February 22, 2013

Lowell's Finest - The five best professional boxers from the Mill City

The Pride of Lowell - Irish Micky Ward
By Jeffrey Freeman -- Fight fans around the world now know the name "Irish" Micky Ward and some of them even know that Micky is from Lowell, MA but they might not realize that Ward isn't the only successful boxer to come from this city. Fans may also remember Ward's infamous half brother Dicky Eklund for his fight against Sugar Ray Leonard - and his own demons - with both battles having aired on HBO, but what about some of the other boxers from the Mill City who fought in relative obscurity during the dark years before Dicky and Micky really put Lowell on the map? Names like Beau Jaynes and Larry Carney, they were once the talk of the town. Now they're all but forgotten except by die-hard fans from the New England area that saw them fight and still remember their local ring exploits.

Long overshadowed in Massachusetts by Brockton as an elite boxing town, Lowell is proudly known more for its amateur boxers than for its professionals. Lowell has the annual Golden Gloves tournament and twice hosted The Nationals, in 1973 and 1995. Brockton was home to former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and former World Middleweight Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, both of whom actually competed in Lowell during their amateur days. Mike Tyson also boxed as an amateur in Lowell. So did Sugar Ray Leonard.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at five of the best professional boxers from the fighting Mill City of Lowell: 

Micky Ward, 38-13 (27 KOs) -- Far and away the best and most well known fighter from Lowell. Younger half brother of Dick Eklund. Fought professionally from 1985 to 2003. Biggest victories include wins over Arturo Gatti, Louis Veader, Shea Neary, Reggie Green, and Alfonzo Sanchez. Held the WBU light welterweight world title. Was stopped on a cut in Boston by Vince Phillips in a 1997 bid for the IBF junior welterweight title. Gained new fans, new fame, and three big paydays for his epic trilogy with the late Arturo Gatti. Micky's left hook to the liver was the stuff of legend. Gained even more fame when a Hollywood movie called The Fighter was made about his life in 2010. Originally retired in 1991 after a string of disappointing defeats, came back strong in 1994, winning nine straight. Enjoyed a career renaissance from 1999 to 2003, engaging in a series of incredibly entertaining fights including the Gatti trilogy. Wildly popular in his hometown where he still lives today, Ward is known affectionately as The Pride of Lowell. 

David Ramalho
David Ramalho, 28-1-1 (18 KOs) -- A Golden Glove champion as an amateur. Active as a professional from 1976 to 1981. Earned a reputation as a strong body puncher. Only loss came via unlucky 1st round KO in his 13th pro fight against DC Cunningham. Beat Jimmy Farrell for the New England featherweight title in 1978 in Boston after a draw against Farrell four month earlier in Lowell. An unfortunate work related back injury cut his boxing career short. Son of Arthur Ramalho, owner of the famous Ramalho's West End Gym in Lowell where he is currently a trainer of young fighters alongside his brother Joey.

Beau Jaynes
Beau Jaynes, 53-44 (13 KOs) -- New England Golden Glove featherweight amateur champion. A pro from 1965 to 1979. New England champion in four different weight classes. Brother-in-law of Micky Ward. A good boxer with a solid chin who threw nice combinations in the ring. In his first 40 fights, he went 32-8, winning the New England featherweight title as well as the New England super featherweight title before suffering a TKO loss to future lightweight champ Mando Ramos. Rebounded to win the New England super featherweight title against Leo DiFiore in Portland, ME followed by the New England lightweight title versus Ken Campbell. Lost in a try for the New England junior welterweight title in 1974, dropping a decision to Brockton's Tony Petronelli. Won the New England welterweight title in 1975 beating Tony Lopes. Faced the biggest challenge of his career in 1976, taking on future hall of fame world champion Antonio Cervantes in Venezuela, losing by KO. Fought his last big fight in 1978, losing by TKO to future world champion Sean O'Grady. 

Larry Carney
Larry Carney, 28-11-2 (19 KOs) -- An extremely accomplished amateur winning three New England Golden Glove Championships, Carney fought professionally from 1961 to 1971. Revered in Lowell during his heyday, Carney was the precursor to Micky Ward as Lowell's most endearing fighter. Won the New England middlweight title in 1963 using his good left hook to stop Peachy Davis in the second round at the old Boston Garden. Defeated Joe DeNucci in 1964. Won the New England light heavyweight title in 1967 by defeating Pete Riccitelli. Brother-in-law of Micky Ward. Died in 1992 at the age of 52.

Along with Jaynes, he introduced Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund to the sport of boxing.

Dicky Eklund
Dicky Eklund, 19-10 (4 KOs) -- Fought more than 100 amateur bouts before turning pro in 1975. Older half brother of Micky Ward. A talented boxer with a clock in his head, Dicky knew very well how to steal rounds by flurrying in the last 30 seconds. Best described as "wasted talent", Dicky went the distance in a gutsy losing effort to a young Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 on HBO, getting up from three knockdowns to hear the final bell. Claimed for many years to have knocked Leonard down in the fight when in fact it was just a slip. His beating of Allen Clarke in 1981 was as brutal a knockout as you'll ever see. Lost a decision to Kevin Howard in 1982, two years before Howard would become the first fighter to legitimately knock down Leonard. Won the New England welterweight title in his second to last fight defeating James Lucas by split decision in Portland, ME in 1983. Was known as the original "Pride of Lowell" before drugs and criminality ruined his career and landed him in prison. Gained notoriety as an emaciated crack smoking drug addict in the 1995 HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. Portrayed famously by Academy Award winner Christian Bale in the 2010 film The Fighter. A talented trainer and a great motivator, Eklund trained Micky Ward to some of the biggest wins of his career. Currently trains nephew Sean Eklund (11-4, 2 KOs) and local light heavyweight Joey McCreedy (13-6-2, 6 KOs), Lowell's two top pros.

Al Mello
Honorable Mentions: Al Mello (welterweight, 43-10, 23 KOs, fought from 1924 to 1931, once appeared on the cover of The Ring magazine), Phinney Boyle (welterweight, 73-38-18, 22 KOs, fought from 1913 to 1927, member of the New England Boxing Hall of Fame), Paul Frechette (featherweight, 65-84-18, 10 KOs, known as the Blond Tiger, fought the great Willie Pep in 1941), Billy Ryan (light heavyweight, 25-8-2, 18 KOs, fought pro from 1957 to 1962, trained by Allie Colombo, once billed as a protege of Rocky Marciano), Danny Heath (16-11-1, 8 KOs, won the New England welterweight title in 1969), Jackie Morrell (light welterweight, 11-14-1, 8 KOs, fought Johnny Bumphus, Marlon Starling, and Kevin Rooney in the 1980's, currently a USA boxing judge and referee), Manny Freitas (light heavyweight, 20-28-2, 17 KOs, fought pro from 1967 to 1979, well known for breaking Tommy Dragon's jaw in 1970, stopped by Marvin Hagler in 1973), Roy Andrews (lightweight, 75-20-6, 22 KOs, known as Baby Face, a pro from 1942 to 1954, won the Merrimack Valley featherweight title in 1943 and the New England lightweight title in 1950), and Don Halpin (heavyweight, 10-23, 8 KOs, a tough journeyman who fought Tex Cobb, Jimmy Young, Tony Tubbs, and Mike Tyson in the 1980's).

"Lowell's Finest" written by KO Digest Editor in Chief Jeffrey Freeman was originally published in the official 2013 Lowell Golden Gloves USA Boxing program. It is republished here online and edited for context.