|Q&A with White Chocolate - Chuck Walker
Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (June 20, 2008) DoghouseBoxing.com
Possibly the greatest boxing team the United States ever assembled was the 1976 team that won five gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal in Montreal, Canada. Five of those members would go on to win world championships in the pro ranks. Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers (Leon and Michael) would become household names. Big John Tate won the WBA heavyweight title and Leo Randolph would capture the WBA super bantamweight title. The previous October in Mexico City at the Pan Am Games, the United States won three gold medals, four silver
medals, and one bronze medal. The bronze medalist happened to catch my attention in June of that year at the AAU championships in Shreveport, Louisiana covered by CBS Wide World of Sports.
With heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry and former professional football players Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall doing the broadcasting, they mentioned this young fighter whom they had been quite impressed by earlier in the tournament. Upon seeing him, I thought, "Oh boy, here we go again. Another white kid getting the build up." His opponent, Keith Broom from Washington, DC, was announced as the All-Army champ. Then the ring announcer said, "From Mesa, Arizona. Chuck Walker." I thought to myself, "Mesa, Arizona? Are you kidding? This ought to be good."
The bell rang and the footwork on Walker was so spectacular, I sat there thinking, "Look at the footwork on this kid." All of a sudden, he is lashing out with punches and down goes Broom in the first round and out! I'm jumping up and all I could say was "Whoa!" Quarry and Gifford interviewed him and one of them asked, "Chuck, what do you do when you're not fighting?" He answered, "I'm a professional tap dancer." You could have knocked me over with a feather.
After the Olympics, Walker turned pro. I saw newspaper clippings of his fights through a friend's son who lived in Arizona. He wasn't that active due to a possible hand injury. I even tried contacting him through the Arizona commission with the hope of bringing him east where I knew he would go over big. The cooperation I received was little to say the least. I guess they thought I wanted to move him to the east. The years passed and I happened to see his dad in Mesa in 1989. He had a furniture store there. He informed me that his son was living in Texas. For years, I have tried to get his professional record which I was told is 11-1-1, though six of those wins need dates to go with them in order to go into the official boxing records.
Last year, I was able to get in touch with the Walker's and spoke to his wife Karen while asking boxing websites if anyone knew of his record. A good friend of his, Tony Rowe, made that connection. Not writing at the time, I was able through Marty Mulcahey of MaxBoxing.com to get Lee Groves to do a great two part story titled The Forgotten Olympian. The only thing missing was even though he gave his opinion of the team, they hadn't given theirs of him. Had I known that eight members of the team would be at the IBHOF ceremonies at Canastota, New York last year I would have been there.
Of the eleven boxers on the team, former WBA heavyweight champion Big John Tate had passed away in April of 1998 at the age of 43. He had won the title before 86,000 people in Pretoria, South Africa by decision over their fighter Gerrie Coetzee in October of 1979. Clint Jackson was another missing member who had won a gold medal in the Pan Am Games in 1975. He was a sheriff in Tennessee and is currently doing life for kidnapping since 1989. Rumor was he would be up for parole in 2006, but he is still serving time. I have been trying to make contact with his ex-wife. Howard Davis Jr., a member of the team, and Walker had made an effort to support his defense to no avail.
The following are comments from team members whom I did talk to:
Ray Leonard, Pan Am and Olympic gold medalist, 4 division world champion: "I wouldn't want to have to fight Chuck because our styles are so similar, it would make for a bad fight." That was in 1979 at Frazier's gym in Philly.
Louis Curtis, smallest member of the team and 15-6-1 as a pro having fought for the IBF flyweight title: "Chuck was the slickest. He taught us how to tap dance at the Pan Am Games in Mexico City."
Charles Mooney, Olympic silver medalist, only member not to turn pro: "White Chocolate. So sharp. I would imitate how he would "shake loose" in warm-up. After he lost, he coached me on during my match at Montreal. I could hear his voice. He would move and groove and combinations like Robinson."
Leo Randolph, Olympic gold medalist, WBA super bantamweight champion: "Great, slick, and a lot of movement."
Dave Armstrong, gold medalist at Pan Am Games, 24-3 as a pro: "Really strong opponent for our team. Good fighter."
Howard Davis Jr., Olympic gold medalist, received the Val Barker Trophy as most outstanding Olympic boxer, 36-6-1 as pro and fought for titles at 135 and 140 pounds: "Chuck was the greatest white fighter I have ever seen. I mean that in a good way. He had the looks and skills to be a champion."
Leon Spinks, Pan Am Games silver medalist and Olympic gold medalist, WBC/WBA heavyweight champion: "Best dancer, the only white guy. Aint that somethin'?
Michael Spinks, Olympic gold medalist, WBC/WBA/IBF light heavyweight and IBF heavyweight champion: In the summer of 1984 an article came out in Ring Magazine hypothetically matching members of the 1976 Olympic team with current members of the 1984 team in all of the matchups except for the assessment of Frank Tate winning by decision over Chuck Walker at 156 pounds. He said, "I've been in the ring with Chuck Walker many times and I don't think this would be the outcome."
At the IBHOF ceremonies, while the team watched their Olympic bouts, emotions ran the gamut such as when Chuck Walker became choked up when addressing the audience. He later explained privately to Fight News that seeing that particular clip, in which his now 89-year-old father and his original coach are congratulating him, brought so many memories back and he became overwhelmed. He later joked about being the only white member of the team. "Some of you may have noticed that I look a little different from everybody else up here," Walker said in reference to the rest of his teammates who are all black. The audience roared, as did Leonard, Davis, and the rest. "Well, let me tell you, these guys made me feel like a real brother on the team!"
Walker was a two-time winner on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour and runner-up on Dance Fever in late 1977. He also danced for a couple of private ballet companies in Phoenix. Walker's uncle Max, who was a novice Golden Gloves champion, spoke of his late son Scott "Pink Cat" Walker (25-7-1 with a victory over Alexis Arguello). "Scott adored his cousin Chuck, Charlie's boy, before he could talk. For his second birthday, Chuck gave him a pair of tiny boxing gloves and a boxing bag." Over the past year, I have had a chance to ask Chuck Walker many questions. Here are some of them I would like to share.
KH: Chuck, do you run into Sugar Ray Leonard much in California?
CW: I see Ray often as I travel to Los Angeles almost every month with my production business and he lives there now. I still consider him a great friend and our recent visits have been good.
KH: Who was your first trainer in the amateurs?
CW: Gene Lewis in Mesa, a great man with whom I was very close. My first professional trainer was Poso Paavo Ketonen. Again, a great old man from Finland who at one time had been the wrestling world champion.
KH: Let's jump ahead to the Olympics. You fought Jerzy Rybicki of Poland in the opening round. What kind of a fighter was he?
CW: The Pole I fought in the Olympics was a tall, thin southpaw. I never considered him much more than average, thought he went on to win the gold. The decision was egregious as stated strongly by Howard Cosell and even several of the U.S. Olympic staff. It was a 3-2 split. I was never hit even once in the fight.
KH: You had met former three-time gold medalist Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba at the Pan Am Games.
CW: We became good friends. I am fluent in Spanish, so there is no language barrier. My father taught Spanish. Stevenson was unlike most of the Cuban athletes. Very friendly. Saw him again in Montreal. A warm reunion. He was a real nice guy trapped in Cuba.
KH: You turned pro in Phoenix in November of 1977 against Tony McMinn (19-3, 17 KOs). In addition to his extensive record, he had scored knockdowns against all 22 of his previous foes, which was something he was unable to do with you. I am reading from a newspaper clipping and it stated that it was an impressive victory over the Oklahoma middleweight champion: a unanimous ten round decision. Chuck, whatever made your people put you in a ten round fight in your pro debut?
CW: Regarding my pro career, Cus D'Amato sat with my father during my Olympic bout and wanted me to come to New York. I didn't want to have to fight the style his fighters did. I always had poor management, very weak. At the time, I myself would have been embarrassed to knockout twenty bums and then start with good competition though I now see it probably would have been wise. My first four bouts were ten rounders. The other thing working against me was that, pure and simple, my interest was always greater in the entertainment fields. There really wasn't a burning fire in the gut like before.
KH: You had won 3 of your first 4 fights in Phoenix over a 2½ year period before you stopped fighting. I was getting newspaper clippings from a good friend of mine saying you had a hand problem. Is that true?
CW: I didn't actually break a hand, but damaged the nerves in my right hand, which plagued me throughout my career.
KH: When you resumed your career in Texas, you fought for Josephine Abercrombie's HBA Promotions. How were they to work with?
CW: I was never under contract to Abercrombie either promotionally or managerially. I believe I was the only fighter to consistently fight on her cards without being under contract.
KH: I had talked to both Kenny Weldon, current trainer of former WBO champion Sergei Lyakhovich, and Eddie Futch, trainer of Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, and Ken Norton. Both spoke highly of you. Futch said he gave you the option of either fighting or dancing, but not both in order to train you.
CW: I know Kenny Weldon very well and like him very much, though I had not seen him in many years until the recent Hall of Fame festivities. Eddie Futch was a great friend and I consider him one of the finest gentlemen ever involved in the sport of boxing. Roy Harris (fought Floyd Patterson for heavyweight title) has been a friend for years. Brother Henry was my trainer officially since 1984, though he had been involved in my career in one fashion or another since 1975.
KH: You were 8-0-1 while fighting in Texas. Only a bout with Everett "Big Foot" Martin, then ranked, ended in a draw. I know you were world rated at some point.
CW: In 1986-87, I was rated as high as number four in the world ratings in a number of organizations, generally as a super middleweight, but I believe the NABF and the WBC had me rated as a light heavyweight. The Frank Lux fight was for the vacant Southern Boxing Association title, a 10 round twelve state title bout. Chong Pal Park was IBF super middleweight champion whom I was signed to fight twice, but the fight never materialized. This was very discouraging for me.
KH: I understand you are in the movie industry now. Tell me about it.
CW: I produce movies for the DVD and television market. They should start being released before the end of the year. My partner is Eric Braeden who plays Victor Newman in The Young and the Restless. I actually made a boxing movie in 1992 about a young fighter trying to make the Olympics, but while the story was good, my budget was low and the production suffered. It was, however, distributed in quite a few secondary markets.
KH: Sounds like it could be about your life story. I have referred to you to many people over the past thirty years. That first impression from that fight in Shreveport in 1975 has always stayed with me. Anything to add?
CW: I don't believe any comprehensive story has ever been done about my life. Your interest is flattering and I admire your love for boxing.
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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