By John J. Raspanti
The first thing I noticed about former heavyweight challenger Ron "The Butcher" Stander was his smile. It’s warm and friendly. His eyes twinkle as he tells jokes. As he speaks, his wife, Toddy, shakes her head and laughs.
His chosen profession is revealed by a few scars on his face. Stander was a fighter who never quit. He fought as hard as he could—didn’t matter who it was.
Forty-six years ago, Stander carried the hopes and dreams of Council Bluffs, IA, his home since he was four, and Omaha, Neb.into the ring against the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, “Smokin” Joe Frazier, who, 14 months before, had handed Muhammad Ali his first professional loss.
Frazier was undefeated in 28 fights, with 24 knockouts. His calling card was a brutal left hook.
“I felt good,” Stander told me. “For once I trained right.”
Stander, a high school football star in Council Bluffs, started boxing after he heard a former classmate from high school had won a Golden Gloves title.
He first laced on the gloves in 1967. Progressing quickly, he captured titles in Omaha, and the Midwest Golden Gloves tournament.
Two years later, Stander turned professional. He starched three of his first four opponents. There was nothing pretty about his style. He was a walk- forward brawler, who would take three to land one.
He was 9-0 when he faced Ernie Shavers at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha. Shavers was already known in boxing circles as a murderous puncher.
In the opening rounds of the match, Shavers pounded on Stander.
“He hit me with everything,” recalled Stander at a Starbucks coffee house in Brentwood, CA. “Hardest puncher in heavyweight history. His punches were like a night stick. Snap!"
Stander dug deep and came back in rounds three and four. He bounced hard shots off Shavers’ head. He wouldn’t stop punching until Shavers collapsed in a heap in round five.
“I made thirteen hundred and fifty dollars for the Shavers fight,” Stander said. “I’ve was never hit so hard.”
Stander fought 10 times in 1970. His next challenger was Manuel Ramos, who held victories over Eddie Machen, and Ernie Terrel. The two brawled for 10 rounds, the result called a draw. A rematch went down 11 months later, with Stander winning by unanimous decision.
An upset loss to Rico Daniels almost derailed Stander’s dream for a shot at heavyweight honors. The decision was dubious at best. He bounced back with two victories when the phone call came. His next opponent would be the heavyweight champion of the world.
“Frazier was a nice guy,” Stander said with a smile. “We were both born in South Carolina”
Though ridiculed by the east coast press, Stander entered the fight against Frazier with a record of 23 wins in 24 fights, scoring 14 knockouts.
“I knew I had a puncher’s chance” said Stander.
In the opening seconds of the match, Stander landed a right hook that knocked Frazier back a step. He was there to win. Seconds later, a combination seemed to buckle Frazier’s knees, sending his hometown fans into a frenzy. Frazier fought back, but round one was Stander’s.
Frazier came out smoking in round two. He cracked Stander with wicked hooks to the body and head. Stander kept coming forward. The blows bounced off his nogg’in. Stander’s plan was to catch Frazier with an uppercut. He tried but missed. Frazier fought like a man chopping down a tree, but Stander kept punching.
Stander was cut over his right eye. The left lamp was barely working. His nose, broken a few weeks before the bout, was gushing blood. Stander was wobbled and blinking away blood as the round ended.
Frazier came out to end things in the next stanza, but it was Stander who fired away. He wouldn’t be cheated. Frazier absorbed the blows and kept up the punishment. Stander couldn’t see. Frazier walked away as the round ended.
The fight was stopped between rounds four and five. Stander’s dreams ended.
Stander felt like he let all his admirers down. In reality, he was praised for his courage and determination.
“I tried hard,” said Stander, who required 17 stitches to stop the bleeding.
Yes, he did. He would fight on for a number of years, but the Frazier bout was his apex.
“I didn’t care much after that," Stander told me. “I fought for the money. It was a paycheck.”
No matter. If the quality of a boxer can be determined by one fight, and one fight alone, Ron Stander earned it when he battled Joe Frazier toe-to-toe.
That’s a warrior.