Silver Threads Among the Gold
By Richard E. Baker on August 8, 2022
“I finally retired because I had poor skin and I kept getting cut.” (Photo: Richard E. Baker)
Shades of gray have crept into the hair of former boxer Ronnie Warren (9-4-0). He sits quietly in a restaurant across from the Tacoma library, a broad grin across his face. His eyes twinkle as if once again he is under the ring lights. He is facing his first opponent, Tommy Clark, at the Holiday Inn in Tucson. The excitement and fear runs through him. He has not traveled much since his birth in Kent, Washington, then to the Hilltop area in Tacoma. Staying in a plush hotel with good food is a new experience, something exciting, something to tell the kids when he becomes an old man. “Every boy should box.”
The bell rings. He steps forward ready for action. He is not worried. He has been training with the best, Joe Clough, a Washington legend. With the first punch thrown and landed from both men, the anxiety drifts off. The crowd seems to disappear. There is nothing to be afraid of, just two men doing a job, attempting to fulfill a dream that starts with a first fight.
He returns to his corner at the bell. He feels wet and warm. All he sees is Tommy Clark, the corner men working him over, water poured over his head, Vaseline rubbed over his face and chest. At the bell Ronnie steps forward again. He is relaxed. He is comfortable. He is face down on the canvas. The fight is over. His first loss.
Many club fighters have short careers. First a dream. The dream shatters and they think of rebuilding a career they never had. Then a chance to earn beer money. Finally, the realization that boxing is over. He will never be a prospect, never be a contender, never be a champion, never even be a decent sparring partner.
In his first four fights Ronnie has two wins and two losses. Tommy Clark retires after a 3-2-0 record, Vincent Black after 1-6-0, Roger Orlaineta after 8-2-0, and Ali Sanchez after 13-26-0, pretty typical for local boxers. “God said that you don’t always win in this life.”
After his first four bouts Ronnie cannot get out of the Northwest except for sparring at Johnny Tocco’s gym in Vegas. He plods along with fights in Yakama, Washington, Tacoma, Washington, and Salem, Oregon. There are no more nice casinos and good food. His balance is going and he does not feel right. Thoughts become cloudy.
“God was pushing me in another direction,” Ronnie said. He seemed to be pushing him pretty hard. People who never get a break often turn to religion thinking things will turn out better on the other side. Ronnie suffers from traumatic brain injury from his boxing career. Once he starts talking he seldom stops, the thoughts rushing in like a tsunami, often disjointed, subjects changing or forgotten in mid-sentence. He must get the thoughts out as quickly as possible or he forgets the subject.
Ronnie had five brothers. Boxing in the Hilltop area was a passage to manhood. The Tacoma Boy’s Club Gym produced boxers like Sugar Ray Seales, Davey Armstrong, Johnny Bumphus, and Leo Randolph. Ronnie worked and trained with them all.
When he was in the ninth grade officials came to his school and told him his father had just died. He was devastated. Although his mother and father were separated he spent equal time with each of them. “They only lived several blocks apart. When I was mad at my dad I stayed with my mother. When I was mad at my mother I stayed with my father.” His new family became the boxers and trainers at the boy’s club.
“I was born to be a fighter and I had the talent to be a world-class boxer and possibly a champion.” The best fighter he ever faced was Ali Sanchez (9-5-0) which he won by majority decision.
He claims to have spent much of his time in Vegas as sparring partner for Evander Holyfield, Tommy Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. Whether that is true or just true in his mind is not certain. Things are true if people think they are true.
“I never really had what it takes to make the big time.” His mind wanders down a different path. “You have to really be devoted and dedicated. I didn’t have that kind of commitment.
“I finally retired because I had poor skin and I kept getting cut. I decided to devote my life to God.” That devotion landed him homeless on the streets. Apparently God was attempting to tell him something else, to lead him in another direction. The street was not it, just another path less taken.
Suffering from suicidal depression he ended up in the University of Washington’s medical psychiatric unit where he was diagnosed with Traumatic brain injury. While recovering from depression he had a near fatal heart attack. Another wrong turn.
After being released he turned to preaching. “That’s what God wanted me to do all along.”
Again he was asked if boxing was a good idea. This time he changed his mind. “Definitely not. No one should box. Young people should spend their time getting an education, not getting beat up.”
Both of his children are university graduates. His son was an all-star linebacker for the University of Washington and an honor student and is now getting his Master’s degree.
“I wouldn’t have missed boxing for anything,” he said. “Everyone should do it.”