Every boxer wants to be somebody, and everyone dreams of being the champ, and once it looked like Alex Ramos might be both. He had that big wide smile, a way with the ladies and a pair of hands that could hurt any fighter alive. He was adored, too, a South Bronx kid that everyone in New York cheered like a favorite son. Boxing fans clapped each other on the shoulder congratulating themselves on every knockout as if they had flashed the leather themselves. Nothing fueled the lore more than broadcaster Howard Cosell’s nasally and deliberate voice introducing Ramos to a new audience in the late 1970s; the next great middleweight champion in waiting. If Cosell said so, then that’s the way it was.
And for a while, that seemed to be true, devastating knockouts in the amateurs culminating in four New York City Golden Glove championships, followed by a quick start as a pro. But not everyone handles success well, and maybe that’s why things came apart, why he never reached the level to which his talent could have taken him.
Or maybe it was something else, something that wouldn’t go away, something that slowly scraped away at the heart of who he was. Legal problems began to make more headlines than his KOs, and his career first slowed then plateaued, then went into steep decline in the late 1990s as his troubles mounted and old friends turned away. And just when his life seemed to be on the ropes, Jacquie Richardson showed up to keep him on his feet and then help him get medical help as the years of fighting began to catch up with him. If there was a problem, she would solve it, cobbling together lives from the broken minds and souls that once laced up in professional boxing rings.
She knew what kind of damage a man could endure in the ring and cause outside of it. And she knew the legal system. An assistant to the district attorney in Ventura County, California, Richardson focused on sex crimes. She had years of knowledge and experience on the subject, and she had needed it all, especially with Alex. Her latest problem child had been questioned more than once about a string of rapes in New York City, a brutal series of crimes where the perpetrator gained the confidence of his targets — and intimidated them — by claiming he was a middleweight contender, then employed drugs to subdue his victims and had his way. And even though Ramos’ guilt in those crimes had yet to be proven, even if he truly was innocent, he had still shown a predilection for mayhem and violence. He served nearly two years of prison time in Corcoran, California, for an assault in 1989, and had been known for a dangerous temper easily ignited by the cheapest vodka he could find.
But Alex could be charming, and it seemed his calmer, gentler side helped him shed the assault conviction. He had once beaten a rape charge, even though a Manhattan victim accused him by name. After that, he reversed course, changed his very nature, put the past behind. For years he had abused alcohol to take the edge off, to beat back the memories, the anger. But the booze only made things worse. It had taken work to quit alcohol. Not just a prison sentence, but homelessness — homelessness and Jacquie. The peroxide blond, bubbly and talkative, helped him pick up the pieces to his life. And as his boxing career petered out, Ramos, improbably found a calling, using his connections as a once famous athlete to create the Retired Boxers Foundation, an organization bent on helping needy former boxers with medical and financial support when their days as models of fitness and power were gone.
He was years into his recovery and redemption, when just last April, the phone rang at the foundation and Jacquie answered.
It was a lawyer, offering help to Alex Ramos. He said he had raised money for his appeal, for a second opportunity at life, for another chance for Alex to prove that he wasn’t a violent rapist, the monster authorities and the newspapers had claimed. The lawyer said they had a plan to help him beat the charges, that Alex was a just an innocent man serving an unjust sentence. He could get him out of jail, he promised.
“I think you have the wrong guy,” Jacquie said to the voice on the phone. “Alex is right here with me.”
Perhaps it was an omen when Ramos was born into the world on Jan. 17, 1961 the same day The Greatest turned 19, a fast-talking still unknown young fighter from Louisville, Kentucky, who one day would be known the world over as Muhammed Ali. Yet unlike Ali, Ramos’ upbringing was lean, the territory of his youth unfriendly.
Look into his past, the way he was raised and where he lived. You’ll see how he was made and what made him a man with such vast potential for destruction in a prize ring, and outside of it. For a black Puerto Rican, Ramos’ home, the South Bronx of the ’60s, was the kind of place that could swallow a life before it really had a chance, a tough town in an already tough town.
His mother, Socorro, knew this. She and Alex’s father, Alejandro, had brought the family from Puerto Rico when he was a toddler, a fresh start in the land of opportunity. Alex’s mother wouldn’t let him piss away his chance at a real life. A misstep and his mother was happy to beat his ass with the nearest object. A small, full-lipped beauty, his mother had the curves to stop traffic, and at 5′2, somehow held physical dominance over him, sometimes smacking him in front of his friends when he talked tough.
She was a school teacher from a family full of college graduates, and simply showing up to classes never impressed her. When Ramos and his sisters Betty and Miriam didn’t focus, when he goofed around at school, when his report card wasn’t what it should be, he was punished, sentenced to kneeling on a cheese grater on naked knees, holding books over his shoulders, the way Atlas shrugged the Earth.
It was an introduction to how hard life could be. Maybe the abuse was a way to harden him to the realities of a place where desperation, like trash, littered the sidewalks. Ramos was 8 years old when he saw a limp body spread like pancake batter on the sidewalk, surrounded by syringes, and witnessed things even worse, once watching a knife wielding man pounce on his victim, dispensing death, quick and cruel.
The neighborhood was known for hardship, described once in a Time feature as a “torched gray wasteland.” His mother wanted to keep him away from that wasteland, but what happened at home drove Ramos away.
His father was different. Alejandro was one of the few car owners around the neighborhood, and he didn’t have the same concern about his children’s education. But his gentle, laid back, public demeanor belied his true nature. He was a big shouldered man standing 6′2, a former carnival boxer in Puerto Rico who’d fought all comers for a penny and a bottle of 160-proof rum. That was his drink of choice, right from the bottle, the stench clinging to his clothes Friday nights after the paycheck was cashed. But he was a calm drunk, holding a consistent job installing awnings around the city, never lifting his hands to the three children. Instead, it was his wife who suffered.
His father’s side of the family had a history of violence. Alejandro’s father shot his mother, a death whose motivation isn’t clear today. But Alejandro’s violence never turned deadly. Still, he had rules for the pretty mother of his children that were the topic of many arguments: No drinking. No going out. No racy outfits.
A woman with a strong will, she didn’t take to those rules well. That’s when the beatings came, when the big fists used to pummel men into submission were used on his little wife.
“My brother grew up angry watching my father abuse my mother,” his older sister, Miriam, would say years later. This is where that anger that would become his trademark first began to grow. A street gang called the Sons of Satan tried to recruit him, the sort of culture that embraces angry young men. Alex didn’t give a shit about that, but fitting in was important, a way to stay safe.
“I stole, beat up on people,” Ramos said in the Time article, “I wanted to prove I was bad and not a punk.”
More than that, he learned an undeniable rule of the streets: when you get hit, you better hit back. It’s a lesson he’d remember.
As much as Alex hated the mistreatment of his mother, he still loved his father. He knew Alejandro had been a boxer and asked to go to the gym. Alex was a 90 pound 11-year-old when he found the outlet for his anger, a place away from the streets where fighting was treated as craft instead of the skill of thugs. Boxing introduced him to his first grudge.
“I’m the sort of person who never forgets,” Ramos will say. “You do something to me, and I’ll never forget.”
A 13-year-old thought he’d pick on the new kid, show him how cruel a beating in the ring could be. Ramos didn’t forget that, and he didn’t retaliate right away, he waited. And waited. And once he was ready, he found that same kid, and worked his ass over in the ring so he’d get the message to never mess with him again.
“Life’s a bitch, and payback’s a motherfucker,” Ramos would come to say.
But life in those days wasn’t a bitch for him, as long as he kept his mother happy. Things started to go right for him. If he kept up his grades, he could box, following his friend Adonis Torres to the gym. A few years older, Torres, who later boxed professionally as a featherweight, kept his eye on Ramos, something his mother demanded. And when Torres wasn’t around, Ramos risked his mother’s wrath and went anyway. He didn’t have as much time to stop by the handball court as before, but he’d make the occasional trip to soak up the praise of the locals. Most of his free time was dedicated to the gym. The result? BoxRec puts his record at 143-9, but Ramos recalls 160 amateur bouts, 154 wins and 80 knockouts. Either way, the candy store on his block displayed a sign: Ramos the E. 136 Street Champ.
“I was as sure my son is El Gallo, a brave fighting cock, as sure as I am that when the priest blesses this house, I’ll win at the track the next day,” Alejandro told Time.
He jogged the streets where he grew up, past the packed basketball courts, and the street corners where he would hang with his pals Popeye, Angel and Shorty. The roadwork offered a reminder for what the streets could do to a kid. His friend, known on the streets as the Candyman, was shot in the chest five times when he tried to rip off a drug dealer.
Everyone at the basketball court by the school knew what he could do in the ring, and pretty soon it was like he knew everybody. Actually, it was more like everyone knew him. But there was still trouble to navigate. Drug dealers stuck around the playground, and all manner of people were there eager to meet the local celebrity and draft in his wake.
“The name’s Spooky,” one kid said when he introduced himself to Alex.
That was just the 16-year-old’s nickname. His given name was Alberto Lugo, and he was a reputed drug dealer Ramos saw from time to time, but didn’t really know well. He was smaller than Ramos, a head shorter, and had the lumpy body of an unaccomplished athlete. There were lots of people like that on his way to the top, the first as forgettable as the last, people who look at a boxer and see not something to become, to aspire to be, but see only what they themselves are not, something not to work toward in the gym, but to take a piece of if they get the chance.
His amateur career blossomed in 1979 with a National Amateur Athletic Union Championship. In another time, he might have been an Olympic gold medalist. But when the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics rolled around, the Soviets were entrenched in a ground invasion of Afghanistan, a power grab that alarmed the globe. Dozens of countries boycotted, including the United States.
With nothing left to prove as an amateur, at 19 Ramos turned professional. A Hispanic fighter with the goods to contend, in a city that had 1.9 million Hispanic residents at the time, promoters began to take him seriously. Shelly Finkel, better known as a musical promoter, saw his potential and made Ramos one of the first boxers on a roster that included Billy Joel, Olivia Newton John, Yes, and The Who.
Ramos turned pro in November of 1980, bringing to the professional ranks a style that could make him a star. He was what fight promoter Bob Arum called “a great banger,” a fighter whose first objective is to land his best shot, and if he happens to get nailed in the meantime, then fine. Ramos thrived, knowing that his best shot was probably better than anything that would come back at him.
That style was an easy sell, and Ramos often occupied a spot on the undercard, a guy who could put butts in seats at the casinos in Atlantic City. In their enthusiasm, fans began calling him the Bronx Bomber, a gesture of respect borrowed from two legendary champions, both Joe Louis and the New York Yankees — sometimes he even wore pinstriped trunks. He had a name, a punch and a future in the game, a ranked fighter at a time when the middleweight was boxing’s glory division, home to Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Benitez and Duran. There were big fights for big dollars every few months, and each man was worth millions and recognized everywhere.
With each win, Ramos soared higher and farther. Everyone seemed to know him, and family. But it was a big city, celebrities everywhere, and sometimes they could still go unnoticed. One night Miriam went to Studio 54, a former opera house renovated into a nightclub, the place to be and be seen. She was there dancing when a stranger, a man with a dark complexion, approached her, talking a big game, his patter already practiced. He wasn’t tall, just a few inches more that her 5′2. He told her he was a boxer, a Golden Gloves winner making his way up now in the pros, fighting at the Garden.
Miriam was puzzled. She knew boxers, and this guy didn’t have the look of a fighter, like her brother. He wasn’t lean, and his shoulders sagged.
What’s your name?
No you’re not. He’s my brother.
The guy walked off. It was Miriam’s lucky day.
Ramos started fast, blasting his way to a 15-0 start. Then came an ignominious knock out loss in 1982 to lightly regarded Ted Saunders in Atlantic City, and all the promise he seemed to have hit the canvas with him. He fought his way back up for a while, beating Curtis Parker in 1984 to take the USBA middleweight crown, a minor title, but enough to start talk of a fight with Hagler, and an opportunity at a really big win, a chance to grab the titles that mattered, those administered by the WBC/WBA/IBF and The Ring. But he couldn’t hold the USBA belt and dropped it to James Kinchen before the year was out.
He moved on to Scottsdale, Arizona, to revive his career. One night in 1983, the phone rang, a cop from New York City on the other end of the line. A rape victim there told police she had been raped by the boxer, by Alex Ramos.
But there was no way. Ramos had been across the country, trying to get his career back together. He had an alibi, but flew back to clear his name and look at mug shots. One face was familiar.
It was Alberto Lugo, the guy better known in the old neighborhood as Spooky.
The imposter had been using his name to get perks like free hotel rooms, and impress women who otherwise looked right through him. Spooky was busted in short order, convicted in ‘85, and sent away in ‘86 to serve three to nine years. It was quick and clean for Ramos, who moved on with life.
Ramos soon relocated to Los Angeles to train with his friend Hector “Macho” Camacho, a slick boxer who eventually held seven titles but was best known for his wild partying habits — Camacho was once arrested in Florida for having sex while driving his Ferrari. When training camp wasn’t in session, Alex and Camacho would party — booze and coke. When Camacho left town around ‘87, Ramos stayed behind. He developed a taste for the Hollywood lifestyle, mingling among celebrities. Besides, his career hadn’t turned out the way many thought it would. And he seemed to be going so far with those four Golden Glove titles and all those knockouts.
But the inheritance of such physical gifts that helped him on the path to a championship also came with a flaw. Ramos adopted his father’s love of booze. And unlike his father, when Alex drank, he became dangerous, a humorless guy who could hit hard with either hand. Sometimes it was a look, maybe an innocuous comment, and his past would surge back in the form of a foul temper and hideously accurate fists, a dangerous and potent combination.
The guy who once looked to make his name in a historic division with fighters regarded as top-10 fighters of all time like Sugar Ray Leonard, Harry Greb and Mickey Walker, would never be a star, instead becoming a guy up and comers looked at to score a quality win.
This is when the drinking caught up to him, when the value of each purse became more important and it became clear they wouldn’t always be there. He became unhinged, and that anger he had for his father when he hit his mother became inflamed. As he hurtled toward the bottom of a vodka bottle, the knockouts he earned weren’t in the ring. He flattened a manager and a promoter with those sledge hammer fists, thinking they had cheated him of thousands of dollars. The jury convicted him of assault with a deadly weapon: his hands.
By the time Ramos was sentenced to prison in 1988, the boxer who was once 15-0 was 28-8-2. He spent 20 months in the state prison in Corcoran, a town of about 25,000 people, 50 miles south of Fresno. It was brand new in 1989, and housed some of the most high-profile criminals in the country, like Charlie Manson, and for a while it appeared as if the 26-year-old fighter would spend the rest of his prime in a jail cell surrounded by evil, something that had grown inside him, something he wanted to destroy.
Instead, he struck a deal. It wasn’t a deal with the state, or with the devil, but in some ways it came close. It was a drug dealer, one of the shady friends he had made while he was snorting cocaine and spiraling out of control. If the drug dealer could get him out of jail, Ramos agreed to fight again to pay him back.
To the average fight fan boxing is about violence, and violent men in the boxing ring offer no surprise or outrage. Other sports punish athletes for misbehavior, but boxing is different. Press conference brawls only fuel excitement for a fight, and rarely incur financial penalties. A bad guy in a matchup sells tickets, and Ramos, the ex-con who beat a rape rap, was a bad guy.
Yet Ramos never quite fit that role, even if he did have the reputation. He wasn’t even in shape to fight real professionals after he had softened in prison. Out of the joint, Alex was drinking and snorting, and fought just twice between 1990-91. By 1993 Alex was back in prison on a parole violation, sucked back into a life he had seen so much of as a child.
But Ramos still had to pay back his debt to the drug dealer who found a way to spring him. So he got back in the gym for real in 1994 and in six months won 9 fights in a row, paying back his debt and more, finding some deliverance, finally harnessing his temper, cutting back on booze. But what first seemed like a real comeback turned out to be just a delay for an end that had been coming for years. It was too late, and his talent was already squandered.
Still, in November he got a shot at the WBA middleweight title, fighting Jorge Castro for $25,000 in Argentina, his last chance. A win could have launched him into a series of big money fights — although Hearns, Hagler and Leonard were all about finished, the division still attracted big money.
It was not to be. Castro knocked him out in the second round. It was the end of a career whose success and failure had been built on anger, his final record 39-10-2. But now that there was no one left to hit, he found something better.
The comeback may have failed, but his turnaround was real. He put his energy to better use in 1995 when he founded the Retired Boxers Foundation using what he had left of fame and celebrity connections to help raise funds. Over the years the foundation helped the tattered leftovers of prize fighters survive their reentry to the real world, and cope with the physical devastation often incurred from years of fighting. Anything Ramos could do to help, from distributing sweatpants, to finding beds at rehab centers, he did. Ron Shelton, director of “Play it to the Bone,” ponied up $10,000 a year to support the foundation, and offered $50,000 to the great Wilfred Benitez, who lost his home in 1998 to hurricane Georges.
Jacquie Richardson helped write grants for a boxing program in Los Angeles when she met Ramos. She began to help him with his project, eventually taking over as the Executive Director. Ramos was the face of the foundation, it’s heart and soul, and Jackie kept him going.
The foundation was doing well as the millennium approached. Ramos had celebrities supporting him, like hall of famer Freddy Roach, as big a name as there is in boxing circles. His life, it seemed, had come together. Then something from his past threatened to destroy the life he had put together.
The strange phone call came from his father. Is this you? Did you do this? What? What did he do? Alex, they’re saying you raped these women.
The call came shortly after one of the coldest stretches of the year in New York City, the third week of February 1999. The temperature wallowed in the mid-teens, making the restaurants and taverns safe roosts from the bitter cold. The boxer was holding court at a midtown bar hoping to find a girl to bring to his room on East 29th Street at the Hotel Deauville. He found his mark in an attractive Atlanta tourist. She was just 27 years old, and she had told him she needed money for one thing or another. The boxer offered her a way to make some quick cash, $3,000 to be a ring card girl at his next fight at Madison Square Garden. When he left the bar, so did she.
The next week a newspaper story broke in the New York Daily News. It told of a rape. The story was familiar. A man posing as a pro boxer was accused of drugging a woman, luring her to a hotel, and forcing her to have sex with him. The suspect had already served a sentence for the same crime in 1986, and there was speculation that there were even more victims who hadn’t come forward. It was big news. The young woman lured with the promise of an easy payday remembered the name of her attacker. It was Alex Ramos, the Bronx Bomber. The boxer.
The newspapers and police press releases ran with the name, telling the citizens of New York to be on the lookout for a convicted rapist and boxer who may have struck again. The name “Alex Ramos” ran in the headlines, and although the story explained that he had used two other names, Alberto Ramos and Alberto Lugo, it didn’t really explain the difference. On the East Coast, Alex Ramos, the former boxer, and Alex Ramos, the serial rapist, became all but synonymous.
In Simi Valley, the Retired Boxers Foundation had picked up momentum, and the other Alex Ramos had settled into retirement, seemingly free from everything that had threatened to upend his chances at a normal life, at any life. When Alejandro called, Alex was stunned, but knew this had happened before. What he couldn’t believe was that it still was. Spooky, the childhood acquaintance was out of prison and had been going by the name Alex Ramos for years now, hunting women at bars and clubs, just as he had once hunted Alex’s own sister, Miriam. What stunned Alex was that somehow, this imposter still went by Alex Ramos, unimpeded by the authorities, who seemed to think maybe he was Alex Ramos after all. He was even booked under the name.
Jacquie Richardson was stunned too, but enraged is the emotion she remembers. She wrote letters the New York Police Department, to the state attorney general, and to Governor George Pataki. Why was Alex Ramos still the name used to identify this man? The answer wasn’t forthcoming.
In jail, the cops even asked the fake to sign some autographs for them, convinced the charade was real.
If the police couldn’t figure out who the hell they had in lock up, then how could the general public believe the real Alex Ramos hadn’t done these crimes?
He was forced to wage a war for his own name, to piece together a tattered reputation.
Martha Bashford was nearly 25 years into a career as a prosecutor, focusing on sex crimes, when Lugo’s case came across her desk. She had graduated summa cum laude from Barnard, and then got her law degree from Yale in 1979. By the time she opened the case file in 1999, Lugo had been masquerading as Alex Ramos since the early ‘80s, and it was hard to tell just how much damage he done.
Even under lock and key, Lugo wouldn’t admit who he really was, not even in a videotaped interview with Bashford.
“Why don’t you start out by telling me your name,” Bashford said in a 2000 New York Post article.
“My name is Alex Ramos,” Lugo told her. “I boxed for a while.”
“Amateur?” Bashford asked. “Professional?”
“Both,” said Lugo. “Amateur and professional.”
The farce had gone too long, and so had Lugo’s predation of women. This time the prosecution called a host of witnesses to nail Lugo for good, including the man whose life he had made his own. During the trial in 2000, the real Alex Ramos took the stand. The lawyers kept referring to his imposter as “Mr. Ramos,” and he didn’t like it. The prosecution put him on the stand and asked, “How do we know you’re the real Alex Ramos?”
The fighter replied, “You put me and him in that room over there, and I guarantee the real Alex Ramos will come out.”
In the end, the evidence was enough to convict Lugo, and this time, he’d go away for good. He was sentenced to 148 years.
But the nightmare hadn’t ended. That one phone call made it clear his shadow would never truly leave him. In 2015, Ramos’ name seemed under siege again. This time, he needed her more than ever.
“He’s the sweetest,” Richardson said. “He has been for the 18 years I’ve known him, and he’s been through hell.”
The years of abuse in the boxing ring had left him brain damaged, excess fluid oozing onto the surface of his brain. He was catatonic, unable to hold conversations. A procedure to syphon off the fluid brought Alex back to who he was before, a bright, funny guy who didn’t stutter, the hallmark symptom of brain damage. But he really wasn’t fully healed and never would be. He still could perform his public duties as founder of the Retired Boxers Foundation, but Richardson took firmer hold of the reins. He could remember what happened in the past, but his ability to remember new things had been damaged beyond repair.
The Benjamin Greenwald law firm of Monticello, New York, reached out to Jacquie. They represented the “other” Alex Ramos, Lugo, and wanted to rally support for an old pro to get one last chance. Informed of their mistake, the law firm looked into its client. The error amounted to a filing oversight, the firm said. The guy once known as Spooky was still in prison, but still holding the name Alex Ramos hostage.
Ramos and Richardson wondered how long this round would last, if the imposter would have the last laugh. The last time this happened, sponsors pulled support for the foundation, and Ramos’s reputation had been smeared. A lot of people had given him a second chance after he had come back from the booze and the drugs. But serial rape was far too ugly to forgive. For so long the name had been his, but Lugo had devalued it, like building a sewage plant next to a mansion.
Lugo, who had spent so much of his life in the shadows, only to emerge and wreak havoc, seemed poised to do so again. What Ramos and Richardson didn’t know then, was that Lugo was nearly out of time. Four months after that phone call from the attorney, on August 10, 2015, Spooky died in prison. His own family didn’t even know, having disowned him long ago.
Alex is happy to have his name back, but the anger he was once known for sometimes bubbles back into his eyes and contorts his smile when it is mentioned. There are many things he cannot remember, but this he cannot forget.
All these years, Miriam had remained close to Lugo’s brother, an old friend from the neighborhood. She never blamed him for what his brother had done, for the lives he had changed and destroyed, or for the name he had twisted almost to destruction.
When Miriam learned the news in November, she was happy the chapter was over, happy the dead man couldn’t hurt anyone else. She called Lugo’s brother. It had been years since he’d heard from Alberto. Still, he was surprised to learn that he had died.
“He was a piece of shit anyway,” Miriam told him.
“Yeah” the man said, “but he was still my brother.”
And he died as his brother, Alberto Lugo, finally leaving Miriam’s brother, Alex Ramos, to reclaim his name as his own, to look in the mirror and see only himself.
For more information of the Retired Boxers Foundation, see their Facebook page