In his first of two bouts in 1984, Shuler defended the NABF title in January with a 12-round unanimous decision over Clint Jackson in Philadelphia. Jackson, who had traded leather with the likes of Buster Drayton, Frank Fletcher and Robbie Sims, proved tough in going the distance. A month later, Shuler was back in the ring, beating former Commonwealth (British Empire) light middleweight champion Kenny Bristol over 10 rounds. Shuler would be out of the ring for the rest of the year before returning to work in February of 1985. He would defend his title against tough, undefeated San Diego banger James “The Heat” Kinchen, who entered the bout hot off a win over future world title challenger Alex Ramos. In the end, Shuler would hang onto his NABF title and undefeated record with a split decision win over 12 rounds. In his next bout, Shuler picked up a 10-round decision win over 29-fight veteran Jerry Holly.
This set up the bout with the signature name every fighter hopes for in his career. However, Shuler didn’t land an easy draw in securing a bout with legend Tommy “The Hit Man” Hearns. The two would battle on the undercard of Marvin Hagler’s World Middleweight Championship defense against John “The Beast” Mugabi in Las Vegas. Both fighters entered the ring looking to make a statement. Shuler hoped to use the large stage to show he belonged in the middleweight title mix. Meanwhile, Hearns was looking to rebound from his third round knockout loss a year previous to the night’s headliner, Hagler. Shuler came out with a high, tight defense to absorb any work upstairs from the power-punching “Motor City Cobra.” However, thunderous left hooks to the body from Hearns set the tone in the bout’s opening frame. After Shuler lowered his guard ever so slightly, Hearns landed a picture-perfect right cross, knocking Shuler out cold at 1:13 of the opening round. It would be “Black Gold’s” last fight. Sadly, a week after the bout, James Shuler was killed in a motorcycle accident in Philadelphia. Shuler purchased the motorcycle with some of the purse money he had earned a week earlier in the biggest fight of his career.
Shuler was an outstanding amateur and was in the midst of a very good career in the professional ranks. James Shuler died on March 17, 1986. In 1995, close friend Percy Custus opened the James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym in Philadelphia in honor of the fallen fighter. Custus met Shuler in the 1970s at the Joe Frazier Gym where they trained together and remained close friends for the rest of James’ life. Gone but never forgotten.
Rest in Peace, champ!
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