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At 46, “Terrible” Terry Norris has the lean, muscled frame of a former pro boxer. He’s just a little taller than average, with a thick, black Van Dyke framing a bright smile.
Gray creeps in at the edges of his beard, but his shaved head seems the only concession to age, a paring away of the intricately razored box cut of his heyday, now some 20 years gone.
These days, he teaches cardio boxing in a converted garage north of Hollywood; upstairs, he shares a loft with his wife, Tanya, who also teaches and runs his gym.
During classes he looks fit and powerful, his fists still preternaturally fast. Only when he speaks, in a low, raspy murmur bordering on unintelligible, do you wonder at the damage he’s suffered.
He started boxing when he was nine years old, a black kid growing up in Lubbock, Texas, a conservative, predominantly white industrial city best known as the birthplace of Buddy Holly. His mother wanted to keep her mischievous son, “Terrible,” off the streets; his father was a former fighter.
At 19 he turned pro. World Boxing Council light-middleweight champion at 22. Three more titles followed; he finished his career at 47-9, with 31 knockouts, and joined the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The late comedian George Carlin once said, “It’s called the American Dream because you need to be asleep to believe it.” But locked in a 5-by-9 cell, behind maximum-security walls, a 6’1, 175-pound living nightmare of a jailhouse fighter had his own American Dream and he wanted it televised nationwide.
For a short time, that dream instilled enough fear that it gave the light heavyweight champion insomnia. Promoter Don King, sports’ most successfully rehabilitated ex-con, himself a man who newspaper columnist turned novelist and screenwriter Pete Dexter once described as “easiest to imagine as a disease,” someone who “for 15 cents will put boys in the ring and girls on the street,” wouldn’t go near this convict’s request to promote his next fight.
Even King, Mr. “Only in America!” in all his devious genius, couldn’t believe any fighter, let alone the public, would want any role in the twisted saga of James O. Scott. Some 30 or 40 years ago, just how important was boxing to America? It transcended sport.
And boxing had Muhammad Ali. On Sept. 15, 1978, only three weeks before James Scott fought Eddie Gregory, the No. 1-ranked contender for the light heavyweight championship in New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison, Muhammad Ali fought his rematch against Leon Spinks for the heavyweight crown in front of more than 63,000 fans at the Superdome in New Orleans. Cable TV was in its infancy. There were only four national television channels and 90 million people — 73 percent of American households — watched the fight on ABC. It was bigger than the Super Bowl and Ali reclaimed his championship in front of more eyes than any sporting event in television history (it’s still in the top 10 today).
So how in the world did a career-criminal snatch the keys to this kingdom from his cage in Rahway and convince Home Box Office to tag along and let him loose in every living room in the country?
Mike Tyson at the Tyson-Lewis press conference, Jan 22, 2002. As the troubled boxer peddles his one-man show and makes appearances around the world, Tricia Romano writes about how a convicted rapist became cuddly.