Akron, Ohio, USA
August 10, 1958 – August 12, 2012
6’3″ / 78″ reach / 198-290 lbs
53-6-2-0 (34) from 10/15/1976 to 10/11/1997 (21y0m)
1-4-0-1(1) against the top ten
0-2-0-0(0) against linear champions
0-2-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers
0-1-0-0(0) for the linear championship
Top ten opponents: W-TKO-1 Mike Weaver, D-15 Mike Weaver, L-KO-10 Gerrie Coetzee, L-TKO-10 Evander Holyfield, L-TKO-4 Donovan Ruddock, L-TKO-1 Riddick Bowe
-0.5 total score (1 + -3 + 0.5 + 1)
It’s no secret that boxing is a hard sport. But when I say that it’s hard, I don’t just mean the training, or the physical difficulty of actual fighting. Jimmy Cannon famously described boxing as “the red light district of sports.” It’s full of rough characters and macho personalities. It’s poorly regulated, has been manipulated by criminals, and is frequently corrupt. A huge number of participants have met untimely ends, and not always in the ring. Fighters frequently fall victim to drugs and alcohol. Performance-enhancing drugs are prevalent. It really is a rough world.
Michael Dokes is a famous example of a fighter caught up in the seedier side of the business. It kept him from performing to his impressive potential. But even with a “disappointing” career, Dokes managed to fight professionally for 21 years, and stepped into the ring with a multitude of top contenders. He managed to win an alphabet belt, won the Comeback of the Year Award from the Ring Magazine in 1988, and was one half of arguably the best heavyweight fight of the 1980s.
Dokes came out of Akron, Ohio, and had a sterling amateur career, compiling a record of 147-7. He won multiple amateur titles at light heavyweight and heavyweight, including the 1976 Heavyweight Golden Gloves. That title included victories over future professional beltholders Greg Page and John Tate. He would lose in the Olympic qualifiers against Tate in a rematch in 1976, and would just miss out on a great American Olympic team.
Dokes would shrug off his Olympic rejection, and turn pro in October 1976. He would start his career impressively, scoring 17 straight wins (8 by knockout) to kick off his pro career. That run included a decision victory over former contender (and still crafty) Jimmy Young. In April 1980, Dokes would suffer his first setback, being held to a draw against fringe contender Ossie Ocasio. Two months later, the man known as “Dynamite” would gain revenge, blasting Ocasio out in a single painful round. Two fights later, and Dokes would outpoint fellow prospect Randall “Tex” Cobb over ten. By this point, Dokes had filled out from his initial slender physique from the start of his career, and was fighting between 212 and 216 pounds. His power improved, and he began doing more damage, to go along with his fast hands.
Dokes would sport a 25-0-1(14) record and a top 3 ranking going into his December 1982 match with fellow top 3 contender (and WBA beltholder) Mike Weaver. Dokes jumped on the slow-starting Weaver quickly, and put Weaver down with a pair of left hooks in the first round. Weaver appeared to recover well, and wasn’t badly hurt. However, Dokes pressured him into the ropes and went for the kill immediately. Weaver was covering up, and not taking too much punishment, when referee Joey Curtis apparently panicked and stopped the fight. Weaver’s camp protested, and a fight broke out between the fighter’s corners in the ring. Most agreed that Weaver was in no immediate danger, including the ring doctor. Nevertheless, Dokes officially scored a first round TKO over a top contender and titlist. Dokes became the number 1 contender, second only to Champion Larry Holmes.
Due to the nature of the last fight, Dokes and Weaver agreed to do it again. May 1983, the two men went toe-to-toe for 15 exciting rounds. After injuring his thumb in the 3rd round, Dokes’ jab seemed to slow, and Weaver’s pressure started getting to Dokes. Dynamite never quit, but Weaver appeared to get the better of him later in the fight. Most observers scored the fight as a Weaver victory by 2 or 3 rounds. They were angered when a draw was declared. Dokes retained the WBA belt in controversial fashion, albeit a different type of controversy from their last go-round.
Dokes was now a name in the boxing world, for reasons both good and bad. But he was definitely a top heavyweight. Taking on number 3 ranked South African banger Gerrie Coetzee, Dokes was a significant favorite. But Dokes fought surprisingly poorly in what was meant to be something of a homecoming fight. The limited but powerful Coetzee dropped Dokes with his vaunted right hand in the fifth, and then again for the count in the tenth. Ring Magazine called it their Upset of the Year for 1983. Dokes admitted he was unprepared for the fight having “trained on Jack Daniels and cocaine.”
Dokes took almost a year off, and spent much of the time in between Coetzee and his comeback partying. Cocaine, marijuana, alcohol…. he just used and wasted money, and blew through his winnings. He would keep fighting, but mostly against journeymen. He did score an unsatisfying technical decision over Tex Cobb in a rematch in 1985. Otherwise, Michael was just treading water, and faded out of contention, and into the criminal justice system.
After the Cobb fight, Dokes would be inactive for more than two years. He ballooned in weight, spent a couple months in jail, and was in general, a mess. But in boxing, there’s always a comeback just around the corner. In this case, Dokes stepped back into the ring in December 1987, now weighing 245 pounds. Over the next year, he would fight his way back into shape, and gradually back into contention. One year into his comeback, Dokes would have eight straight wins under his belt, and a shot at former unified cruiserweight champion (and new heavyweight contender) Evander Holyfield.
Dokes had been worn down by drug use and late nights, and a career not exactly conducive to long-term health. But he forced himself into shape, and in March 1989, Dokes and Holyfield went to war. Dokes put on his last great performance, taking the fight to the younger, fresher man, and forcing Holyfield to brawl. Dokes didn’t move as well as he did in his prime, but his hands were still fast, and he stayed competitive in a classic fight.
After nine rounds, Holyfield was ahead on the cards, but the fight itself was contested on largely even terms. But youth would prevail, and Holyfield would break through in the tenth, catching Dokes with a pair of big left hooks that drove him into the ropes and out on his feet. Richard Steele stepped in and stopped the fight.
It was arguably Dokes’ finest hour, and it was still a loss. He could hold his head high, and was considered a legitimate contender once again. But the demons remained, and Dokes would continue to struggle with drug use. Four straight wins over uninspiring opponents would follow, along with multiple arrests for possession. Dokes would take on Canadian power puncher Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in April 1990, and was overweight, undertrained, and distracted. Ruddock absolutely trucked Dokes, knocking him completely unconscious in the fourth round.
But a clear pattern had emerged with Dokes, and he seemed hellbent on repeating it. A big loss, followed by a break, wins over relative nobodies, leading to another big loss. Rinse and repeat.
And sure enough, over a year would pass without a fight, then Dokes would start taking on journeymen in rapid succession. Nine straight wins would lead to an embarrassing first round blowout loss to heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. Dokes had no business being in the ring that night, and Bowe proved it.
Dokes would take off another year and change, and this time he was fighting around 280 pounds. He beat a trio of clubfighters in 1995 and 1996, and then finally ceased to even be able to beat that level, losing twice in 1997 to non-contenders.
In 1998, the troubled Dokes brutally assaulted his girlfriend, and after two years of legal wrangling, would be sent to prison, where he remained until 2008. He returned home to Akron upon his release, and managed to get by on his name, signing autographs and appearing at events. He died in 2012 of liver cancer at the age of 54.
Boxing claimed yet another victim. The lifestyle chewed him up and spat him out. But Dokes was talented enough that he still managed to carve out a good career.
An excellent profile on Dokes can be found at the link below:
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