In the early 80s, I tried my hand at prize fighting, floating up and down the coast from Florida to Texas, picking up fights when and where I could. My first three fights went the total of 28 rounds. I always stayed in good enough shape to fight main events because it paid more, but it would be a fight in Dothan, Alabama, that would be the beginning of the end for me as a fighter.
I had a reputation of fighting outside the ring, as well as in. I was fighting a pro-main event in Dothan on a Tough-Man card, surviving two knock-downs, to come back in the fourth round to knock him out. In a bar, later that same night, I’d be in my 2nd fight, when the guy I hit put a pistol between my eyes. I’d pretty much wore my welcome out in that town, so I went to a pay phone and called Red Fortner, a fight promoter in Memphis, Tennessee. Red booked me in a six-rounder, so I took off in that direction, not knowing what I was about to walk into.
I had fought a guy out of Red’s stable twice already. Red produced some world class fighters, like Al Jones (who fought guys like Jerry Quarry and Joe Frazier).
I drove 8 hours to the fight and got there at 8:00 o’clock. As I ran up to the ring, I heard my name, “Ken Boutwell is a no-show”. I said, “I’m here, Red, I’m ready to fight!” “Good,” he said, “here’s the guy you’re fighting tonight. Ken, this is Walter Ivory.”
As I shook his hand, I felt relieved, he was shorter than me and I had plenty of reach on him. I couldn’t see this guy giving me much trouble. I would soon find out I was wrong.
Sitting in my dressing room, not far from the ring, I could hear the crowd cheering then booing. I was sitting there alone with a visual of the crowd screaming for blood in a Roman coliseum. I found myself taking stock of my life, when the door opened and my corner-man, Winky Grooms, walked in to wrap my hands and work my corner. Soon the door opened, “You’re up!” he said, and we headed toward the ring.
We went to the center of the ring to get our instructions from the ref. Before we touched gloves, I asked the guy, “you ready to get with it?”. “Oh, yeah,” he said. I thought to myself, “this is not the guy I shook hands with.” When the bell rang, I remember when he took one step out of his corner and just the way he held his hands, I thought to myself, “this guy has been around.” And he was a southpaw, I’d never fought one before. All I knew was to circle to the left, away from his left hand, but before I knew it, I walked right into it. I remember hitting the canvas and the ropes were right behind me. For a few seconds, I couldn’t see or hear. Then pulling myself to one knee with the ropes, I could see the crowd, but I couldn’t hear them. I was now in that same Roman coliseum I imagined in my dressing room and said to myself, “so this is what it’s like to be fed to the lions.”
At the count of 8, I had barely gotten to my feet when the bell sounded, and I staggered to my stool. I remember Winky throwing water on my face and a smelling salt to bring me back. There must have been 6 or 8 people in my corner, trying to stop the fight, including my opponents. Some how I convinced them to let me continue. I knew this guy was a seasoned fighter and now all I wanted to do was hang with him to the last round and I did.
I lost on a decision and I knew it, but I was not prepared for what was to come after the fight.
As I left the ring and headed to my dressing room, I was congratulated by dozens of fans lined up all the way to my dressing room, handing me money, shaking my hand. I didn’t understand why, until a few minutes later, when my dressing room door opened and in walked Walter Ivory, the guy that just beat my brains out, with his manager.
First, he asked me if I was alright, then he asked me what my story was. “Are you under a contract with anyone?” I said no. He asked where I lived, I told him “in my car for now.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Then he said, “I’d like to make you an offer. Move to Memphis and live with me and my family. I’ll help you get on your feet. Let me train and manage you. Son, you’re a world champion, you just don’t know it. What I saw you do tonight is half of a world champion, the rest I can teach you. When my fighter knocked you down, you should have never gotten up. After the bell I came to your corner because I was worried about you, but you looked as though you enjoyed it, you ate it up like candy. There’s no quit in you. That’s what champions are made of. “
I thanked him for the kind words, but I knew for me it was over. That was not the first time I had been complimented for a taking a beating and deep down, I knew I was pushing my luck. The old timers use to say, “when you start enjoying the pain, it’s time to get out.”
I would later fight in Fort Worth, Texas, leaving the sport the 10th ranked, middle-weight in Texas. 1986 was my last fight. Those were good times and continue to open doors for me today.