Randy Shields fought em all
By Bill Tibbs
In this episode of ‘Chatting with the Champ’, we look at the impressive career of 1970’s welterweight contender and world title challenger Randy Shields.
Hailing out of Hollywood, California, sporting an easy smile and a head of tousled, blond hair, he looked like he should be heading to the beach to catch a wave. However, instead, he rebuffed southern California’s famous beaches for the sweaty boxing gyms of the Golden State. He worked his way through a professional career that would see him leave the ring as one of toughest fighters of the welterweight division through the 1970’s and into the early 80’s.
Welterweight contender Randy Shields turned pro in 1974, at age 19. He would rattle off 26 straight wins in his first 15 months as a professional. His first 2 losses came in November of ’75 and early ’76 when he lost back-to-back bouts against Mexican Vincent Mijares who would go on to fight for a world title. Not one to look for any soft touches, Shields would return from his 2 losses to face world title challengers Ramiro Bolanos and Ray Lampkin in his next 2 fights. He would pick up 2 more wins before closing out ’77 drawing with rugged Peter Ranzany. They would do the rematch 4 months later with Shields getting stopped in the 11th round of their 12-round bout. (It should be noted that when Ranzany closed out his career he had a resume that included Nino Larocca, Sean O’Grady, Milton McCrory, Wilfred Benitez, Ray Leonard and Clyde Gray to name a few).
Shields would pick up another win before losing to former world champion Wilfred Benitez in August of ‘78 and dropping a distance decision to future legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard in October. Two more wins earned Shields a shot at world champion Pipino Cuevas, and his WBA world welterweight title, in the summer of 1979. Shields gave a good account of himself going the whole 15 rounds but came up short in what would be his first of 2 world title shots. Four more wins over the next year and a half would earn Shields his 2nd world title try against ‘Motor City’ legend Thomas Hearns; the then 30-0 Hearns stopped Shields (on a cut) in the 12th round of their 15-round battle in the spring of 1981.
Returning in January of 1982, Shields would go 2-2 before retiring. (It should be noted that the 2 losses were against future world champions Johnny Bumphus and Milton McCrory). Shields would return 7 years later, in the summer of 1990, for 1 more fight, winning a 10-round unanimous decision.
While Shields never did win a world title, he challenged twice, and faced some of the very best fighters of his era. Shields retired with a final tally of 41-9-1, 21 KO’s, sporting a resume that he can, and should, look back on with pride – a great fighter in a tough era of welterweight boxing.
Shields is happy, healthy and enjoying life living in southern California.
Maxboxing had a chance to catch up with Shields in California to get his thoughts on his career.
Bill Tibbs: Hi Randy, thanks for taking the time to chat.
Randy Shields: Hi Bill, no problem.
BT: Have you lived in California your whole life?
RS: I was originally from the Washington, DC area but grew up and was raised in California.
BT: Did you have an extensive amateur career?
RS: Well, I had 92 amateur fights. My dad set up a gym in the garage and he used to work out there and he was showing me the heavy bag and the speed bag and I would go out there and one day he said, ‘Ok, you want to fight, then go at this completely, or get out, leave it alone’. So, I replied that I wanted to fight, and it started from there. In my first amateur fight at age 13, I believe, Marty Denkin was the promoter. He went on to referee many world championship bouts. I think he did some of my bouts as well. Yeah, so that’s how I got into it.
BT: Was your dad you trainer and or manager?
RS: He was both and it was a cause of a lot of the problems at times in my career. When I was a pro, he came from the old school idea that a manager’s job was to get you the best paying fights possible, if the money was good then the fight should be taken, but it isn’t always that way. You have to have a plan and he never did. As soon as he heard about the money, he’d start in on me to take the fight whether it was the right fight at that time or not. A manger should get you the best paying fights, yes, I get that, but there has to be a plan as well and with him there was never a plan, just the money; we argued a lot about things like that.
BT: You fought a lot at the old Olympic Auditorium, an iconic fight venue. What are your recollections of that?
RS: It was an old building, built for the 1932 Olympics, it was like the old gladiator days. That is what it reminded me of. It was brick and you’d go downstairs to the dressing room area and there would be a chalkboard with your name on it, pointing you to your dressing room. When you were down there getting ready you could hear the rumble of the crowd. You could tell what was going on, a knockdown, a fight starting, a good looking girl walking into the auditorium, you could tell what was happening by the rumble of the crowd. One thing I remember is that there were white walls in the dressing room area and you could see blood splatters on them, they were white walls but you could see the blood drops all over the wall.
BT: You turn pro in ’74 and are 26-0 by the end of ’75. Then you lose back to back fights with a Mexican fighter named Vincente Mijares. What do you remember about those bouts?
RS: Well, in the first fight, I hit him in the forehead early in the fight and broke my hand and from that point on I was dealing with a hurt hand; I was a one-handed fighter. I kept saying to myself, ‘throw your right hand’ but I couldn’t do anything with it. We had the rematch less than 3 months later and my hand wasn’t healed up properly from the first fight. But, my dad was saying, ‘We have to take the fight, we don’t want the fans to forget you’. I trusted him. The night of the fight they injected my hand with novocaine to get me through it. I knew the fight was close, but I won the fight. After I was leaving the arena later that night after I had changed, Aileen Eaton said to me, ‘I’m sorry we had to do that, but we just rebuilt the auditorium’. They had done a lot of work to the Olympic and they were afraid of a riot if I’d won.
BT: You had a couple of battles with another California fighter, Pete Ranzany, in late ‘77 and early ’78.
RS: He was the worst fighter I ever fought in my career. He had no style, no real skills, he just came at you and threw punches with no style at all. I was seriously ill in the 2nd fight, I had a staph infection, the flu and I was so sick. He butted me and they stopped the fight. I was on my deathbed that whole fight I was so sick going into the fight. I wasn’t myself at all in that fight so it is hard for me to even gauge how I did, I just remember being so sick going into the fight. I was just so lethargic going into the fight. Even though I was so ill the fight was still close.
BT: You fought the great Wilfred Benitez in the summer of ’78 at Madison Square Garden in New York. You were fighting a legend in a legendary sports arena.
RS: I had a girlfriend at the time who stole every dime I had off of me. All my money, gone. I was fighting to stay alive at that time, to keep the bill collectors off of me. They were actually talking about cancelling the fight and I was hoping they would. But, it was money and I needed the money at that time. My dad had worked out a deal to get paid a lot of the purse in cash so that helped. I got thumbed in the eye and it just wasn’t my night. I just wasn’t there mentally. It was too bad to fight at Madison Square Garden and fighting Benitez and not be 100%, but I just wasn’t there mentally.
BT: In your next fight, you didn’t exactly come back with a soft one – you fight “Sugar” Ray Leonard. You fought in Portland, so it was like coming home for you.
RS: Yes, I had my aunts and uncles there, lots of my family was there to see the fight. I had beaten him in the amateurs, and I was always in great shape and he got tired and I didn’t, in that first fight. In our pro bout, I did feel that I won 6 rounds to his 4 but he won his rounds decisively. I will say, of all the guys I fought, there was nobody like him. He was very explosive and fast, very fast. When he turned it on, if he got a fighter hurt, he was very fast and very dangerous. They compare Mayweather Jr. with him sometimes; not even close. He had the power of Tommy Hearns but with explosive speed. Actually, his punches hurt me more than Hearns’ did, that’s how they felt to me.
BT: You got your first world title shot against Pipino Cuevas in Chicago, Illinois.
RS: Man, what a great city Chicago was. It was like no other city to me. It was like a movie where you see different sections of the city all split up into groups – the Italians, Mexicans, Irish, you know, whatever, all the different groups that made each area so unique. I loved that city. I met so many great people when I was there. I walked to the weigh in eating a banana and an apple to keep my weigh up and I weighed 138 pounds, I was 142 on fight night. A lotta people thought that I won that fight but really when I think back on it, I just remember what a great city Chicago was.
BT: Five more wins and you get your second word title shot and you are facing an undefeated, power punching Tommy Hearns – that is an intimidating assignment (laughs).
RS: He never intimidated me, no fighter ever intimidated me. Before the fight I was throwing a left hook in training and really damaged my rotator cuff. I was really a one-armed fighter in that fight, and I felt like I was fighting with one arm and really felt slow in the fight. Around the 8th round I got cut and that was pretty much it.
BT: Looking back on your career, are you satisfied?
RS: I really don’t think that much about it to be honest. I think I should have done better than I did but basically because of my dad and making weight for certain fights and my dad just jumping at fights for money – those things all added up. But, I was always in shape and I never ever turned a fight down. I had scarlet fever as a child and as a result my immune system is very compromised, and I was often sick throughout my career, so I had to battle certain things in training and in fights. I don’t do a lot of interviews and that because I guess I’m not really comfortable talking about my career. I have never really read articles on myself. I’m just not comfortable with that stuff I guess.
BT: But, ya gotta read this one (laughs).
RS: (Chuckles), Yes, I will.
BT: What have you been doing since you retired? Married, kids?
RS: I was doing a lot of security work and working a lot of hours, sometimes doing 24-hour shifts, making good money. Then I was talking with Ron Tutor, who runs one of the biggest contracting firms in the world, and he brought me on, and I have been working for him. It is a great job and there is some down time which allows me to pursue my writing which I like to do. It is something that I did throughout my boxing career as well. I am married and have 3 daughters and 2 grandchildren, my grandchildren who call me ‘Papa’. I love spending time with them.
BT: Randy, you had a great career and earned the respect of everyone in boxing. You beat and competed with some great fighters in what was a very deep, and tough, era in welterweight boxing.
RS: Well, thanks, I appreciate that.
BT: Thanks for the chat Randy, let’s talk again down the line.
RS: No problem Bill, call anytime.