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Touching Gloves with Eddie Perkins
by Dan Hanley

On this brisk midwestern afternoon, I entered, by appointment, St. Leo High School on Chicago's south side, where I anxiously sought my party. Led along like an insect to a light, I followed the staccato sound of a speedbag in the distance until I walked in on the small boxing gym at the end of a very active hall.

Entering, I walked around a rugged instructor plying the mitts for a young aspirant, while others getting their hands wrapped paid me no mind. Abruptly, I stopped and stared at the man causing the speed bag to call out to me, and recognition was immediate. "Eddie Perkins," I said. "I'd recognise you anywhere!"

The spry fitness of the man belied his near 65 years, and his articulation contrasted greatly with how the theatre would portray a 99 bout veteran who had suffered two strokes in recent years. To the contrary, Eddie Perkins is alright.

DH: Eddie, where are you from originally?

EP: I was actually born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, but we moved to Chicago when I was about four years old.

DH: Did you have much of an amateur background?

EP: I had 46 amateur bouts of which I won about 35. And I was never knocked down.

DH: Who was your management team when you went pro?

EP: Frank Tomaso was my manager and Johnny Jackson was my trainer. Johnny taught me how to box.

DH: Who else was involved throughout your career?

EP: Well, Frank died in the early '70s and when Johnny took sick he brought me to former bantamweight champ Johnny Coulon. Coulon had always been involved in my training anyway.

DH: Coulon was running the old Windy City Gym on east 63rd street, correct?

EP: That's right. And Coulon was with me to the end of my career.

DH: That's so unusual by today's standards to stick with one team.

EP: Y'know, they were also my friends. We were always together, at each other's homes.

DH: Eddie, your second year as a pro you were already beating fringe contenders, Cecil Shorts, Frankie Ryff and Baby Vasquez. You appeared to be picking up the game fast.

EP: But I still wasn't as slick yet as I wanted to be.

DH: Describe your style for me.

EP: I was primarily a boxer who could counterpunch. Eventually I became very slick because, man, I just did not like getting hit.

DH: The next part of your makeup has to be addressed. Your jaw. Let's talk about the fact that, in 99 bouts, you were only stopped once. And that was at the hands of one bad dude down in Mexico named Alfredo Urbina.

EP: (laughing) Oh, he was tough, but I had him figured out and was ahead on points until I was butted. An eye cut, that's all. Man, he near caved my head in in the 7th.

DH: Were you prone to cuts?

EP: No, and I dealt with butts all the time. See, I'm short, I'm only 5'3", so fighters were always charging me. But it was strictly a butt against Urbina.

DH: Down in Mexico you couldn't exactly voice your opinion.

EP: Every country I was ever in I just kept my mouth shut. Hey, I was the visitor.

DH: You were the visitor alot. 22 foreign countries on your passport. No one holds that distinction.

EP: Y'know, I had the best time on the road. My wife traveled with me, I was always treated good. I was like a celebrity in South Africa. Everybody liked me...except for the boy I beat.

DH: Apartheid was in full swing in the mid '60s. You never experienced any problems over in South Africa?

EP: None! Everybody wanted to shake my hand after my first visit. And I fought there five times overall.

DH: Being a road fighter took you to Milan for the title in '62. Let's talk about Duilio Loi.

EP: Duilio Loi was a boxer. A real good boxer. But he was not hard to beat. I had him figured out, but we fought in Milan, his hometown, three times. The first fight was a draw. The next fight, I won and the third, he won.

DH: Do you feel if those bouts were held over here you would have fared better?

EP: Oh, no question! I had alot of fights taken from me on the road. But, that's the game.

DH: After regaining the title from Roberto Cruz, you defended your title against Yoshinori Takahashi in Japan. Tell me about that fight.

EP: Well, I didn't enjoy going the distance all the time, or having a fight taken from me. So, when I had the chance, I took it, and ended up hurting Takahashi pretty bad around the 13th I think. He had a concussion, but fortunately, was okay. But...I think it effected me a little after that, 'cause, I wasn't knocking out guys anymore.

DH: Every title fight you had was in the other guy's hometown. Sometimes you had a bit of success. So, let me throw another name at you. Carlos Hernandez. He was a wrecking ball, and you posted the first loss on his record.

EP: Oh, oh! (laughs) Y'know, Hernandez was real tall and a real hard puncher. He was looking down at me and laughing. He put me down, but I beat him in his hometown.

DH: The title fight, when you lost to Hernandez. Henry Armstrong was the referee and scored the bout 150-129 in your favor, only to be outvoted by the two Venezuelan judges. He called the bout the worst instance of partiality he had seen in 35 years.

EP: That's exactly right! I can still see Hernandez to this day with this confused look on his face. He couldn't hit me with nothin'. He was a good puncher, but just couldn't hit me.

DH: Again, the question comes up about your jaw. You survived against some heavy bangers in the opposite corner. Would you say you had a good jaw or you were too slick?

EP: I would say...I could take a punch, but I was slicker than the punch I didn't want to take.

DH: Okay, I'm going to throw a name at you that I heard was a sore spot with you. Jose Napoles.

EP: Oh, yeah!

DH: I've heard stories ranging from you beat him to...you beat him real bad.

EP: That's right, real bad.

DH: Your honest opinion, how did the fight unfold?

EP: Napoles was a good puncher, but I didn't give him the opportunity to load up. He was touching me with small stuff, but I didn't give him a chance to get set. Now, he wasn't chasing me, 'cause I wasn't running. I always went at my opponent. I was punching hard that night, but he took a good punch too. It was his hometown (Juarez), he got the decision and I wanted to fight him again, but he didn't want it.

DH: By the early '70s, you started to make the move from the 140 lb. division to 147, beating along the way Clyde Gray and Angel Espada. Was it an economic decision or were you having a problem at the weight?

EP: I was not having a problem making the weight, but holding the weight. And I was starting to feel a little weak during a fight at 140. But I never weighed more than 143 for any of my fights.

DH: With you and Napoles in the same division again, and he was champ for a long time, he could have given you a title shot. In fact, wasn't there a Chicago offer to Napoles for a Napoles-Perkins showdown for the title?

EP: That's right, but the Napoles people wouldn't take the fight. I can't remember when it was, but they were trying for a late summer date and they turned us down.

DH: In 1973, at the age of 15, my favorite fighter on the planet was Armando Muniz. And you beat him.

EP: Oh, yeah!

DH: Eddie, you were 36 years old, you beat one of the top contenders in the world, took his North American title from him. then had the audacity to repeat the win a year later. This was not supposed to happen. Tell me about this fight.

EP: I remember Muniz well. He depended way too much on his punching power. And, a power puncher, looking for that one big shot to knock a man out, always tightens up before throwing a punch. I never hurt him, just boxed and outpointed him.

DH: I ran into Muniz about a year and a half ago out in LA, and I asked him about those fights, and he said, "Oh, yeah, Perkins beat me good, but I did feel like I could have gotten the decision in the rematch." Was the rematch closer?

EP: No...to tell you the truth, it was about the same.

DH: What do you attribute to such success at that time at such an advanced age?

EP: Clean living. I never drank or smoked. Well...beer every now and then when I was young, but never when training for a fight. I did like to party, but my idea of partying was going out dancing. I learned early on, when I played football for Philips High School, the need for conditioning. And I never went into a bout out of shape.

DH: Did your career afford you a comfortable living?

EP: I worked early in my career doing millwork to make ends meet. Then, my fights on TV, I was making about $4,000 a fight, so then I became a full time fighter. The fights overseas now, they were paying anywhere between $8,000 to $13,000 a fight, which was why I stayed on the road.

DH: Your highest purse?

EP: $30,000 to $40,000 for my title fights after regaining the title. I didn't make much in Milan.

DH: I'm going to throw names of some of your successors at you, and I'd like you to tell me how you would tackle them. Aaron Pryor.

EP: He was a swarmer. I would have to back off of him with that style, otherwise we'd be butting heads all night. I would move out and counterpunch.

DH: Sugar Ray Leonard.

EP: I wouldn't try to knock him out. I would strictly box him, unless of course he tried to open up on me.

DH: Roberto Duran.

EP: Again, I would box Duran, and I think I would do well against him.

DH: How about a tall fighter like a Tommy Hearns?

EP: I wouldn't run, but I would have to slip that jab and stay right with him. I fought tall fighters before and did well.

DH: You were a guy who stayed with a team throughout your career. What do you think of an Oscar DeLaHoya who tends to fire his trainers after suffering a loss.

EP: See, he don't care who trains him, he's gonna do what he wants. If I trained him, I would say, 'I'll train you on one accord, you don't do what you want to do, you do what I tell you to do'. DeLaHoya don't take the blame for anything. Hey, if I'm the one doing the fighting, I'll take the blame.

DH: How about Roy Jones, Jr. Here is a very talented fighter with very little competition. His one decent challenger is based in Germany and Jones has expressed reluctance to fight him for fear that a decision could go against him overseas. What does a globetrotter like you have to say to that?

EP: I would say, don't be afraid. If you can knock him out, what can they do to you? As long as he's in condition he has nothing to worry about. America produces the best fighters in the world.

DH: You were never afraid of going into the other man's backyard?

EP: Nope! I'd go into his frontyard too. You can win if you got enough guts.

DH: Eddie, last question. How do you feel?

EP: I'm 65 years old. I run three miles a day. I work for the Chicago Sun-Times and train young fighters here at St. Leo. I feel blessed.

The proposed contract Eddie spoke of was a legitimate offer of $70,000 tax-free to Jose Napoles from a Chicago concern for a Napoles-Perkins title fight in Chicago for the fall of 1972. That summer, Napoles defended his title against Adolph Pruitt, a man he had previously knocked out and a man whom Eddie had already defeated twice. Unfortunately, the fall date came and went unceremoniously. Perhaps too little for too big a risk.

Eddie is at home instructing the youth of St Leo High School on the finer points of the sweet science. A program run by Mike Joyce whom I must thank for affording me Eddie's time for this piece. Unfortunately, no words can convey the laugh-fest I had with Eddie during our hash session.

Suffice to say, the affable Perkins is content with life and holds no malice towards the people who threw his career a few curves. However, he has retained his convictions that had him barging in his opponent's backyard...frontyard too. Would that we were all as rich as Eddie Perkins.

See ya next round

  • Armando Muniz
  • Sandro Mazzinghi
  • Freddie Little
  • Boxing Encyclopedia

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