Valley boxer Stephens dies from Alzheimer’s
Clifford Randy Stephens was a fighter throughout most of his life, so it’s no surprise he fought until the end before losing his final bout, life, on Dec. 26 to Alzheimer’s Disease, according to family members.
Stephens — a 1971 graduate of LaBrae and a three-time All-Army champion in boxing, finishing his professional career with a 25-9 record and18 knockouts — was 67.
“He fought for a living, he fought for the Lord and he fought for his life for nearly the past 10 years,” said Tony, the youngest of Randy’s six brothers and two sisters. “Boxing is a tough sport and I don’t think we grasped the long-term effects back in the day, but I think boxing had a big effect on him these past 10 years.”
Still, Randy wouldn’t have changed a thing when it came to boxing, Tony said.
“He got interested in boxing before I was born, when he was around 10,” Tony said. “He got a punching bag from my dad and just fell in love with the sport. He met so many people and friends in boxing and it opened so many doors for him. …
“Even in these past couple of years when he seemed distant from the world so often, I’d pick him up and take him to a local boxing gym and he’d see the equipment and the weights and his eyes would light up and he was so excited.”
Randy was a Golden Gloves champion in 1968 for local trainers Dave Mills and Bob Saffold. Part of the training was turning the natural southpaw into an orthodox (right-handed) boxer.
Right after his high school graduation, Randy told his parents Oather and Helen (Poole) Stephens, that he was joining the Army and left almost immediately.
“It was like the following day that he left,” said brother Lee. “He was with the 82nd Airborne Battalion in Fort Bragg (N.C.) and he was added to their boxing team. He was a three-time (All-Army) heavyweight champion (from 1972-74).”
In 1972, Randy competed in the Olympic Trials and lost a hard-fought decision to Duane Bobick.
In 1974, Randy won the Inter-Service (all branches of the service) heavyweight championship.
He followed that success by being selected as a member of Team America, joining such notables as Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor and Mike Ayala.
“I remember him coming home after the Pan-Am Games,” Lee said. “I got to wear his jumpsuits and robes and things like that. We were so proud of him.”
Randy began his professional career in Texas, winning his first five matches and seven of his first eight.
Randy won the Texas heavyweight championship in October of 1977 and quickly ascended the ranks. He lost via decision in a 10-round fight to Gerrie Coetzee in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 26, 1978. Coetzee went on to become the first African to win a heavyweight title.
“If you remember the Wide World of Sports and the beginning clips where it says ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,’ one of the clips is of (Coetzee being carried off by fans) after beating Randy,” Tony said.
After winning his next fight, Randy was knocked out by Ken Norton on Nov. 10, 1978, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. It was the first of three consecutive defeats.
“Randy always was at a weight disadvantage in heavyweight because he fought at around 215 (pounds) and most of his opponents were at least 235, so that was a problem,” Tony said. “He was too big for light-heavyweight. Fortunately, they introduced a new weight division, cruiserweight, right about that time.”
Randy began fighting at cruiserweight and won his next 13 matches, including four at Packard Music Hall and one memorable victory at Mollenkopf Stadium on the same card as Youngstown native Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini on July 24, 1982. Randy beat Rick Enis to win the Ohio State cruiserweight title that day and Mancini defeated Ernesto Espana in their WBA lightweight title bout.
“Randy and Boom Boom were roommates and trained together and, later on, Randy was a sparring partner for Coetzee and Muhammad Ali,” Tony said. “He became good friends with Coetzee.”
Randy then earned a TKO against Grover Robinson to set up a WBA cruiserweight title match with Ossie Ocasio on May 5, 1983. Ocasio won a unanimous decision in a 15-round fight. After earning his final win, a TKO over Milton Jarrells on Jan. 29, 1985, Randy got another title opportunity on March 30, 1985, in Sun City, South Africa. He was TKO’d by Piet Crous.
“By then, Evander Holyfield was breaking onto the scene in cruiserweight and he went on to dominate and then become (a five-time) heavyweight champion,” Tony said. “What I’ll remember most about Randy is that he would come home and it was always play time when he came home. Me being the youngest, he used to really goof around with me. He was never serious when he wasn’t training. Besides the boxing, he was a great big brother, with a great sense of humor and was the first to find religion in our family and he lived it. He was a man of faith.”
“He taught us a lot about will, drive and perseverance,” Lee said. “When he did come home, he was out there running every day and then would go to the gym. Because he had a drive to get better as an athlete and a man, we saw that and we wanted to be the best we can be. Our family has a lot of athletic ability, and we all loved Randy.
“I was the only one in the family in basketball, but I followed his work ethic, played professional basketball overseas and went on a world tour with Meadowlark Lemon and the Shooting Stars, with guys like Curly and “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Our family has had success in a lot of different sports, but it all led back to him. Although my mom and dad also were good athletes in their day, we watched and lived it with our brother.”