© Copyright 2011, Mark Connor
This story was written in Spring 2009 and accepted under contract by Boxing Digest for publication. Unfortunately the magazine nver paid me and has now folded, but at least I own the copyright. I hope you enjoy it.
In early March Scott LeDoux sat in a Caribou Coffee shop in exurban Minneapolis, remembering his glory days as a Heavyweight contender in the 1970s and early 1980s, discussing his involvement with boxing since retirement, and scrutinizing current fighters and the competition they face. He also spoke a little about his political career and his charity work. It was a nostalgic conversation for anyone who loves boxing, given LeDoux’s history, which includes a challenge for the WBC Heavyweight title against Champion Larry Holmes, fights against seven other world champions, an exhibition with Muhammad Ali, and sparring partner duties with Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. But it was saddening, too, because this powerful, competitive challenger of the best in the world during an era of overwhelming talent in the Heavyweight division used a walker and talked about making the most of life while each day leads him closer to death from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
LeDoux was diagnosed late last year and announced it publicly early this year. In a life already highlighted with singular purpose and achievement, the affliction, which people usually survive no more than five years, has accentuated his natural resolve to celebrate and contribute.
In recent times LeDoux has been an Anoka County Commissioner for the town of Andover, Minnesota, where he’s lived since 1972. Before politics he spent eighteen years on the Minnesota State Boxing Commission until, much to his horror, his friend, former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, abolished it while governor from 1999 to 2003. After years of advocacy, LeDoux diligently attended legislative hearings and testified at the State Capital in St. Paul. When the Boxing Commission was reinstated in 2006 he was named Executive Director by current Governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty. The Commission had to be self supporting, though, and for its survival morphed into the Minnesota State Combative Sports Commission, overseeing not just boxing but also mixed martial arts.
As a commissioner, says LeDoux, he wants to see good competitive fights. He advocates for boxers to choose tougher competition both because he hopes to see them improve in skill and for the sake of safety, a byproduct of evenly matched contests.
“Back in the day we fought fights,” he insists. Then, with a slightly cynical candor, he adds, “A guy today wants to fight Dusty Trunks, Kenny Last, and Willie Getup in rotation, and he gets knocked out by one of those guys. They want to fight all stiffs until they get a record built up so they can go in for a championship fight and get the payday. Look—how do you learn the sport unless you fight tough guys?”
If anyone can lecture on the subject, LeDoux is your man. Aside from his title shot and the aforementioned sparring, he fought Leon Spinks to a 10 round draw prior to Spinks’ title victory over Muhammad Ali, fought then former Heavyweight Champion Ken Norton to a controversial 10 round draw, and subsequently dropped a 12 round decision for the USBA title to eventual WBA Heavyweight Champion Mike Weaver. He lost by TKO to George Foreman, as well as to Greg Page, Gerry Cotzee, and in his final fight to Frank Bruno. In assessing all these champions, he said that when sparring with Lennox Lewis he observed him to be the most balanced boxer he’d ever seen, next to Larry Holmes. While LeDoux either lost to these champions or only held them to draws, one should not underrate his abilities. He slipped and counterpunched well and his determination kept him competitive throughout his career.
LeDoux has been involved in charity work ever since he entered public life, and after sharing his diagnosis in the press he participated in an early April benefit for ALS research. The featured act was LeDoux’s longtime friend, Frank Stallone, along with former singers from the groups Santana, Survivor, and Toto. Furthermore, he was instrumental in founding and currently serves as an Advisory Board member of Wishes and More, a charity that provides money to grant wishes to children with terminal and life threatening illnesses. The group was founded by volunteers who along with LeDoux did the same charity work through an earlier organization over the last three decades. On May 3 Wishes and More held a celebrity roast of Scott LeDoux at the Marriott City Center Hotel in Minneapolis, with Sugar Ray Leonard among the roasters.
“Scott LeDoux is a fighter’s fighter,” says Leonard. “He’s a guy who used what talent he had to compete against some of the best guys in the world . . . I was always impressed with his integrity, with his perseverance, with his heart.”
Leonard also praised LeDoux’s advocacy for boxers and his work with the commission in Minnesota.
“The fact of the matter is boxing needs stronger commissions and [to be] unified. We have to have the same criteria—whether it’s scoring, whether it’s the examinations and physicals, every state has to be on the same page, every country has to be on the same page. I agree with what Scott is doing, trying to better the sport.”
Such statements exemplify the values LeDoux has demonstrated in and out of the ring. As related over coffee that day in March, he’s given his best to every endeavor in life and continues to do so for as long as he can.
“Scott LeDoux has been a dedicated volunteer for granting wishes for children for over twenty years,” says fellow Wishes and More founder Karla Blomberg, who met him shortly after his retirement from boxing.
Besides Leonard and former Governor Ventura, “Benchwarmer” Bob Lurtsema, who played with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1974 and 1975 Super Bowls, was among the roasters. Also, a video message was played from George Foreman, and Blomberg shared email blessings from Gerry Cooney.
Having started boxing at age 17 when a fellow freshman at the University of Minnesota, Duluth appeared with a set of gloves, LeDoux served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1972 before turning professional. Since then he’s faced the tragedy of losing his first wife as well as his parents to cancer, but today he is a grandfather surrounded by a son and daughter in their 30s and his wife, Carol, who came into his life at a time of major personal transition.
“We went on our second date to church,” he says, recalling how in 1993 he made a commitment to Christianity, gave up drinking and womanizing, and forgave those who hurt him earlier in life.
Persevering with faith, each day he expresses the vitality of spirit put into his boxing career, the inner strength of the man increasing through the memory of the actions he leaves behind while the body slowly, inevitably, gives way.
For further information on Wishes and More go to www.wishesandmore.org
For further information on ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) go to www.alsa.org