The only thing Ray Rodgers and I have in common is we are both 71 and classmates of the Class of 1955 at Conway High.
In fact this week, we talked by phone while he was in Louisville, Ky., when some mutual friends from here found out we were friends, and that he had mailed me a funeral program of another classmate who lost his battle with cancer a couple weeks ago.
For years I did not know his real name, because like many of us in elementary school we were a little pump, so everyone called him with affection “Butterball.”
In our youth we have dreams, so he took up boxing and so did I, but a few nose bleeds is all I wanted. But “Butterball” continued and has spent 60 of his 71 years in that sport.
Today my friend is chairman of the board of the National Golden Gloves, and president of the National Silver Gloves. He runs the mid-South regional golden gloves, and the Arkansas state golden gloves. To say he likes boxing is an understatement.
He believes it's his destiny. "I come from a good heritage," Rodgers says. "I am the son of Hall of Fame Boxing coach Ray Rodgers and the Great grand nephew of country music Hall of Fame member Jimmie Rodgers. It is in my blood so I really didn't have a chance. Some things in life you can choose, some you can't. I feel like this was my destiny."
“Yes. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon. I’ll be 72 next October, and I hope I can do this every day of my life, working with kids and being involved in boxing,” my friend continued.
Besides being active is boxing he is a professional “cutman.”
In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cutman. Ray Rodgers happens to be one of the best. He currently handles the corner duties for Undisputed World Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor. In the past, he has also worked with heavyweight contenders Phil Jackson, Iran Barkley, Wayne McCullough, Hector Camacho, and, most notably, Tommy Morrison.
He has been Tommy Morrison’s cutman throughout his career. “We had a lot of fun. Tommy and I laughed a lot together. He used to tell me jokes and I’d tell him jokes, and we kept each other loose. When I learned the kid had a big heart was when we fought Joe Hipp, I think in 1993,” Ray said.
“He just got almost dismembered. He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye, and still knocked Hipp out in the ninth round.”
“I got the cut under control and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one. That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later when he out boxed George Foreman for the world title that was a highlight for us both. I worked a lot of fights with him, 30 or 35 over almost a 10 year period, and I always enjoyed it.”
Dr. Thomas Virgets, former trainer of Morrison said of Rodgers, “Ray had stopped cuts that usually stop bouts without even being noticed. He is simply the best!”
The broadcaster showed why amateur boxing in Arkansas would be in big trouble without Rodgers--and how all of us would be without one of our most likeable characters.
“He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” --Isaiah 53:5
His note to me this week said, “Alton: Great to hear that you are feeling some better. Hang tough, and Praise the Lord! Your friend “Butterball.”
The last 54 years of proclaiming the good news has been great. I hope to share with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:”-- 2 Timothy 4:7