Michael Dokes, who used his swift, punishing fists to become the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1982 and, 15 years later, to beat his live-in girlfriend so savagely that he was convicted of attempted murder, died from liver cancer on Saturday at a hospice in Akron, Ohio. He was 54.
Dokes’ career was a roller coaster of ups and downs remarkable even for his rough-and-tumble sport. His mother pushed him toward boxing to stop him from fighting on the streets of Akron, and he won national amateur heavyweight titles as a teenager.
In 1977, at 18, he fought a 35-year-old Muhammad Ali in a highly publicized exhibition match in Miami, and in 1982, at 24, he scored a technical knockout of Mike Weaver in just over a minute in Las Vegas to win the World Boxing Association heavyweight crown.
He lost the title nine months later to Gerrie Coetzee, and later confessed that he had used cocaine less than 48 hours before the fight.
He was convicted of at least three charges of drug possession and trafficking, and was in and out of narcotics rehabilitation programs. Boxing Insider quoted him saying that he once trained for a fight on “Jack Daniel’s and cocaine.”
He compiled a 53-6-2 professional record with 34 knockouts. Some of his fights won high praise. Ring magazine called his 1989 bout with Evander Holyfield, who scored a technical knockout in the 10th round, the best heavyweight battle of the 1980s. Holyfield said Dokes’ hands were the swiftest he had encountered.
In the 1975 Pan American Games, Dokes lost a 3-2 decision to Cuban amateur great Te??filo Stevenson who died in June.
Dokes’ amateur record was 147-7, including victories over the future heavyweight champions John Tate and Greg Page.
In 2000, three years after his retirement from boxing, he pleaded guilty in a Nevada state court to attempted murder, second-degree kidnapping and intent to commit sexual assault for attacking Sandra Kaye Cummings, his girlfriend of more than nine years. Her injuries, which included a broken nose and cheekbone, were so severe, the police said, that she could not be recognized in a driver’s license photograph.
He was sentenced to 10 years but paroled in 2008. (AP)