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By B. Scott Mohr
Wes Ramey, a three-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion and a two-time Michigan American Athletic Union champion in the late 1950s, first donned boxing gloves as a 1-year-old clad in a diaper, and he has a picture to prove it.
Ramey was introduced to the sport at such a young age because his father, Wes Ramey Sr., was one of the top 10 lightweights of the world during the late 1920s to the mid-30s, an era of outstanding fathers. The elder Ramey defeated six world champions: Tony Canzoneri, Benny Bass, Johnny Jadick, Leo Rodak, Lew Jenkins and Battling Shaw. He had a 10-2 record against them but never received a shot at the title. His overall record was 237-22.
Wes recalls his dad being a great fighter and trainer, and he wears his father’s International Boxing Hall of Fame ring with great pride. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Ramey said of the ring.
While sitting at his desk at Top Level Gym, one of many boxing facilities that he has owned, he addresses a member as he enters. “You have been AWOL,” Ramey sternly stated. “Where have you been? Is it a girl? Have you been in school? You know school comes first. And if you’ve been working, that’s OK, too.”
He tells another guy who isn’t training seriously: “We’re not here to play checkers.”
While the number of boxers is dwindling, those who are training show promise. “But not many kids want to work out and sweat after school. They want to play computer games.”
Ramey has guidelines for his young students, and there is no sidestepping the rules. A grade average of a C or better is required, and dropouts are not welcome. “And I ain’t having any foul language; the same goes for music. We have some girls here, you know.” Sportsmanship is also stressed. “We have a good group of kids. If they aren’t good, they won’t be around for long. Some are in here six days a week training.
Some guys will come to the gym with an attitude that they are real tough, but that demeanor doesn’t carry any weight with Ramey. “Nobody amazes me until they get into the squared circle.
“I work with everyone on a one-on-one basis,” he said. “I know what everyone can and can’t do,” and sometimes that training can spill over to discussions on life skills.
When its comes to sparring, it’s forbidden unless Ramey is there to supervise the action. But he does much more than monitor the boxers; he continuously barks out instructions during the three three-minute rounds. “Move your feet! Watch your balance! Block those punches! That’s it! Throw a punch!”
And he keeps a watchful eye on his boxers to ensure that they are not tired because that’s when they can get hurt.
Since opening Top Level Gym, 5002 Madison Ave. (405-8996), about three years ago, Ramey has coached five Indiana Golden Gloves champions; he has a few who will be contenders next year.
“I want to make good fighters out of all of them,” Ramey stressed. “I want my kids to be tough mentally and physically. Being mentally tough is 75 percent of the battle. I don’t want them to be my close friends. I don’t want them coming over to my house for dinner or to borrow my car. I want them to be good fighters.”
Even with that attitude, it’s obvious that Ramey is respected and liked by his boxers.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., he traveled from coast to coast with his father and saw some of the world’s finest trainers: Ray Arcel, Whitey Bimstein, Freddy Brown and Charlie Goldman.
Ramey began taking boxing seriously when he was about 14. After compiling a 149-8 amateur record, he turned pro and boasted an impressive 18-2-1 record with 11 knockouts before his career was cut short due to numerous cuts around his eyes. The same dilemma ended the career of his son, Scott, who lives in San Diego. His daughter, Lisa, resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ramey’s first wife is deceased; he has been married to his second wife, Geneva, for 17 years.
“I had to opportunity to fight in Olympia Stadium in Detroit or start a five-year apprenticeship program as a pipe fitter,” Ramey said. “Since I was married and had a couple of children, I didn’t have a choice but to become a pipe fitter. It was the right decision, and it turned out to be a wonderful career.”
Even so, Ramey never left the ring. He trained and/or worked with 10 world champions, including 122-pound Paul Banke from the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation heavyweight Tony Tucker, IBF 160-pounder Michael Nunn, WBA 154-pounder Carl Daniels, World Athletic Association and IBF 154-pounder Harold Brazier, WBA 140-pounder Khalid Rahilou and IBF 168-pounder Iran Barkley.
He also mentored Ian Ransburg, his partner at the gym, 5002 Madison Ave. Ransburg, an Indiana Golden Gloves champ, is an instructor of the martial art muay thai.
“Ian is an exceptional trainer,” the best in the state,” said Ramey. “There’s no doubt about that.”
In addition to his expertise in training, Ramey has been a topnotch cutman for 56 years. He’ll be ringside again in October.