RIP in Bridgeton, NJ, boxing competitor Richie Kates
The local boxing community just lost another legend.
Former Bridgeton light heavyweight competitor and trainer Richie Kates died on Saturday, two months before his 70th birthday.
Kates retired after a 14-year career in 1983 with a 44-6 record with 23 knockouts. His 44 wins are the most of any Atlantic, Cape May or Cumberland county boxer in the past 60 years. Former heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon (Atlantic City) is second with 40 wins. Millville middleweight Thomas LaManna (34-5-1, 13 KOs) will have a shot at taking third place tonight in a 10-round bout against Rahway’s Salim Larbi in Orlando, Florida. He is currently tied with the late Leavander Johnson (34-5-2, 26 KOs), of Atlantic City, who was a former lightweight champion.
Richie’s journey began on farms in Cumberland County.
The sixth of John and Alice’s 11 children was born in Savannah, Georgia, but was just a baby when the family moved to South Jersey.
“My parents were migrant farm workers, as were a lot of black people in the South,” Kates said in a 2017 interview. “You named it, we picked it. Tomatoes, beans, okra, asparagus. C That’s where I learned the value of hard work. Nothing was given to you. You had to earn it.”
Kates worked alongside her parents and siblings – her younger brother Charlie became a star basketball player at Sacred Heart High School in Vineland and also coached at Bridgeton High – until she was 13 years, when he got a job sweeping floors and stocking shelves in the room. Acme.
His boxing career began a year earlier, almost by accident.
“I hated school when I was younger,” the 1972 graduate of Bridgeton High said. “I used to jump all the time. One day a truant officer found me and told me that I had to find new places to hide. He told me about a boxing gym in Millville, so I took a bus there one day.”
Richie turned pro at the age of 16. He lied about his age and debuted at a show in Baltimore on December 11, 1969, during his sophomore year at Bridgeton High.
Kates fought a guy named Bobby Haynes, earning a four-round decision victory.
“I remember looking across the ring before the fight and saying to my trainer (Vineland’s Letty Petway), ‘That’s an adult over there,’” Kates said with a laugh. “Letty said, ‘You’re a pro now. You’re gonna fight grown men all the time. “”
Kates is widely regarded as the best local fighter to never win a world title. And when it comes to Seldon and Johnson, the argument can be made that Kates was the better local fighter, period.
He competed at a time when the light-heavyweight division was loaded with talent.
Bob Foster, Victor Galindez, Marvin Johnson, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Mike Rossman and Michael Spinks have held WBA and WBC titles at various times.
Three of Kates’ six career losses have come to Galindez (twice) and Saad Muhammad. He had two epic fights against Galindez, who was the WBA champion at the time, losing by a 15th-round knockout and a 15-round decision, in Johannesburg, South Africa and Rome, respectively.
“Richie fought through what was the best light-heavyweight era in history,” former Philadelphia promoter Russell Peltz said in a 2017 interview. “Current light heavyweights are good fighters, but they wouldn’t have the records they have if they were up against guys from the 1970s and early 80s.”
Kates retired from boxing in 1983 at the age of 30. Although still ranked among the top lightweights at the time – he had won five straight fights – Kates opted to quit after his 50th professional fight, a split decision victory over Jerry Martin on October 26, 1983, at the Sands Hotel Casino, since demolished, in Atlantic City.
“I was only 30, but people don’t realize I had been fighting pro for 14 years,” Kates said. “Too many fighters stay too long. I wanted to be able to speak in full sentences when I was older.”
After his fighting days, Kates moved to Vineland and became a trainer. Ironically, he worked in the Seldon corner when the former champion returned from an eight-year hiatus, guiding him to a 4-1 record in five fights in the mid-2000s.
“Richie was like a local boxing queen to me,” Seldon’s former manager Jim Kurtz said on Saturday. “And as great a fighter as he was, he was an even better person. For someone who was so wild in the ring, Richie was kind and humble outside of it.”
Richie was later inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame in 2018, alongside the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Boxing Halls of Fame. In 2017, a packed crowd filled the Landis Theater in Vineland for the premiere of SNJToday’s documentary, “Richie Kates: An Uncommon Journey.”
Russell Peltz announced the heartbreaking news of Richie’s passing on Saturday.
Although he never won a world title, Richie’s character, dignity, grace and humility made him a champion.
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