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Remembering a True Champion: James “Black Gold” Shuler

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By Bill Tibbs


It’s hard to believe it has been 27 years this month since the passing of Philadelphia middleweight and ascending world title contender James “Black Gold” Shuler. Shuler had a very good amateur career, winning the 1979 and 1980 National Golden Gloves titles as a junior middleweight. He qualified for the 1980 Olympic team but the United States boycotted the games that year under orders of then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Interestingly, Shuler was scheduled to be aboard the flight that crashed and killed members of his United States Olympic team en route to a competition in Europe. However, Shuler stayed back in the United States to heal from injuries. Also scheduled to be aboard (but not on the flight) were Shuler teammates and future professional champions Bobby Czyz and Alex Ramos.
 
Shuler turned pro in the fall of 1980 fighting out of his hometown, the legendary boxing city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were high hopes for the 6’1” middleweight after honing his game throughout a stellar amateur career. Shuler was 12-0 by the autumn of 1982 when he faced his first real test battling former Olympian and 66-fight veteran “Sugar” Ray Seales. Shuler travelled down the freeway to McAfee, New Jersey in an attempt to grab Seales’ North American Boxing Federation (NABF) middleweight title. Shuler put in a strong showing and notched the first name of note on his résumé, winning a clear, unanimous decision over the faded but vastly experienced Seales. Shuler would pick up five more wins through 1983, all of them via the KO route.

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!
 
Questions and comments can be sent to Bill Tibbs at hwtibbs@shaw.ca.
 
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