You’d have to go all the way back to the evening of Oct. 10, 1967, for the last time a world title fight was held in Oakland . On that night at Oracle Arena, then known as the Oakland Arena, WBA and WBC welterweight world champion Curtis Cokes from Dallas, Texas, beat Mississippi-born Charlie Shipes of Oakland with an eight-round knockout after flooring him three other times during the fight.
“What I remember about that night was we had a tremendous rainstorm,” says Oakland ’s Henry Winston, who happened to be promoting his first-ever fight that night. “We had a good crowd and a good show. We had all the big New York media there that night. It was the night New York came to Oakland . I remember Cokes beating Shipes pretty bad. Curtis had a right hand that was atrocious. It was a very smart punch and once he had it perfected Shipes had no chance because he was a come-in type challenger.”
Cokes, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003, would fight again in Oakland the following year having moved up to the middleweight division. He beat Jimmy Lester by unanimous decision at the Oakland Auditorium. Both he and Shipes currently reside in Texas .
Winston, who will be in attendance for Ward-Kessler on Saturday night, said the Cokes-Shipes was his first and last world title promotion. “I did some more fights but they weren’t world title fights,” he said. “I did some at the Oakland Auditorium.”
Winston promoted George Foreman’s first amateur loss in the Oakland Auditorium and worked with Foreman from his start until his comeback while teaming with Shipes, who trained Foreman. He also worked a little with another pretty famous fighter. “I tried to get Muhammad Ali to come to Oakland but it never did happen,” Winston said. “I was promised once that if Ali ever fought in California that he would fight for my promotion but he never did. He went to San Diego and got beat pretty bad by Kenny Norton.”
Poole said he can tell there is a buzz around the city for Oakland ’s return to boxing glory. “I sense it, yeah. Andre’s last fight here (against Edison Miranda in May) I didn’t see it until three or four days before the fight. I think next week when the hype machine gets full blast you’ll start feeling more of a buzz and electricity and just people getting into it.”
He added: “I think there are great fighters that have come out of Oakland proper but I think you would have to go back 30, 40, 50 years to find most of them.”
One of those great Oakland fighters was Johnny Gonsalves, a 1950s contender who never got a shot at a world title. Gonsalves, who died in 2007, had a record of 57-21-3 as a pro before retiring in 1962. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995. A favorite for the U.S. Olympic team in 1948, he was beaten in the semifinals of the trials by Wallace Smith, who won a gold medal.
The following story was reported in Gonsalves’ obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to former amateur welterweight Ted Such, who later owned a bar with Gonsalves in San Leandro, Rocky Marciano, the only undefeated/untied heavyweight champion in boxing history, once walked into the bar and announced, "I can beat anybody in this bar -- but Johnny Gonsalves.’’
Saturday night against Mikkel Kessler, Andre Ward hopes to write his own bit of Oakland boxing history.