The older we boomers get, the worse our memories get. And retired editor and writer Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey, is no different. But at least when he forgets the date of his wedding anniversary, he has an excuse. Sort of.
I have a hard time remembering my wedding anniversary. Guy thing, right? I just never seem to be sure whether the date is October 12 or October 14. Reason being, October 12, 1978, just two days before my marriage, is the day that I went to Rahway State Prison. No, I hadn’t decided to knock off a liquor store on the way back from getting my wedding suit dry cleaned. I was there to witness a professional light-heavyweight boxing match between top-ranked contender Eddie Gregory (who would soon become Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) and a highly-ranked challenger named James Scott.
The reason that this nationally-televised prizefight was taking place in Rahway State Prison instead of Madison Square Garden, or some other more appropriate venue, had to do with the fact that Scott, a fellow baby boomer, was then an inmate at Rahway for his alleged involvement in an armed robbery and murder. The bout took place in the prison gymnasium in front of a few hundred civilian spectators, officials, and press. And guards, of course. Another hundred or so inmates were gathered upon the caged second-tier mezzanine which surrounded the gym, with the rest of the prison population watching on closed-circuit TV in the auditorium. It was as surreal a setting, and occasion, as I have ever been privy.
Scott amassed a record of 10 wins/no losses/1 draw between 1974 and 1975, while living in Florida and working with legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee. Dundee was then in the process of training Muhammad Ali for the second of Ali’s three epic battles with Joe Frazier but agreed to take the young light-heavyweight under his wing. Scott decided, though, to head back to New Jersey to continue his fight career, where he was placed under arrest, because his car had been discovered in the vicinity of a robbery and murder. Nine months later, a jury convicted him of the robbery, and though the DA failed to secure a conviction on the murder charge, Scott was nonetheless sentenced to spend the next 30-40 years at Rahway.
Flash forward to October 12, 1978. Eddie Gregory was next in line for a shot at the light-heavyweight crown then worn by Mike Rossman. Though the Gregory fight went the distance, it really wasn’t close. Scott started strong, coasted through the middle rounds, then dominated the bout from rounds eight through 12 to win in a unanimous decision. James Scott never got to go on to fight for the title though, because the Champ refused to travel to Rahway Prison to fight him. The World Boxing Association eventually stripped him of his ranking; Scott retired, unretired, was allowed briefly to fight again, and won and lost.
Time, age, and prison walls finally scored the final victory. James Scott was released from prison in 2005, at the age of 58, and in 2012 he was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. He spent most of his freedom in a New Jersey nursing home, where he slowly lost his toughest fight, to dementia, on May 8th of this year.
I don’t know if James Scott was guilty of robbery and murder, but I’m grateful to this day that I had the opportunity to get to know him, just a little, and to see a great fighter perform at the height of his powers. Though there is conflicting documentation about the year of his birth (some cite 1947 while others report 1948 or ’49), there is documentary agreement on the day that James Scott came into this world: October 17th.
Great. Another mid-October date to further cloud my marital memory.