Willie Nelson didn’t know any better. He was just a kid, out there playing one day in the blighted area of East Cleveland, Ohio, when his older sister, Raviele, arrived to pick him and his older brother up. She told them she was picking them up for the summer – not for the rest of their lives.
What she did was rescue them. What’s more is that Raviele was just a kid herself. She lied to get legal custody of the boys. She gave up her life so they could have one. She worked various part-time jobs to make sure the bills were paid and her brothers, though more like sons, had almost everything they wanted.
Raviele Nelson was just 17. She gave Willie stability, guidance, and she introduced her younger brother to boxing.
Tomorrow night, Nelson (19-1-1, 11 knockouts) will take on Michael Medina (26-3-2, 19 KOs) in a scheduled 12-round junior middleweight co-feature on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket, Conn. Sitting in the stands cheering Nelson will be his older sister, Raviele, one of the main reasons for his success.
Nelson in his youth was a “pass-around” kid, never in any one place for a prolonged period, as his parents battled substance-abuse issues. Nelson’s early childhood was spent bouncing from family member to family member.
“Then one day I was out playing with my brother, when we were staying with aunt, and my sister Raviele showed up,” Nelson recalled. “My mother and fathers were drug users, then, and we’d see them from time to time, but then, they weren’t really a part of our lives. They had their own issues.
“I remember Raviele told us she was picking us up for the summer. We didn’t know what she was doing. She lied to take legal custody of me and my brother and then she took us in. She didn’t get to graduate high school because of us. She was always working. She had a lot of different part-time jobs. The neighbor upstairs would watch us when she went to work.”
Raviele didn’t blink about making the move. She feared what could happen to her brothers, and at great sacrifice, she responded.
“I’m very family oriented, at the time, my mother was going through issues, and as a kid, I didn’t want Willie to see those issues,” Raviele said. “Her issues were getting a little stronger when Willie and Karaenus were younger, and I didn’t want to expose them to that. It was kind of crazy, because my mother didn’t even know I took them—until later that day. I told her she wouldn’t get them back until she got herself together.
“I didn’t want them around drugs or drinking. I knew what was going on. I had a young daughter of my own. I don’t consider what I did extraordinary. My mother and grandmother, great grandmother, were all single children. My maternal grandmother took us in and raised us. She was a very strong woman. She took everyone in and helped raise them.”
Willie was Raviele’s excitable, rambunctious burden to bear. He was admittedly difficult. A year younger than his brother, Karaenus Nelson, Willie often felt ignored. Karaenus got straight As in schools. Willie got straight Ds. Karaenus was on various sports teams. Willie dabbled in something his family viewed as a hobby, nothing very serious.
That hobby was boxing.
Nelson was drawn to the sport at a very early age after watching the 1991 Evander Holyfield-George Foreman heavyweight title fight at an uncle’s house. It was love at first fight.
“I (was) hooked on boxing from there, and I was around four years old, but I was 10 when Raviele took me to the Team America Boxing gym in west Cleveland,” he recalled. “That’s where I met my first coach, Renard Safo. He stepped into my life and was a real father-figure to me. But that’s how my family dealt with me, too. My sister knew how much I loved boxing.
“I was pretty hard to get along with the other kids—I was always fighting and always angry. My sister spoiled us. We had all of the best clothes. Between me and my brother growing up, I was the bad one. My brother was good at everything. I didn’t get much attention, because I was always second to my brother. I think I started growing out of that when I was 14, 15, that’s when boxing took off for me. My family thought I wasn’t that serious about it but boxing was always serious to me. My punishment if I did something bad in school, my sister would take boxing away for a month.”
Now he’s a rising junior middleweight prospect. Nelson, 25, is rebounding from the eight-round majority-decision loss he suffered against Vincent Arroyo, on April 8, 2011, in a fight in which Nelson hit the canvas in the third, sixth and seventh rounds.
He feels the step in beating Medina puts his career back on track. Medina is 3-2 over his last five fights, but it does include a 10-round victory over the faded Grady Brewer.
“I have watched some of Medina’s fights, and I’ve seen him fight once before, but I do know he’s been in with better opposition than me; he’s going to come to fight and he’s not a real big puncher,” said Nelson, who has won his last three bouts, including back-to-back 10-round decisions over undefeated opponents. “I don’t think Medina has great hand speed and he does have poor defense. He’ll take a shot to give a shot. He has a lot of bad habits in the ring that I plan to take advantage of.”
Raviele will be there at ringside, while Nelson’s other sisters, Candi and Ayanna, will be watching and hosting fight parties. Nelson feels he’s fighting for a little more than himself and his four children – two girls and two boys – between 2 and 8 years old.
“I fight for my whole family; I want be someone they could be proud about,” Nelson said. “My mom and dad were around from time to time, but my father wasn’t financially stable. They had their drug problems. They’re getting themselves together. I got lucky with a lot of good people in my life.
“There was someone always there helping me out. My sisters, all of them, were like mothers to me. If Raviele didn’t pick me up that day, who knows what would have happened to me. She gave me a direction in my life. I see myself as blessed. A lot of things have happened in my life—I couldn’t have gotten killed anything could have gone on. All my sisters saved me. I fight for them.”
Photos / Rumble Time Promotions