By Ray Wheatley — World of Boxing
Former WBC Light heavyweight champion Donny “Golden Boy “Lalonde talks to Fightnews abouts fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, Roddy MacDonald, Willie Edwards, Mustafa Hamsho, Eddie Davis and Leslie Stewart. Donny also talks about his trainers Teddy Atlas, Bobby Cassidy, Al Sparks, Tommy Gallagher and Hook McComb. In addition, he mentions what injuries he suffered injuries and how he treated those problems during his career and how he works today for ex-boxers through TKOOO (Taking Care Of Our Own)
At what age did you start boxing in the amateurs? How many fights? Any titles? Who was your first trainer?
First started boxing at age 10 because we went to a catholic school and it was just out of the housing project we lived in. On my way to school I always had to fight more than one bully from a protestant school on the other side of the project. My mom said, if you have to fight your way to school every day you better go to a boxing gym. There was one near us so I started then. I was natural at it and comfortable with being in the ring but we then moved north near Alaska where the only sports were curling and hockey so I took up hockey. Then at 15 when I left home I hitchhiked to Kitchener, Ontario where I started working learning to frame houses. Watching a Saturday afternoon Wild World of Sports amateur tournament I decided to take up boxing. That was maybe in 1977 when I was 17. There was a kid there, 5 years younger than me just starting out as well. His name is Lennox Lewis. Our coach at the time was Hook McComb. Hook had an assistant named Arnie Boehm. When Hook died Arnie took over and ended up being Lennox’s coach but by then I had moved to Winnipeg to live where I continued boxing. A guy named Pete Piper trained me there and also a guy named Al Sparks, a veteran boxer who was Canadian champion and had fought Bobo Olson for the Commonwealth title.
Long answer but I have to say Hook McComb was my first trainer and Peter Piper and Al Sparks spent most time with me early in my career. I told Hook before I left Kitchener that I would become the first Canadian fighter to earn one million dollars. I don’t know but that may be true. He said: ‘if anyone can do that Donny, you can. I believe in you.’ That vote of confidence and support meant more to me than anything any man had said to me up to that point in my life. Gave me confidence I could become World Champion which I told him I would do before having one fight.
You scored an impressive win as a professional in 1983 defeating Roddy MacDonald to capture the Canadian light heavyweight title. What are your memories of that fight?
Roddie McDonald was the champion. He was a huge puncher, 23-1 23 KOs when we fought. The boxing commission where I was from, Winnipeg, stated in the local papers they wouldn’t give me a license to fight that fight because it was against the best interest of boxing. In spite of the fact I was #1 in Canada and the mandatory challenger. Don Stone, the then commissioner said, Lalonde has no business in the ring with a killer like McDonald and he will get hurt or killed so that fight will not happen in Manitoba.
McDonald did hit VERY hard. He barely hit me but the one time he hit me clean in the face, a line right down the middle of my head was drawn by the punch that rattled half of my head for like a minute. After that I remember thinking, Ok, I can’t let him hit me again. I outboxed him and stopped him at the end of the 9th. A funny side story to that fight was before the fight the stories were all about how much he was going to win or knock me out. There was speculation that I was going to pull out due to fear. I wasn’t smart enough to fear anyone in the ring. Before the fight while waiting in my room to leave for the arena I fell asleep. Of course I was late to the arena people were all concerned I was running out of town. They sent my brother to my room to check if I was still in town and he found me sleeping.
In 1985 you were stopped by highly regarded Willie Edwards in nine rounds. Edwards had a TKO 11 win over Mathew Saad Muhammad in 1984 and contenders Willie Monroe, Jesse Burnett and Len Hutchins. Tell me about that bout.
I was stopped by Edwards in 9. I hurt him in the 4th. In what was a precursor to the Leonard fight mistake I made after knocking him down in the fourth, as I went to the neutral corner the thought that went through my mind was ‘next time I hit him a bit cleaner, this is over.’ With that thought in mind I started to wait, both for Edwards and Leonard. I got off my fight plan which was to use my movement and jab to lead them into the right which is how I dropped them, instead I started watching them, waiting for them to walk into that fatal punch. This gave them both time to recover as well as get on track and reverse the momentum of the fights. I hurt Edwards again in the 7th or 8th. Between rounds they had to fix a “split glove,” being I was the promoter, [in the case of Leonard we co-promoted it with our company Victory Promotions set up for that fight alone], in the case of Edwards I promoted it with the help of a personal friend who became a boxing promoter for a while in Canada, Billy Belanger.
Being I was the promoter I had to be sure Edwards was properly taken care of before and during the fight. I assigned a friend to “be there” for Edwards, like he was his friend and not be unfair due to our friendship. Well, between rounds when they changed gloves, they put some brass knuckles on the left hand of Edwards. When he hit me in the next round with a left hook, I was hurt more than by any other punch ever in boxing so I do believe that to be the case. I went up and down 4 times from that punch, even effected me between rounds. When I stood up for the next round I still couldn’t stand and fell right away before he hit me again. My friend never told me about the brass knuckles until about 4 years ago. I knew there was something about that punch that didn’t feel the same as others.
That being said Edwards was a very good fighter, tough and strong. It was a close fight, in my home town and if it went the distance I probably would have gotten the decision, or at least I would have liked to think. But he did hit me clean and he did win so I can’t complain. Back in those days thumbing people and brass knuckles could sometimes be part of the deal.
Mustafa Hamsho had defeated Bobby Czyz in 1982 and Wilfredo Benitez in 1983 but had lost to Marvin Hagler in 1981 & 84 when you dominated him over twelve in 1987. Your thoughts on the Hamsho victory?
Other than winning the world title, the Hamsho fight is my all time personal favorite. As you mentioned he had beaten good fighters, world class, and had fought well against Hagler [in the first fight], an all time great so beating him, in the Garden, in a full house, in NYC, his back yard, was a HUGE confidence builder and really helped me with confidence and launched my career. It was a brutally physical fight. I loved every minute of it. I loved the physicality of that fight and getting the decision was so fulfilling.
Funny side note: Just previous to that time I had 6 different injuries that independently the “specialist” said were ‘career ending injuries’ as medicine did not have a solution for them that could allow for me to fight after “fixing” them through surgery. Anyone that knew about these injuries felt I had no chance in the Hamsho fight but they didn’t know I had a guy come from Denmark who helped my injuries heal themselves through a body work he called psycho-nero-myafacial-integration. It is better known now as Active Release Technique from the physical point of view but this guy incorporated the psychological aspects to his healing and helped me deal with the cause of the symptoms as well as the symptoms. Through his work within 6 weeks I was mainly healthy in all those areas, not completely but mainly, enough to box. The winner got a shot at a world title, at the newly created super middleweight [the weight we fought at] or light heavy as Spinks was giving up his belts to fight Holmes. I won and got Eddie Davis as he was #1 and with the Hamsho fight I was #2.
You can see this on the tape, Hamsho was told I had a really bad left shoulder and if he twisted it I wouldn’t be able to use it. You can see at one point in the fight in a clinch him trying. I grabbed him, pulled him closer and said, that’s the wrong shoulder [it was the right one actually]. You can see him step back and look to see. I laughed, it was funny. Great fight, loved it. Made me. Teddy Atlas thinks in the 11 months he trained me out of 27 years of boxing that he “made me” but that fight more than anything else did for me what no other one person did except maybe Dave Wolf my manager.
You captured the WBC light heavyweight title with impressive second round KO of Eddie Davis in Trinidad and Tobago. Davis had lost on points to the great Michael Spinks in a competitive bout. Was this your best ring performance?
If Davis wasn’t my best performance, then Leslie Stewart, my next fight was. I had a couple of fights early in my career where my left shoulder fell out of socket and I broke the other hand, or broke both hands in one fight etc, I consider those great victories, but not as famously great performances because no one knew.
You travelled to Trinidad and Tobago to defend the title successfully by stopping Leslie Stewart in five rounds in 1988. Tell me about this fight.
The Stewart fight made the whole “world champion” feel 100% legit. Davis was a great fighter as you mentioned he took Spinks to the wall and lost a close tough fight to him. He was accomplished but had never been a champion. Not only beating him but knocking him out in devastating fashion was a big accomplishment especially after watching his tapes warring with Michael and many others. But beating Leslie Stewart who I had seen beat Marvin Johnson [who I boxed many many rounds with in Indianapolis a couple years earlier and who was a beast in the gym as well as a two-time champion], in my mind was for me the exclamation point I needed to really feel like I was champion. It was in his home country of Trinidad as you said. In May, [one of the hottest and most humid times of the year right at the equator]. I stopped him in five rounds but when the ref stopped the fight I remember seeing him wave his arms in the air meaning he was stopping it. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know who just got knocked out but I don’t care.’ Then realized it was him and I won. I was sooo exhausted from the heat. I weighed 173 for the fight. The next day after eating and drinking all night, I got on the scale just to see. I was 159.
You were trained by Teddy Atlas, Tommy Gallagher, Bobby Cassidy and Al Sparks. Please tell me about your time with each trainer.
Teddy was a completely different person than I am. He is a guy that believes in being hard on his fighters and kind of berating them into hearing what he is trying to get into their heads. At least he was when I was training with him. I am and was a free spirit. You don’t have to talk down to me or belittle me to make me listen to you. I will out of respect if you earn that from me. Dave Wolf believed Teddy was right for me gave me all I needed to respect and listen to Teddy. Teddy and my relationship did not lead to me becoming a better fighter or a confident fighter. He did teach me stuff. things I still teach kids today about breaking left and right, certain other things, but in our relationship I became a less effective fighter and was very injured as I mentioned earlier. Those injuries were worse while I was with Teddy. Remember the Psycho part of Ken Balson’s work, psychologically Teddy wore me out and reduced my confidence and took all the joy out of boxing for me. He was fired for this reason and no other.
Tommy was a great guy. Very light and a lot of fun. Tommy mainly worked on hard training and focused mainly on building on my strengths like punching power, conditioning etc. I loved Tommy. Tommy also was very instrumental in making the Leonard fight. He asked me before the Davis fight, “Would you fight Sugar Ray Leonard” for a million dollars? I laughed and said Tommy I am a fighter. I LOVE boxing. I went to war with Marvin Johnson in his back yard, his gym, for two years, moved there because i valued that experience so much. I warred with Iran Barkley many times at Gleason’s on 30th Ave many times, it was fun, I boxed Tommy Hearns when I had one fight and he was 26-0, 25 KOs. For charity, for fun. I would box Leonard for free, of course I would fight him for a million dollars. He said, ‘don’t ever say that again but if you just win your next couple of fights you will get Leonard.’ Leonard had just beat Hagler but had retired so I didn’t think much of it after but that is how I know Tommy had a lot to do with putting the Leonard fight together.
As a trainer, say for the Leonard fight, Tommy was basically interested in hitting the horse track betting houses on time. He had me spar EVERY DAY for 8 weeks, well 5 days a week, 10 rounds a day with three different sparring partners. He was sooo concerned about my making weight so the fight would happen [Ray and I had a gentleman's agreement that any pound I came in at the weigh in, over 168, $1 million would be deducted from my end of the purse]. That meant any pound I came in over, Tommy would lose $100,000. I told him at the start of camp when I was 193, to not worry about my weight. I will make 168 easily. He said, we will spar every day and you will not have any problem lasting the distance. I said Tommy, I can fight all night long now, don’t worry about my weight, let’s focus on the fight. I still have the videos because Dave had them done every sparring session and gave them to me before he died. After three weeks of running in the mountains like a maniac and sparring 150 rounds I weighed 167. I said Tommy, forget about the weight, let’s concentrate on the fight.
We continued to spar every day, 10 rounds a day and the week before the fight I was so dry I could get saliva in my mouth even when I ran. I had to bring a sponge with water so I could have any saliva. I weighed, look at the tape, 167 but I had all my clothes on with stuff in my pockets because I didn’t want Ray to see how light I was. I was actually 163 and had almost nothing left before the fight. In my opinion THAT is why I lost more than anything. It wasn’t the 168, it was the million dollars a lb that would have cost Tommy $100,000. I am sorry to call Tommy out like this because he is a good man and we had a lot of fun together but that is the facts of my pre fight preparation.
That being said, if I had listened to Tommy during the fight, you can hear him screaming during it, Throw the right hand, throw the right F&%$#@ hand. As mentioned earlier regarding the Edwards fight, I started watching and waiting after the knockdown. Had I listed to Tommy, I would have won in spite of my weight so, I give him that credit, he tried to help me but I didn’t respond. Fair is fair. truth is truth also. I am forever indebted to Dave Wolf for doing such an amazing job of handling my career. Like Ray Mancini I was not the greatest at my weight but I earned more than 400% more than anyone in the history of my weight class and retired young and healthy. I think he was as good or better than anyone ever as a manager. If there was one thing not done fair by him it was making Tommy my trainer instead of someone else. I feel that if he had history would have a different few pages in the boxing game but he would have had to share his % with Tommy who really did help make that fight and I think it would not have happened without Tommy. Tommy deserved to be part of that great historical event but as a co manager and not as the trainer. Sorry Tommy but that is how I feel and what I think happened.
As you mentioned I also had Bobby Cassidy as a trainer. Bobby was Tommy’s co-trainer in my life. Tommy was positive, he was supportive emotionally but as a trainer, for me, Bobby was really the trainer. Bobby helped me develop as a fighter. Bobby was the trainer I had that had the most experience as a fighter. He helped me work on my shortcomings and helped me mentally prepare for fights, for certain sparring partners, he helped “develop” me as a fighter.
Unfortunately he had a past that caught up to him just as the Leonard fight was coming together. I honestly feel if he was there to train me for Leonard I would have made weight and been MUCH stronger and the fight would not have lasted more than a few rounds. Also Angelo Dundee after the fight said to me, Donny, you have no idea how badly I wanted to hear my phone ring and you on the other end offering to hire me to train you for the Leonard fight. As it turned out Tommy became the trainer alone due to Bobby being sent away to do time for what I understand was a trumped up charge by the DA at the time who had it out for Bobby and this was his chance to trump up some charges and hurt Bobby by putting him away while the fight was proceeding. I feel if I had one of them or almost anyone, someone that was more concerned with me winning than the $ million a pound, I would have had enough energy to fight for 12 rounds and in that case it was a mismatch. Not because I am a better fighter than Ray Leonard. Clearly he is an all-time great and I had a title for a year. But I would have beat an all-time great that night for sure in my mind. Then I would have had Tommy and things could have gotten very interesting…..we had some unfinished business from an exhibition we had years earlier.
Al Sparks was a friend first and a trainer as a favor. He was never paid, never asked for anything and gave more than anyone can ever ask of another. He would get up and run with me for 6 miles. We would then spar for 10 rounds in a park. Then I would go to work all day. Then we would go to the gym at night. Al gave so much of himself to me. Taught me old school ways of getting around in a ring, trying to finish a round for example near my corner so I was sitting before the other guy and had that extra couple of seconds rest, turning guys, etc etc, he was the ace in the hole no one knew I had from before I turned pro. It was because of Al I was able to compete with the greats like Tommy, Ray, and great fighters like Iran Barkley, [a shame he is not in the IBHOF yet], Stewart, Czyz, Hamsho etc. Al has since passed and I will never be able to give him anything near what he deserves in acknowledgment, but he knows how I feel about him. We had a real friendship far beyond boxing.
You suffered several injuries when you wete boxing but you were treated successfully for the problems that would have terminated your career otherwise . What were the injuries and how were they treated?
Before I stared boxing I had played hockey. I injured my left shoulder playing hockey. The first surgery was done before I turned pro. The second just before the Roddy McDonald Canadian championship fight I mentioned earlier. The surgery was very poorly done and was the beginning of me realizing I had to look for alternate options of taking care of my health some way other than the standard medical industry. After the second surgery also was botched I was sure of it. Between them I destroyed my right hand in a fight with Vampire Johnson in my first loss. It too was very poorly handled by the doctor. It caused me a lifetime of pain, a career of long times between fights and a very limited amount of impact the right hand could take. After a few fights the lining of the knuckle in my middle finger was split. Between the restriction the surgeries created and the damage from the lack of treatment the hand surgeon did, the lining added to the extreme pain and limitation I had in being able to use my right hand. With a damaged and limited range of motion in my left shoulder and the pain and refinement I needed to be conscience of when using my right the biggest challenge in the ring was seldom my opponent.
I had tennis elbow in both elbows at the time I was training with Teddy. I also had a chronically damaged and extremely painful left thumb [this was before thumbless gloves]. I have migraine headaches from a neck injury I suffered when my step father first punched me in the face at 12 and my head hit the wall stopping my flight. He was mad I pulled him off my mom who he had pinned at the shoulders with his knees as he continued punching her in the face as she laid unconscious under him. I also had a bad back that would give me problems and the doctors couldn’t figure out how to fix it and me still continue my career.
These injuries were all in full force when I was being trained by Teddy. He told me they were “all in my head.” Now they were medically diagnosed as more than in my head but Ken Balson, the therapist I hired at the recommendation of an angel that came into my life as a massage therapist/natural health mentor etc Vibeke Johnson, from Denmark but living in NYC at the time and his work later showed, in a sense Teddy was right, there is a psychological connection to all injuries we carry with us. With the right help, we can overcome many injuries the ” medical industry/monopoly” cannot. The healing and recovery from these is a whole book in and of itself so I will have to leave it at that but in 6 weeks Ken Balson helped my injuries heal, with his hands and some nutritional advice. ALL OF THEM.
Then I fought Hamsho and the rest as they say, is history.
Today you work to help former boxers who have been physically and mentally impaired . Can you explain the work you are doing and what are your goals?
The goal of the initiative I have called TKOOO [taking care of our own] is to share the health knowledge I have experienced through people like Vibeke and Ken as well as many others since. I want to help as many fighters as possible improve their quality of life the only way I know how, naturally. TKOOO will only use or share advice of 100% natural food products that help your body heal itself if I have experienced the benefits myself. It will try to set up a structure, almost like multi level marketing, so that fighters can share their positive experiences after they have had them through us, and inspire mainstream people, like their former or current fan bases to try the products or modalities. TKOOO will earn money from their referrals and share that money with them. The biggest challenge is getting to the fighters because the industry is very strongly influenced by the number one competitor of health initiatives that are not pharmaceutical based, the doctors/”health” industry.
I am not a doctor. TKOOO is not a medical advise organization. I have no business commenting on health and or advising anyone anything to do with health as I am not a certified doctor and am not incensed to do so and do not nor will not advise people to ignore their doctors. TKOOO and I do not do that. We do not advise, suggest or recommend anything medical as I am not qualified to do so. TKOOO is a platform I am trying to use to help fighters be exposed to natural things, created by God, everyone’s God, nature, to nourish our bodies. What Holistic Medicine says is the body is a living organism that given a balanced environment will allow the body to heal itself. That has been my experience. I have not, other than two times I had one Ibuprofen after surgeries, used Pharmaceutical drugs. I am 100% convinced though my own personal experience that with adequate nutrition and the experience of certain hands on techniques, the body will heal itself almost every time.
That has been my experience. I am only sharing that as it is the law in most countries I am not allowed to advise anyone on health and I respect that law. I am by law allowed to share my experiences and others are allowed to try natural ways to enhance their health so respecting that, we at TKOOO share our experiences and leave the decisions of actions from others in their hands.
When I was training with Tommy as I mentioned I did a LOT of sparring. I had been boxing previous to that time, with Teddy at Gleason’s and we did a ton of sparring there as well. I always did a lot, 2 years in Indianapolis in Marvin Johnson’s backyard gym. That is how I learned to fight being I had a very limited 15 fights as an amateur. With Teddy, Iran Barkley and I boxed many rounds. They were not easy days…lol Before the Davis fight Ken Balson asked me how I felt. I said, I feel great, strong, fast, healthy, but my head feels like it was a watermelon that has been run over by a car. He suggested I get a couple of treatments of Cranial Sacral Therapy. I did as most do, I asked “what is that”? Well, after two treatments of it, I told him, now I feel like an 11 year old boy, clear headed, excited and full of energy. I am 100% convinced that Cranial Sacral Therapy is one of the reasons I have almost no impact from contact sports injuries. There are other reasons, all natural, but that is an example TKOOO will share for people to become aware of to help current and former fighters improve their quality of life by having. There are many other modalities to hep regain clarity from that are 100% natural as well as MANY products that can help fighters regain their health mentally as well as physically. TKOOO will share those and the fighters that enjoy the benefits and share their stories and inspire purchases from mainstream people, they will earn from the profits TKOOO will make from the sales.
Ultimately TKOOO was intended to be a 100% altruistic endeavor. I had soooo many disbelievers that I decided to make it a for profit business that will share the benefits/profits like a multi level type marketing platform. The business structure is in development and the launch has been delayed due to this change of course. Anyone interested in any information to have access to the knowledge and experience many have enjoyed from any TKOOO products or modalities is welcome to contact me I will share what I can as I can. My #1 intention is to help fighters. That extends from a humanitarian way to hockey players and football players. My wife’s father, Lecile Harris is a 4 time World Champion Rodeo bull fighter/performer and he tells me that business needs the same information. It is now expended to help Rodeo people as well. TKOOO will, within it’s capacity, and it has many ideas of how to expand it’s “capacity”, will give free to any of the athletes in these fields all products it can as well as help as many as possible have access to practitioners of the modalities like Cranial Sacral. That aspect of the Not for profit/altruistic element remains.
I see this as my way of sharing my experiences of ways to live a healthy vibrant life that I have been blessed with in spite of the numerous challenges I have faced and injuries i have experienced. It is intended to help athletes, fighters alone at first, regain as much quality of life as possible while at the same time giving them something to help people realize that boxing can be an industry that helps it’s own not just step over its own when they lose and leave them in dire straights after their usefulness is gone. That stands for all athletes. We tend to forget the athlete is a human being and leave him to fight the fight of life with post career limitations boxing can bring to our lives.
By sharing their positive health experiences with others after they have experienced them, which will be very visible to all, when they give the products and modalities time. Athletes will become “relevant” again in their circles of influence and will become hero’s again to those they influence. Champions this time for helping others instead of entertaining others since that chance is behind them. At the same time providing them income steams they never had as short term money/career money earners.
That is the goal of TKOOO.
I will keep punching until the final bell has rung working on this. I invite all fans, fighters and industry people that would like to, to roll up their sleeves and get involved because this is one fight worth being part of.