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My Story: "Boxing John"

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John Henry "Boxing John" Howard did his time in the Army in the 1950s, patrolling the demilitarized zone in Korea. Then he says he spent 14 years as a lightweight fighter out of Richmond.

But it's difficult for a man with a love of gambling to make ends meet on a boxer's salary, so breaking and entering made up the difference. He hit 300 or more houses in Windsor Farms, he says -- until he got caught.

Boxing John gave 10 years to society for his crimes. He says he's clean today, his thieving and gambling past swept away.

"I boxed professionally," says the fighter, whose nickname in his prime was "Flash." "I fought. I lost 10 of 30 fights, but I won 20." Find the Richmond native any morning at the Village Cafe on Grace Street sweeping floors, doing odd jobs. Others remember his fighting more than 100 bouts.

Small of stature and stooped, at 68 his craggy face looks many years older. He speaks with a soft whisper. Don't be fooled — he claims he still trains like a prize fighter. "Three days ago I [ran] from Venable Street in Church Hill out to Willow Lawn and turned around and run back to Church Hill."

In his day, Boxing John wants you to know he did more than hold his own: "I fought Pernell [Sweet Pea] Whitaker three times," he says of sparring matches with the former lightweight champion. "He beat me. Ain't nobody beat him yet."

Boxing John won and lost in more than just the ring. A taste for gambling — shooting craps — got ahead of him. And women. "I love women — I really love women," he says. "They get a little ruthless sometimes, but I love 'em still."

Boxing John says he had to pay the bills.

"I was a cat burglar," he says, recalling "moving around in people's homes while they were asleep."

"I walked by myself — I was small-featured." He stops talking, leans in close; he doesn't like to talk about burgling. "I'm worrying the kids might see and follow. It's not the right way to go.

"I changed my life when I got out. I come out of the penitentiary. … That's past — that's gone. I came out at the turn of the century. In 2000.

"I ain't perfect," he says. "Do the right thing, man. Do the right thing, and the right thing will follow you."



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