Terry Daniels: A life of promise ends sadly
By Jerry Fitch
When people die the most common response is to say “Rest in Peace.”
I titled this story the same way. But to me this has even more meaning than usual. Heavyweight boxer Terry Daniels life story is a mixture of great highs but also terrible lows. It is a story that makes you think, and in many ways realize, that boxing has a real negative side.
Terry Daniels was born on May 1, 1946 in Willoughby, Ohio, which is east of Cleveland. I’m the same age as Terry, so it hit me hard when he passed away on September 3rd in this strange year of 2020. The news these days is usually about the Covid-19 Pandemic and the craziness of the upcoming Presidential Election. Terry Daniels passing was probably a side note to some people.
Terry was a handsome young man who seemed to have the world as his oyster. He came from a family that seemed to have it all. Terry’s father and partners ran a very successful business. They had a nice house and land and were deeply involved in the local Methodist church. His father and partner were doing well and Terry and his brothers were guaranteed jobs. Terry was the oldest of four boys and one girl.
He carried a 4.0 GPA at Willoughby South High School and was class President. He was also a member and President of the Student Council. Terry was a very good athlete in high school, playing baseball and football and lettering several times. He had recruiters checking him out. He was a two-way player in football. Unfortunately, in the fourth game of his senior year, he badly damaged his left knee.
Terry decided to attend Southern Methodist University in 1964 where he was expected to be a big part of the SMU Freshman football team. However, he re-injured his previously damaged knee his freshman year. His football dreams were over.
Although he was healthy enough later to play baseball in college, his bad knee changed things. While spending time at a boxing gym in Dallas rehabbing his knee, Terry often watched the boxers go through their routines. His interest was immediately peaked. As he got stronger, he asked trainer Eddie Lane if it would be possible to get into the ring and spar. Eddie told him as soon as he was sure his knee could handle it; he would let him try.
Terry eventually did get to box, in fact he entered the local Golden Gloves for the Pal Team from 1965 to 1968. He did well, winning a Novice and Open title at light-heavyweight and heavyweight. He even made it to the Nationals a couple times and overall was successful in close to 50 amateur contests. His last few years he was under the guidance of Doug Lord.
Terry Daniels had been an honor student in high school and had started out fairly well in college. But as he got more and more involved in boxing, he started taking fewer courses and his GPA took a dive. Eventually after his junior year he was told he could no longer attend SMU and he transferred to North Texas University. But the quest for a degree was secondary for Terry. Boxing had hooked him.
Eventually Terry turned pro under Doug Lord. He loved the acclaim and the cheers and the girls who flocked around him. He was handsome and although small for a heavyweight by today’s standards at 195 pounds, he was well built and carried power in his right hand. On February 10, 1969 he turned pro against one Charles Burnett and won by a 1st round kayo.
I have met many boxers in my time. Many of them were very successful during their careers. During the glory days of boxing, it was hard for some good fighters to get to the top. Many that did never got a shot at a world title.
The list is long and I could mention more than a few just from the Cleveland area who deserved a chance to win the big prize but didn’t get that chance. Johnny Risko, Jimmy Bivins and Lloyd Marshall are three that come to mind.
Terry Daniels was in the right place at the right time. Although he had a winning record, he had only two quality wins leading up to a championship fight against Joe Frazier. On November 10th of 1970, he knocked out Amos “Big Train” Lincoln in the 5th round. Heading into the fight Lincoln’s record stood at 40-13-2. The fight that apparently landed the title match for Terry was when he shocked local upstart Ted Gullick - scoring a 3rd round TKO on October 19, 1971, at the Cleveland Arena.
Frazier had gone through hell and back in his fight with Muhammad Ali in March of 1971, coming out on top but surely leaving a lot of himself in the ring that night, as did Ali. It seems Frazier wanted to have a few easier title defenses. He chose to meet Terry and eventually Ron Stander, certainly not the most qualified opponents by any stretch of the imagination. This is not a knock on either man for getting their shot. Who could blame them?
Terry could always brag that he fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. No one could take that away from him. When the fight was stopped in the 4th round, it was to save him from further damage. He had fought a heroic battle and showed great courage in getting up each and every time he was knocked down. After the fifth trip to the canvas, the referee mercifully halted the matter. He had taken a lot of punishment.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We all tend to use it but it really is not relevant or fair. Terry should have quit then. His record stood at 28-5-1 and he appeared to have his health. He had fought for the greatest championship in the world. He had garnished huge paydays and could look with pride at his accomplishments.
But Terry didn’t quit and simply put, after the Frazier fight, his career was a disaster. After the Frazier fight, Terry engaged in 32 fights, winning only 7 and losing 25. He was stopped 10 times.
He met a lot of good fighters, named fighters, even some ranking fighters. Just a few of the well-known names would be Cleveland Williams, Jose King Roman, John Conteh, Vinnie Curto, Terry Hinke, John Dino Denis, Ron Stander, Scott LeDoux and Alfredo Evangelista, who knocked Terry out in the 2nd round on August 29, 1981. He finally retired after the stoppage.
Terry’s final record was 35-30-1 but he had taken a ton of punishment in most of his later fights after meeting Frazier. He just couldn’t seem to hang them up. It was like an addiction to him. One good thing was that Lord had him invest his earnings while fighting. He was able to buy a house when he retired, and completed his college degree.
Eventually Terry started his own business in 1979, Daniels Legal Reporting Service, with help from his friend Ronnie Wright. He worked at it successfully for a while, but in the late 80s, signs of head trauma began to appear. Terry’s left hand trembled. It started slowly and became very noticeable in the 90s.
In 1996 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Eventually he couldn’t perform his daily duties for his company in Houston, Texas. After 22 years he closed the doors. He became eligible for Social Security Disability in 2002. He was only 56 years old.
Terry’s brother convinced him to sell his house in 2004 and move back to Ohio. For a while Terry lived with his father who was a widower, in Willoughby, Ohio. When his father died in 2009, he had to go to an assisted-living facility. According to his brother Jeff, Terry had good days and bad days but he could no longer take interviews or make public appearances. The damage had been done.
Terry left behind his three brothers and a sister, his children, Bret, Kerry, and Dustin, eight grandchildren and was the uncle to eleven.
Rest in peace Terry Daniels.
NOTE: A lot of the personal information in this story was obtained through Terry’s brother Jeff Daniel’s 2015 book, My Brother The Boxer, The Terry Daniels Story, available at Amazon.com.
Jerry Fitch is the author of five books on boxing including Cleveland’s Greatest Fighters of All Time, James Louis Bivins...The Man Who Would Be Champion and Johnny Risko...The Cleveland Rubber Man and the forthcoming...A Few More Rounds with John J. Raspanti
Jerry can be reached at email@example.com