Mark E. Ortega

Final chapter, final Page likely written for former champ

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A week ago today, former WBA welterweight titlist James Page was arrested in Northern California in connection to six bank robberies that took place around the Bay Area over the past six months. According to the Bay Area News Group, he is being held on $395,000 bail.

It was just over a year ago that Page emerged from prison following an 11-year sentence stemming from a bank robbery in Atlanta in 2001. After serving his time, Page left prison a cut and ripped 159 pounds, intent on returning to the ring in an attempt to find old glory.

Page’s comeback received little fanfare, though he took it much more seriously than most fortysomethings coming off more than a decade of inactivity. Page sparred with the late Omar Henry at King’s Gym in Oakland, as well as junior middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo under the watchful eye of Angulo’s trainer, Virgil Hunter.

In doing a story for the February edition of the UK publication Boxing Monthly, this writer recalls discussing Page with Hunter when it first became apparent that he was out of jail and looking to return to the ring. Hunter instantly brushed off the idea of it. He’d had a change of heart after seeing Page go toe-to-toe with Angulo in sparring.

“James Page don’t have to prove nothing to nobody, he’s got my respect,” said Hunter. “He’s been there, done that. He’s got my respect, he’s a tough, tough, tough man, without a doubt. Anybody fighting him, they’re going to have a fight.”

Henry, who sadly passed away in February, had similarly positive comments regarding Page after sparring him.

alt“I heard his name before, and that he used to be a world champion,” Henry told me in a story for the Martinez News-Gazette, a tri-weekly newspaper from near Page’s hometown of Pittsburg, Calif.

“When I heard how long he had been out of the ring, oh man, I couldn’t believe it. His jab was so fast and he gave me great work. Based on that I thought he had been in the gym, I had no idea he had been out for so long. I felt like it was top notch sparring.”

After hearing these glowing reviews, it was difficult not to get caught up in the comeback of Page. With the help of longtime friend and advisor Dee Miller, Page began making appearances at things like the Oakland weigh-in for Andre Ward’s fight against Chad Dawson last September.

Page was announced to the crowd with little fanfare, as it is likely many of today’s fans would have a hard time recalling Page’s short prime before serving time for more than a decade. Those who do remember Page mostly remember his compelling 1999 bout against Jose Luis Lopez and little else.

As a boxing fan who grew up in the Bay Area, Page’s reign was a bit more memorable. Prior to Ward, Nonito Donaire, and Robert Guerrero emerging from the Northern California region as top fighters, Page was the last champion to hail from the region.

It was with equal parts curiosity and faith that I began speaking with Sacramento-based promoter Ozric Pratt of OPP Presents about the possibility of putting Page on one of his upcoming shows. Pratt had done his first show in Sacramento in August, and was looking to fill a card for nearby Natomas in November.

Pratt wasn’t convinced that Page would sell any tickets, or at least not enough to justify putting him on the card. It was a fair opinion to take. Page’s manager Miller had me convinced, however, that Page still held weight with people in his hometown, and eventually I convinced Pratt that he would sell tickets.

Miller put in a ton of effort getting the word out on Page’s Nov. 17 comeback fight against journeyman Rahman Yusubov. The support on that day for Page was overwhelming, and the entire ordeal was the subject of lengthy feature I penned for Boxing Monthly.

altIt was a surreal experience, to say the least. As a promoter, Pratt was definitely satisfied with the turnout for the comeback fight of a former champion who hadn’t been in the ring since Bill Clinton was president.

Yusubov was a tough journeyman who had giving many difficult rounds to a slew of up-and-comers. He had been stopped multiple times, but never in the first round.

I went into the dressing room prior to Page’s walk to the ring. The last time he had fought, it was at the MGM Grand on HBO, where he had been stopped by Andrew Lewis.

This time, the fight was at a small hotel on a club show. Page and his team, which included mother Pamela Page, said a prayer before beginning the ring walk. It had began to rain outside a bit, and Page’s ring walk crossed from the hotel lobby and stretched outside before making his way into the arena.

Early on, it appeared as though this was going to be quick work for Page, which would have been quite a statement given Yusubov’s durability. Page rocked Yusubov with the first heavy shots he threw and had him holding on.

His timing was just off on that once infamous right hand and he was unable to get the finish. By the end of the round, it was Page who was reeling from some heavy shots.

Page’s punch resistance was pretty much nonexistent, which is something that isn’t obvious until the headgear is off. In the second round, Page took a beating, eventually getting dropped brutally, with his head bouncing off the bottom rope.

altCalif. State Athletic Commissioner Che Guevara later told this writer that this was what he was afraid of and that they wouldn’t license him for a fight again. Just like that, the comeback was over.

When I initially contacted Boxing Monthly editor-in-chief Glyn Leach about the idea for a story on Page’s comeback, it was basically on the basis that Page would get a win. When it didn’t work out that way, I still found a positive angle to take on the ordeal given a number of different things.

It was through the belief that he would one day fight again that Page was able to focus his energy while locked up on something positive. Though it didn’t go his way, Page gave himself absolutely the best chance possible at making something happen after such a prolonged period of inactivity.

Page’s words in his dressing room prior to making his way to the ring that night ring all too often in this writer’s ears given the heartbreaking likely finality to his freedom.

“Sitting in prison for so long, you’re either gonna conform to what’s going on in there and lose focus, and say forget it, or you’re gonna think to myself, ‘I’m gonna come out a better man.’”

“The main thing I can teach anybody, is don’t be a screw up and get into the trouble that I got in,” said Page. “I’m not a role model for anybody. You can have all the talent in the world, if you don’t have your head on right, it’s meaningless.”

Though Page was saying all the right things while there was still hope of conquering past demons, it is obvious that without boxing, there wasn’t much holding his life together. Now, because of this, he will likely be sitting behind bars with a lot of time to think about how he didn’t live up to his potential.

 

Photos: Al Bello-Gettyimages; THE RING

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