to end up deported to Jamaica where a lead pipe and crowbar used by a nephew and aquantence finished him off.




Also Cleveland Williams was run down by a car crossing a street that had to have been speeding. Dunno if he took his last breath in the street or on the gurney, but he'd been previously pronounced dead at Ben Taub hospital from a state troupers gunfire before being miraculously brought back.


Also the original Jersey Joe Walcott was run down on a hwy, but I don't recall if he died on the spot or recovered like Steven King did not so long ago


OH YES! I was meaning to include Berbick but it slipped my mind. :noidea:

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Good article. Johnson-Ketchel was a proper bout though and not an exhibition. Johnson brushing Ketchel's teeth from his glove is one of the iconic moments in HW boxing for me.


Thanks for that info. I was unsure about it. But I figured, given the size disparity, that it's more likely it was an exhibition. I seem to have read something along those lines, also that they had agreed not to really hurt each other and that Ketchel kinda "broke the rules".

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I posted this on FB a little over a year ago. I think it counts.


"Wandering down the rabbit hole of boxing, i come across the story of Queens native Bill Sharkey. Watched his fight against Kallie Knoetze. Now what sparked my interested in googling Sharkey was a small comment in the beginning of the broadcast that mentions Rev. Jesse Jackson formed a group and protested Knoetze fighting in the US. Knoetze back in South Africa was a police officer, and he shot a black teenager in both legs. Even bragging about how the kid is "lucky i'm a good shot, otherwise i could've easily killed him."


As shocking as that was about Knoetze, then i google Bill Sharkey. I check his boxrec page, see that he passed away at a relatively early age (49). Then check out the reasons for his death. So he was shot to death, burned and found in the trunk of his car in the Poconos. That was 20 years ago this October. Still an unsolved case. And my parents purchased a house in the Poconos that very same year, around that very same time."




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  • 2 months later...
--- R.I.P. Corrie Sanders who died a heroes death during an armed robbery during a family birthday celebration at a restaurant. When thug bullets started spraying he grabbed his daughter to take himself down atop her that saved her life...God bless...


That's right! I gotta add him too. RIP

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  • 1 month later...

--- Don't know if this counts, but 21 yr old White Heavy Champ Luther McCarty dropped dead on the spot in the new Tommy Burns Arena in Canada after 1 minute tepid feeling out action against a Canadian whose name escapes me, maybe Al Paltzer?


Something violent occurred but nobody ever really knew. Al charged with murder and tossed in the clink as the next AM the arena burned to the ground.


McCarty had agreed to meet JJOHNSON for a fight of the Century for his next fight.


Tales of the inexplicable!

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  • 3 months later...
  • 4 weeks later...
  • 5 months later...
- -Eddie Machen a mob fighter sorta accidentally dropped out of a hotel window. Another mob fighter Zora Folley sorta accidentally dropped in the deep end of a empty swimming pool that cracked his skull open one night in the same timeline as Liston whom they fought.


Whoa...had no idea.:noidea:

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