NEW JERSEY’S finest, the indefatigable Bobby Czyz, did it his way by bagging two world titles (three if you include the lesser-known WBU super-cruiserweight belt, and you really shouldn’t, but he does). Over an 18-year career, he stepped into the fire of battle to tough it out against the biggest names from light-heavy to heavyweight. Here, he talks about the early days, when he was a “Matinee Idol”, right through to the end of his career as a heavyweight and beyond – when accusations of alcoholism blighted his reputation.
THIRTY years ago, boxing writer Nigel Collins asked, ‘Is Bobby Czyz the next all-American hero?’ What do you say now?
I didn’t think I was boxing’s next prince, but I was a little bit of an enigma because being a member of Mensa and having a genius IQ, most people don’t become fighters. Fighters are not necessarily stupid or punch-drunk, but notoriously under-educated.
I had four partial pre-med scholarships to become a doctor. I wanted to become an orthopaedic surgeon. I had to chase a dream one way or another. So what I decided, and my dad almost decided this for me, he said, ‘I’ll let you forego college if within the first two years you soundly prove that you can go on to be a world champion, otherwise you are going to college.’ Now, my biggest motivator for fighting is as follows. I am not a religious person. I do not believe in God or one deity that controls every single thing on the planet. I believe that the time we spend here is all the time we have. For me to be remembered forever, I have to be in the history books one way or another. Now I am part of sports history. Three world titles, I cannot be forgotten or left behind. I wanted to be immortal. This was a literal obsession.
Unbeaten in 20 fights, you met Mustafa Hamsho in 1982. What do you recall about the fight?
When Sugar Ray Leonard lost to Roberto Duran he said, ‘In losing that fight I learnt how to win the big ones.’ In losing that fight I did the same. Part of the problem for me was that I was trying to make weight. I had to take water pills for two days. I was drained. It was bad. Also I didn’t have the experience that he had. It was a roughhouse fight. I broke my right hand. The first two metacarpals between my first two fingers broke at the top of the joint. I had to have major surgery. On that day he was the better fighter.
Following the Hamsho fight your father passed away. How did his death affect you?
After he passed away I started drinking very heavily. I couldn’t sleep. I had chronic insomnia. I had a lot of different thoughts. After six weeks of drinking myself to death I woke up one day and said, ‘This is not
what he would have wanted for you. He would have wanted you to go chase that dream.’ I went back to the gym two days later. I never turned back.
What do you remember about winning your first world title?
It was the first time I ever cried out of happiness. I understood for the first time why women sometimes cry when they are happy. As a kid I could never understand that. The enormity of what I had just done, I had just walked into the history books.
Do you feel you got the credit for winning that IBF light-heavyweight belt in 1986?
Real simple… reverse racism. I was white. I never got the full credit I deserved. There have been a number of reporters who said the same thing. They believed just because of the colour of my skin I was limited in how good I was allowed to be. I’m not worried about it. It’s one thing to be a fluke, but to do it three times in three different weight divisions? It’s not a fluke.
Why did you struggle with “Prince” Charles Williams in 1987 and 1989?
I had trouble with his speed. I was robbed in the first fight because the referee stepped in when he was wobbling. He never hit the floor and the referee stepped in to give him an eight-count to help him recover. Otherwise he was gone. The day I fought [Robert] Daniels for the [WBA] cruiserweight title, he [Williams] came into my dressing room to wish me good luck. He said, ‘I gotta tell you something. I know whatever division you’re in, this guy is in for the fight of his life. I had to train harder than I ever dreamed of just to face you.’ It was a nice compliment. In 1991, you defeated Robert Daniels for the WBA cruiserweight title. He was a lot stronger than I thought. After the first round I had to change my entire strategy and start boxing from the outside and moving. After the ninth round my feet were bleeding. That’s how much pain I was in. The skin had rubbed off both balls of my feet. I promised my fiancée at the time she would be marrying the cruiserweight champion of the world. I remember after the ninth round in the corner my trainer Tommy [Parks] saying to me, ‘Can you still handle the pain?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a choice. I promised Kim she was going to marry the champ.’ When I eventually got back to the dressing room and took my shoes off, it was unbelievable. As history will tell you, she did marry the cruiserweight champ in September.
Just as you were riding high at cruiser, you were involved in a bad car accident in 1993.
We had just had a snowstorm. I was visiting a friend of mine – I’m also godfather to one of his sons. I was walking down the driveway to my car which was on the front of the road. His cousin was pulling in and hit a patch of ice. He slammed on the brakes but there was nowhere to go. I tried to time my jump, but when I jumped the car hit me right in the hip and I flipped over the car and the antenna almost went through my neck. The accident caused two herniated discs, 0.4 and 0.5 on my right side that still kill me to this day. The impact fractured my pelvis. That was painful. It was not a good day.
What do you recall about fighting Evander Holyfield at heavyweight in 1996?
They stopped it after five rounds. My strategy was working but my eyes were burning so bad. I told Tommy [Parks] I couldn’t see. Eventually I went to two different doctors; an eye doctor and a surgeon. A caustic substance got inside my cornea and it messed up my vision permanently. The gloves allegedly went missing for two days. I knew that as soon as they were lost the results were not going to be any good. When they found them they said the tests were inconclusive. They either have a chemical on them or they don’t. I found out three years later from the New Jersey State Police that they found Tabasco sauce on the gloves. If you are getting punched by a guy with that on the end of the glove it will blind you. But there’s no way to prove it.
Did you suspect foul play?
I guarantee it. Two days after the fight, Bert Cooper called me. He said the same thing happened to him after he knocked Holyfield down in their fight. He said the next round all of a sudden his eyes were burning so bad he couldn’t believe it. Eventually he got stopped. He couldn’t see and he couldn’t defend himself. How much money did you make from boxing? Maybe $1.5-1.6 million in total over 18 years. I made $200 for my first fight. My second was also $200. My biggest purse was $350,000 against Holyfield.
“I flipped over the car and the antenna almost went through my neck”
Did you actually achieve financial independence through your boxing career?
I did for a while. I had a nice gig at Showtime, but I was in a bad car accident [in 2007] and I wound up in a coma for four weeks. Not only that, I went through a divorce and I gave my wife a $450,000 house with only a $150,000 mortgage. I gave her everything. I gave her over $65,000 a year child support alimony. I didn’t care. I had money from boxing and broadcasting, but after the bad car accident I lost my job with Showtime. And it all dried up. How long did you work as a fight analyst for Showtime? I worked for them for a little over 10 years. My job was to make people understand what was going on and to bring people watching it on TV through the camera as if they were at ringside watching it themselves. I believe I did that. I’ve been to the UK covering fights for Showtime. One time I interviewed Naseem Hamed in Newcastle for one of his fights. He said, ‘Listen, I’m so good nobody can ever beat me. Nobody can ever beat me that ever lived before me or ever lives after me.’ I said, ‘You’re too small to talk like that to me. I can break your neck right now.’ I was offended at that. He was so arrogant.
How do you feel Showtime treated you?
I told the truth on the air. I said follow the money and you’ll follow the corruption. When fighter A beats fighter B, and fighter B gets the decision, I would get emails and phone calls from people asking what happened. I explained, ‘If the promoter is paying the judges and the judges want to keep working, they gotta pick his guy.’ Unfortunately you can’t say that on the air, which I did a couple of times. The network got p****d off at me and then they just blamed it on my DUI and used that as a reason to get rid of me. I knew best.
Have you resolved your much-publicised alcohol-related issues?
I spent 30 days in rehab once. I was told I was going to have all these fits and withdrawals. The doctor hadn’t diagnosed me as an alcoholic. He said I wasn’t an alcoholic, but just overdrink once in a while and made a stupid decision to drive. For my insurance to cover the $7,000 a week, I had to go there for four weeks. So I’d rather the insurance pay for it than me. So he diagnosed me that way. I went into the programme. I told the lady, ‘Look, don’t worry, I’m not an alcoholic. I just need the free insurance to cover everything.’ She replied, ‘Oh yeah, sure, that’s what they all say.’ One day I’m in my room doing push-ups, doing a little bit of a workout and I’m grunting. All of a sudden a nurse and a big intern come running through the front door of my room: ‘Are you alright?’ I said, ‘Yes, back off.’ ‘We thought you were having a withdrawal.’ ‘I told you I’m not going to have withdrawals, I’m doing push-ups. Get out of my room!’ Long story cut short, I finished the programme after 30 days. I didn’t have a drink, I didn’t have a problem. I did not have one withdrawal symptom. Did I drink and drive? Yes. That’s technically a drinking problem.
“He had to give me five injections over the course of the operation because it didn’t work and it was killing me. I could feel every cut he did”
The first time I drank was when my father passed away in 1983. I didn’t get a DUI until 1997. That time I was drunk. In 1998 I blew and it read 0.10. In 2000 it was 0.12. In 2003 I blew and it was 0.11. If you’re over 0.10 you’re screwed. However, what they don’t understand is that I have a high tolerance for most things. My system doesn’t respond normally to anything. I’ve heard this from several doctors, and even when I was in surgery a doctor said your blood oxygenation is 99 per cent. That is almost literally impossible without being on an oxygen machine. I said, ‘What do you want from me?’ I don’t do anything normal. Nothing is normal. I have been given drugs that were supposed to work and didn’t work. I had surgery once on my nose where I got a local. He had to give me five injections over the course of the operation because it didn’t work and it was killing me. I could feel every cut he did. Anyway, I can’t drive a car until 2025. The authorities just went by the letter of the law.
I can’t fault them for that. I am a little ticked off that they waited around certain restaurants and nightclubs just waiting when I came out to see if I was drunk and stop me regardless. They just stopped me because they knew I was drinking.
I have a name and they get it in the papers too. They made it look like I was an out-of-control nut job. I didn’t help myself in some sense, but it is what it is.
Moving on to the car accident that almost cost your life in 2007, I understand you’re still paying back your medical bills.
That has sort of bankrupted me. There’s still $979,000 out of a $1.6 million bill that’s hanging over my head. When I get it I’ll get it. I’ve paid some down, but you still have to live. I’m also in debt to a few friends that helped out, which was generous of them. I’ll make it up because I always do.
What have you been doing since the accident?
I’ve worked in commodities. I had connections in the oil business and I had one or two deals go through really quickly, but they weren’t very big. I have done some broadcasts for different independent promoters and promotion companies.
I am going to start broadcasting again for a promoter who has put a deal together for CBS to string up fights. I have done a couple of meet and greets. I sign autographs and hang out. I open events – I pick up $1,000-$1,500 a day for doing that. I host events in Atlantic City for $2,500 for the day, plus food and room. Look, if it ever gets that bad I’ll just take a long walk over a short pier and drop myself into a canyon. I wouldn’t shoot myself because I don’t want to mess up my hair. I’d rather leave a pretty corpse.