Updated:May 12, 2022
Don ‘The Cobra’ Curry – a hard-knock life
Don Curry said he was ‘as broke as a joke.’ The former two-time world champion, recently acquitted of charges of cocaine distribution and money laundering, and fresh from a spell in prison for failure to pay child support, was telling the world he was desperately in need of money, announcing that he was making a comeback.
The year was 1997 and just months shy of his 37th birthday, the Hall of Fame boxing legend was lacing up his gloves again after nearly 6 years out of the ring, having let a $5million fortune ($16million in today’s money) earned in a hard-fought 11-year career slip through his fingers.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’m paying for them,” said Curry in an interview with the Fort Worth-Star-Telegram.
There were few in the boxing world who had witnessed the thrilling arc of his ascent and the slippery trail of his descent that would disagree with that statement.
Whatever the circumstances of his past, Curry was looking forward to restoring his fortune in the best and only way he knew how.
“However good I was, I’m better,” he said. “I’m going to shock the world.”
Even those beguiled by the memory of his former greatness must have known that this was the flimsiest of hype. And so it proved. For sadly, there was no Holywood finale for the legend from Fort Worth, Texas. This was not to be his Rocky-style comeback under the big lights. He did not shake up the world a second time. There would be no fairy-tale ending for the once-great Don The Cobra Curry to savour.
Curry would fight just twice more. First in a KO win over punchbag journeyman, Gary Jones with a 3-25 record, in Winnipeg, Canada, and then barely two months later in a fight that seemed to epitomise his bizarre boxing life, and Curry’s ever-present Achilles Heel: the bad decisions he made in the world outside the ring that would haunt him inside it.
In April 1997, Curry stood across from his final opponent, Emmett Linton, looking daggers and spitting blood. The reason for the bad boy stares was that Curry had not only been Linton’s trainer and manager, but the two had a falling out which developed into a feud that spilled out onto the street and involved guns and accusations of betrayal. Now here they were sharing a ring.
According to Curry, Linton had ratted him out to the mother of one of his children, information which led indirectly to his incarceration for non-payment of child support, a version of events denied by Linton.
The hatred for Linton had built whilst Curry was inside and upon his release from the penitentiary, The Cobra came out swinging, deciding that in the boxing world, feuds equal funds. He asked legendary promoter, Bob Arum, to make a match between him and Linton inside the ring this time, and sell the tickets. Curry’s share of the purse was $30,000.
Things did not go to script for a severely weakened Curry who was suffering from undiagnosed acute pancreatitis, as Linton dropped him in the first round and stopped him in the seventh. It was embarrassing and painful to watch. The former champion had nothing left, reduced to fodder for average fighters and fans of freak show entertainment in tacky venues, where the once famous see out their days in the fading spotlight.
A bitterly disappointed Don Curry returned to the gym, saying that he ‘hoped to give a better account of myself in his next fight. I wasn’t who I thought I was that night.’
However, Curry never made it back into the ring.
The fight with Linton became the sad swansong to a stellar career that promised so much and should have set him up for life. Whoever he thought he was that night against Emmett Linton, the truth of it was that there was no sting left in Don The Cobra Curry, except the one in the tail that was to visit the final hurt on the fighter from Texas.
It had started so well for the man from the Lone Star state who would become one of the greatest fighters to grace boxing arenas.Embed from Getty Images
He was just 21 years old when he won the vacant WBA welterweight title with a unanimous victory over Jun-Suk Hwang. His rise to the top had been stratospheric, as he seemingly effortlessly and effectively brushed all opposition aside.
The boxing world had a new star to marvel at: a ruthlessly effective technician, with impressive speed and grace. Lightning-fast on his feet, possessing a devastating body punch and a destructive left hook. Fearless and agile, he laid waste to all comers in the division.
The sky was the limit for the boxer now being touted by many boxing aficionados as the undisputed pound-for-pound champ in the world.
Such was his power that only one of his opponents, the excellent Marlon Starling, survived to hear the final bell and still lost unanimously. Curry destroyed Kronk superstar, Milton McCrory, in less than two rounds by devastating knockout.
And he would share The Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year honours with middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the same year that Hagler won his epic career-defining fight against Thomas Hearns.
Yes, Ladies and gentlemen. He was that good. And then some.
But just when all the slot machines of his life were paying out, he made a host of poor decisions outside of the ring, sending him on a path that would ultimately lead to the impoverished state he finds himself in today.
Curry made the cardinal error of fixing what wasn’t broken. And he did it callously.
First, he demoted his manager, Dave Gorman, the Texan car salesman who had discovered him and funded his training and meals from day one to ‘Head of training camp’, and cut his percentage by two-thirds. Next, he cut the pay of his long-time trainer, Paul Reyes, in half and made him an assistant trainer. He installed Akbar Muhammad as his manager and promoter.
That decision alone was to cost him his fortune in boxing.
“I trusted the guy and he took my soul from me. He gave me a lot of bad advice.”
The decision to mess with his manager and his longtime trainer had an immediate effect. Setting in motion an alarming decline that began on September 27, 1986 when he lost his perfect record and world welterweight titles to one of the heaviest betting underdogs in boxing history, British fighter Lloyd Honeyghan.Embed from Getty Images
Honeyghan showed an emaciated Don Curry, who had trouble with the weight, no respect on that famous night in Atlantic City, and battered the champion into submission. Bruised, beaten, and bloodied, with a wound that would require twenty stitches, Curry pulled himself out of the contest on his stool at the end of round 6. Ring magazine gave it the accolade of Upset Fight of the Year.
It would not be Curry’s last award in this category.
He not only lost the bout and his titles, but with it, Curry lost the sheen of invincibility that had been his most powerful and confidence-building weapon.
The champion that he was, he managed to rally himself in the next two fights, moving up to light-middleweight and taking the vacant title and making one defense. But when in his next fight he challenged Mike McCallum for his WBA light-middleweight title, he was KO’d in spectacular fashion in round 5.
Don Curry had one last hurrah, taking the vacant WBC light middleweight title from Italian, Gianfranco Rossi, and promptly lost it again to the unfancied Frenchman, Réné Jacquot, who would not have lived with Curry in his prime. Ill-discipline, attitude problems, and binge eating were now creeping in, disrupting his fight preparations. And once again, Curry was involved in the Ring’s Upset Fight of the Year three years after featuring in the first.
Devastating stoppage defeats to Michael Nunn and Terry Norris followed to signal the abrupt end for Curry as a force within boxing and he retired, until his last two post-incarceration fights, in April 1997, with a record of 34-6, 25 by way of knockout.
“I did the best I could. I was just some country guy out of Fort Worth. I made some bad investments. I loaned some money. I messed off some money. When people know you’ve got it, they expect you to give it to them. I blame nobody but me.”
This week, Don Curry’s son, Donald Jnr sent out a heartfelt and heartbreaking tweet on the plight of his father, drawing attention to the ex-champion’s impoverished financial state and his diagnosis of a worsening mental illness brought on, he claims, by the head trauma, his father suffered in his career.
‘Hello All, I’m speaking on behalf of my father, Donald Curry, today. A champion of the world of boxing, one of the greatest welterweights of all time. However, today I’m asking for help. Not in a monetary way, but to spread awareness hopefully find a solution for retired athletes with head trauma and symptoms of CTE.”
The boxing world has begun to mobilise on his behalf, and whilst full recovery is not a possibility, it is hoped he can find some solace and support to put him in a better place.
Donald Curry, the Lone Star state Cobra. The legendary, thrilling, and fearsome boxing champion. The undisputed pound-for-pound king who tasted the highs and suffered the lows in an all-too-familiar story of the quest for boxing immortality by heroic fighters who lose their greatest fights with themselves, outside of the ring.