Season 1 Episode 5

The Fighter Inside

How does a professional boxer, convicted of armed robbery in 1975, end up rising in the ranks of the sport — from inside a state penitentiary? The Fighter Inside is the unlikely story of an inmate who wanted to continue his boxing career while behind bars, and the visionary prison warden who made his dream a reality.
Duration: 43mins

Transcript

JODY AVIRGAN: From ESPN Films and ESPN Audio, you’re listening to 30 for 30 Podcasts presented by the Mini Countryman.

Today, The Fighter Inside.

 

When a professional athlete gets sentenced to prison, it’s usually assumed it’s the end of his or her career or at least a major hurdle. But this is the story of a pro athlete who not only managed to compete while incarcerated, he also climbed his way to the top of his sport without ever stepping outside of the prison walls.

 

30 for 30’s Andrew Mambo tells the story of The Fighter Inside.

 

*      *      *      *     *

 

JOE MCGOVERN: Looking at the notes here, it looks like I got the case in August of 2005 and it looks like they said he was in jail most of his life.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: In the summer of 2005, a Parole Officer named Joe McGovern got a case he knew wouldn’t be easy. The parolee was a man in his late 50s who had just gotten out of prison after three decades behind bars.

 

 

JOE MCGOVERN: At that point he had done more time in prison than he was on the street. Just the amount of time he did, it was gonna be hard.  

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: The man had no money, and no place to live. So Joe helped him find a room in a subsidized building right next to a soup kitchen in Trenton, New Jersey. And, the man would show up at Joe’s office, a lot.

 

 

JOE MCGOVERN: (laughs) Usually we’re looking for parolees. We were trying to get him not to come in. It got a point where I said to myself, I gotta we gotta to fill this guy’s day, something else has to be going on.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: One thing the man loved was boxing. He was always telling stories about his days boxing in prison. It gave Joe an idea. He knew a boxing club in South Trenton, close to where the man lived.

 

 

JOE MCGOVERN: I stopped in there one day. Told ‘em I was from parole. And I says, “Hey, I got a former boxer, you guys looking for any work?” And he says, “Nah, we’re not gonna pay nobody…we don’t have that.” And I says well, I says, um, “Could he come and hang out or volunteer or something? “You know he gave me like, “Uh, I don’t know” and then he says well, “Who do you have?” I didn’t use his name at first. And, I said, “It’s James Scott.”

 

And man he said, “What?” He turned around and just like yelled it out to a couple guys there… “James Scott is around.”

 

ERIC JUDKINS: It was like: You’ve got James Scott? Are you serious? And you’re going to bring him here? Oh that’s great.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: ERIC JUDKINS was one of the trainers there.

 

 

ERIC JUDKINS: Anybody would be excited to have James Scott. He’s a legend.

 

 

JOE MCGOVERN: I saw these guys’ reactions, and I was like wow. It was probably like I walked in with Muhammad Ali and I had had no idea who I had.

 

 

[NBC Boxing Footage

ANNOUNCER: Let’s hear it for great Scott, super Scott, James Scott!]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: What the guys in the gym knew is that in the late 1970s, James Scott was one of the best light heavyweight boxer in the world. And what makes James unlike any other boxer before or since — is that he was a convicted felon who fought his biggest matches inside a maximum security prison.

 

[NBC Boxing Profile on James Scott

ANNOUNCER: Live from Rahway State Prison… He trains here. He eats here. He sleeps here. This man. James Scott the most feared boxer in the light heavyweight division returns.

 

MARV ALBERT: Oh, uppercut by Scott.

 

KEN NORTON: Very good uppercut by Scott

 

MARV ALBERT: And now the inmates are chanting “Superman”]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James Scott didn’t start his professional boxing career in prison. He started at the famous 5th Street Gym in Miami — where Muhammad Ali had come up.

 

 

[Miami Radio Show

HOST: We’re going to be talking sports, the phone number to call in and talk boxing with our guest Hank Kaplan…]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: By the fall of 1974, James was undefeated after 10 pro fights. And boxing experts, like Hank Kaplan, were predicting big things.

 

 

[Miami Radio Show

HOST: And they have James Scott, who is definitely on his way to becoming a contender for the light heavyweight championship.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: This was a new life for James Scott. As a teenager in Newark, New Jersey, he spent years in juvenile detention. At age 21, he’d gone to prison for armed robbery. But now he was 27 years old, out on parole and winning fights. Things were going great. But then, on a trip home to New Jersey May 1975, James Scott got in trouble again.

 

He was accused of robbing a drug dealer and murdering his own accomplice. He flat-out denied the charges, but his car was spotted at the scene and a witness ID’ed him. His murder trial ended in a hung jury. But he was found guilty of the armed robbery charge and sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison. And James Scott’s professional boxing career would almost certainly have ended there. Were it not for this man: Bob Hatrak.

 

 

BOB HATRAK: I had known James Scott for a long time, He was a young wild guy. Just always in some kind of trouble. But he loved boxing.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Hatrak was the Warden at Rahway State Prison, a tough maximum security prison where the inmates had staged a massive riot two years before Hatrak took over the job.

 

[NBC News Piece

REPORTER: The hostages were released at about 10 o’clock last night and taken away in ambulances.]

 

BOB HATRAK: That was as bad as Attica.

 

[ABC News Piece

REPORTER: The rebellion erupted after a movie attended by 600 prisoners.]

 

[ABC News Piece

REPORTER: They began rioting last night in a demand for reforms, later seizing the warden and several guards as hostages.]

 

BOB HATRAK: It was a bad deal. And I was determined that that was never going to happen on my watch.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: But Hatrak wasn’t a traditional warden.

 

 

BOB HATRAK: It would have been easy for me to go to Rahway and feel good about how I was really able to keep people confined and how tough I was. None of that appealed to me. You know, I didn’t put them there. The courts put them there. It was my job, then, to get them ready to go out in the society and stay out, and earn a living. And do all the kinds of things I could think of doing to make that happen.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Under Hatrak, the prison offered vocational programs like barbershop training and auto mechanics. And then he got the idea to start a boxing program. Not just a recreational program — lots of prisons had those — but a school where inmates would train to become cut men, referees, corner men and… boxers. For that, he needed a partner. And he knew James Scott was coming to Rahway.

 

 

BOB HATRAK: I didn’t want Scotty there if he didn’t have anything positive on his mind, because he could be a real troublemaker. So when Scotty came to Rahway, I told him Scotty, here’s your job. You’re a boxer and you want to box and fight…I want to start a school. And I gotta get inmates into that school…and I gotta get somebody who can train them in all these things. And I don’t know anybody and you know all of these people. Start calling around and see if you can get anybody to help us.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James agreed and with that, the Rahway Boxing Association was born. And soon word got around that James Scott — a legit boxer — was at the center of it.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: What is your title and what do you do?

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: (laughs) I’m the greatest promoter of all times.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Murad Muhammad was just starting out as a boxing promoter when he got a call from an inmate saying he had to come to Rahway to see James Scott. What he saw blew him away.

 

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: He was built like Hercules. I said, “Excuse me, how you build your body like that?” “I do a thousand pushups a day.” I say, “You do a thousand pushups a day?” “Yes and a thousand sit ups.” I said, “My god, can you fight?” He said, “Yes I can fight. Can you promote?” I said, “We have something here.” He was a body puncher. A sensational body puncher. He didn’t believe he could be beat. We called him ‘The Great Scott.’

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Bob Hatrak knew first-hand how sports could be a way out. The warden had grown up poor and went to college on a baseball scholarship, but his dream of being a professional ball player died when he lost his hand in an industrial accident while working a summer job.

 

BOB HATRAK:  And I guess that probably shaped me. Because I was always for the underdog. Always. No matter what I was watching or doing, I was always for the underdog. And as far as I was concerned, those inmates were all underdogs. Nobody wanted to do anything for or with them.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: So when a guy describing himself as the…

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: Greatest promoter of all times

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Showed up at Rahway, ready to get James Scott back in the ring, Hatrak wasn’t about to stand in James’ way.

 

BOB HATRAK: He needed an opportunity. He needed somebody to care about being able to pursue his dream, and that was to be a boxer. And it was my job, I thought, to care.

 

KEITH HILL: All of us even trained. We were doing a thousand pushups a day.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Keith Hill is a former inmate at Rahway, and also took part in the boxing program.

 

 

KEITH HILL: In the morning we would run. James’ thing was he wanted to run for an hour. If you run for an hour non-stop, you’re running.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Walter Barry, another former inmate, remembers a time when the group was running in the prison yard after a rainstorm. James was so focused he wouldn’t break formation

 

 

WALTER BARRY: And at the end of the running, James made it known to everybody. Yeah, you see that? I stepped right in that puddle, I lost my shoe, but I didn’t stop. And what was so funny, everybody was like, why you didn’t go round the puddle, Brother? But that was James’s tenacity. You know that, and in James’ mind he will let nothing stop him. That was a part of the way he fought.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: While James was training, Murad was working to line up a fight – a big one – with the number one ranked light heavyweight contender Eddie “the Flame” Gregory. To make the fight work, he’d have to bring in some serious money – and since only about 450 people could fit in the prison auditorium, the money from ticket sales wouldn’t be enough.  

 

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: I have to pat my own self on the back and give myself accolades that I knew this is it. I have to take it to a higher level. And that’s when I walked into HBO.

 

DAVID MEISTER: So we were approached and I believe it was Murad Muhammad, who was the promoter.  

 

ANDREW MAMBO: David Meister was running the sports department at HBO – the subscription channel was still new, so it was looking for any way to stand out from the networks.

 

 

DAVID MEISTER: And he said listen. We have this fight and we sat down and we started talking about it and then came this little tiny wrinkle. By the way, it has to be done in Rahway State Prison. And that was both off-putting and intriguing and enticing.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: And exactly what HBO wanted…

 

 

TIM BRAINE: HBO was really looking to you know do things that other people weren’t doing that would get attention. And so we went sure

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Tim Braine was the fight’s producer.

 

 

TIM BRAINE: I was surprised frankly that they would allow a television crew to come in and do a fight in a prison. It just seemed kind of crazy to me. Why didn’t they let him out for the day and, you know, fight at the Garden or some place? But they weren’t gonna let him out, but they said but you can come here.  

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Murad took the plan back to the prison officials.

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: I said, “Gentlemen, I got something gonna blow your mind.” They say, “What Murad?” I said, “We want to bring the network live with the cameras here in Rahway State Prison.”

 

BOB HATRAK: Lo and behold, Murad was able to land an Eddie Gregory fight. I don’t know how he was able to do that. But he did.

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: And Hatrak says what network? I said HBO.

 

BOB HATRAK: Which knocked my socks off because I figured how in the world could that possibly happen? It’s cuz he was fighting Eddie Gregory and Eddie Gregory was a big deal.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: No one agreed with that more than Eddie Gregory.

 

 

EDDIE GREGORY: I’m the number one contender in the world. You know I’m beating all these good guys.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James had been trash talking the best boxers in the division to lure them into the ring.

 

 

EDDIE GREGORY: When you hear another guy that’s bragging… He can do this, he can do that… I’m from the hood, you don’t call me out and I don’t answer.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: So the fight was set. The warden knew he was taking a risk by allowing spectators, the national press and expensive TV equipment into his prison, but for him it was worth it.

 

 

BOB HATRAK: What better way to get the word out than to be on national television? It was another way to expose some of the things we were trying to do, and give Scott some exposure. And had I felt there was going to be any hint of any kind of problem, I would have never done it.

 

ROSS GREENBERG: First of all, I’ll never forget when the doors shut behind us when you walk in.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Ross Greenberg was one of the HBO producers who went to Rahway to get footage in the weeks before the fight.

 

 

ROSS GREENBERG: You are told by the guard, OK come in and they open it. And then it shuts behind you and you immediately get this chill.

 

TIM BRAINE: The warden was a pretty progressive guy but they’re very careful in maximum security

 prisons.

ANDREW MAMBO: Producer, Tim Brane.

 

 

           TIM BRAINE: Really, really, really careful.

 

ROSS GREENBERG: There would be a guard assigned to every single production person that was gonna step foot in the prison. And any equipment that would come in would have to be checked in.  

 

BOB HATRAK: Ladders and wires and ropes and cords and things that inmates could steal and that they could use for escapes.

 

TIM BRAINE: We had a list we had to check every piece of equipment in individually, then check it out at the end of the night. And we had to make sure there was nothing missing.

 

BOB HATRAK: The last thing you wanted is a 30 foot rope left behind somewhere and a week later you find someone went over the wall. (laughs)

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Hatrak took the risk even further. He’d allow the other thousand inmates to be out of their cells to watch the fight live on big screens in the rec center.  Which he says made the higher ups nervous.

 

 

BOB HATRAK: They didn’t know what I knew. I knew my population and I knew my officers. I felt nothing was going to happen inside that prison that night. There was just too much to lose, for everybody.

 

[ Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

LEN BERMAN: Good evening everyone. My name is Len Berman, working tonight with Don Dumphy, Larry Merchant and Sugar Ray Leonard]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: October 12, 1978. Fight day.

 

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

LEN BERMAN:  We are all about to witness an event that’s never happened before in television sports. A top boxing contender coming inside the walls of a prison to fight an inmate… The inmate? James Scott.]

 

KEITH HILL:  The atmosphere had been building. I wasn’t even fighting and I had butterflies. Everybody was tuned in.

 

BOB HATRAK: You know to be excited about something happening in a prison is a rare event. It is a rare event.

 

KEITH HILL: Everybody was talking about the fight. The same way you have the betting odds in Las Vegas, you had the betting odds in the prison at that time. But for cigarettes.

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddit Gregory

LARRY MERCHANT: You know we learned earlier that here in Prison the betting line is 3 cartons of cigarettes to one in favor of Gregory. There’s no sentiment when it comes to betting.]

 

WALTER BARRY: They had their bets. Man, James gonna win. Man, I’m going with Eddie Gregory. He’s not gonna beat Eddie. Eddie, that’s a pro. He ain’t gonna…He’s just a jailhouse fighter.

 

Even the guards that didn’t like James, they loved the idea that the fight was on. Even the ones that hated him. Even the ones that would do something if they could to stop it. They were still caught up in the moment, in the atmosphere.

 

BOB HATRAK: It was not prison anymore. This was something else. This was not prison.

 

[Ambience of crowds cheering at a boxing match]

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: He was excited. This was a dream come true. This was everything he wanted. Even when he was winning his fights on the streets, he wasn’t on this level.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Finally, it was time. James Scott, his trainer Deke Taylor, Murad Muhammad, and the rest of the entourage began walking to the prison auditorium.

 

 

WALTER BARRY: James was like, come on, let’s go. He put his hands on my shoulder and said let’s go let’s go. It’s time. Let’s do it. and Deke was there saying the same thing, all right James, let’s do it.

 

[HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

ANNOUNCER: In the Blue Corner, he’s from Newark, New Jersey, let’s have a nice hand for the challenger James Scott, Scott]

 

[Crowd cheering]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James stands in the ring inside the same auditorium where the inmates had started a riot seven years earlier.

 

 

[Fight Announcer, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

ANNOUNCER: And in the Red corner, he’s from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn the number one World Boxing Association light heavyweight contender, Eddie “The Flame” Gregory

 

DON DUNPHY: If you were to ask me, has Scott got much of a chance? I’d have to say off the cuff, I don’t think so. I just can’t conceive of an inmate in a prison defeating the number one light heavyweight contender.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: The bell rings. Immediately James is bouncing around like he’s nervous, wound up. He’s chasing Eddie.  And, at first, Eddie looks like he’s got this.

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

DON DUNPHY: Scott has been very wild so far and Gregory has boxed beautifully…

 

Now, Scott is hitting harder and he’s finding Gregory. Gregory will find out that he just can’t coast along. He’ll have to fight…

 

 

That was a good shot by Scott. That’ll make Eddie think a little bit.]

 

 

WALTER BARRY: I seen Eddie Gregory slip some punches that another man would’ve got beat to death with. And Gregory was good. Gregory would beat a joker up. But Gregory was trying to survive.

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

DON DUNPHY: There’s the bell…

 

SUGAR RAY LEONARD: I’ll tell you, if Scott can continue that pace, Eddie has his hands full.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: At one point, Eddie’s on the ropes… James drops his hands, leans in… Always the showman, he’s taunting Eddie.

 

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 DON DUNPHY: Now Scott is putting on a show.]

 

 

WALTER BARRY: The guys in the prison knew him as Rajan, James Scott’s Muslim name and that’s what they were chanting. They weren’t chanting James Scott, they was chanting, “Rajan! Rajan! Rajan!

 

 

            [Crowd chants: RAJAN, RAJAN, RAJAN.]

 

 

[Commentators, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

DON DUNPHY: Scott again won’t let Gregory get started…Scott is completely dominating the fight…

 

LARRY MERCHANT: I tell you this is a testimony to what will can do for a man.]

 

 

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

LEN BERMAN: It’s a remarkable story. A guy incarcerated, unable to go outside and do long road work. Go up hills, down hills. And he’s about to knock off the number one contender.

 

DON DUNPHY: There’s the final bell]

 

[Crowd Cheering]

 

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The winner by unanimous decision… James Scott!]  

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Eddie goes over to congratulate James. And even though James is the winner, announcer Larry Merchant’s questions are to Eddie.

 

 

[Commentator, HBO, James Scott vs. Eddie Gregory

 

LARRY MERCHANT: Eddie, was he tougher than you could have imagined a man who’s been in prison for as long as he has?

 

EDDIE GREGORY: Well, I always knew he was going to be tough, you know. He got a lot of credit.

 

LARRY MERCHANT: Were you nervous coming in here to prison?

 

EDDIE GREGORY: Well no, I’m never nervous. You know I’m a fighter, why should I be nervous?]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James pushes his way to the mic.

 

[JAMES SCOTT: And I want you to put this in the papers. Let me finish. I want this in writing. After I knockout Rossman, I’m going to give Gregory a rematch because he gave me a shot, and no one else would do it. Gregory got the first shot at the title. The first shot that’s my word is my bond.]

 

LARRY MERCHANT: Where you ever tried? It looked like in the middle rounds you might be a little tired.

 

JAMES SCOTT: Ok, now I’m going to tell you the truth. After I dug that I couldn’t knock Gregory out like I planned, the best thing for me to do, being that he’s a knockout puncher, is to play tired. Because if you notice every time I looked like I was tired, I come back with a flurry. So I fought my pace, clinching and holding and kicking his behind.

 

LARRY MERCHANT: Were you aware that he needed a knockout in the last few rounds?

 

JAMES SCOTT: I told him in his ear ask him he’s right over there. I said, boy, you need a knockout to win this here.

 

LEN BERMAN: What can you do for a celebration here? What kind of celebration will you have?

 

JAMES SCOTT: Mr. Hatrak and them got a steak dinner for me downstairs. That’s my celebration.

 

LEN BERMAN: We’ve seen a rather historic night here in boxing annals. The walk back to 3 wing for James Scott won’t be so long tonight.

 

WALTER BARRY: The prison was on fire. When James won. The guests were leaving and the prisoners were coming down to the cells to lock in. And they were all chanting “Rajan, Rajan, Rajan…”

 

[CROWD (chanting): RAJAN, RAJAN, RAJAN.]

 

WALTER BARRY: I mean the whole prison was reverberating. It was almost like you could feel the energy in your feet, the vibration

 

                        [END: Ambience of crowd]

 

STEVE FARHOOD: I’m sure I was in the office when I heard the result and the first reaction I had was, “Wow EDDIE GREGORY lost?” And then you take it a step further and go “Who’s James Scott?” And then you take is a step further, and you go “This fight took place in Rahway State Prison? How did that happen?”

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Steve Farhood is a boxing analyst for Showtime. Back then, he was just starting his career covering the sport.

 

 

STEVE FARHOOD: If he had been a well-known fighter who had been in prison, I would have said oh, okay. But because i didn’t know who James Scott was, that was what was surprising.

 

LARRY HAZZARD: We was just watching a Cinderella story unfold, man.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Larry Hazzard is considered one of the best boxing referees ever. Today he’s the New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner.  But early in his career he was AT the Gregory fight, working as the timekeeper.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: What did you think Scott’s future was going to be?

 

LARRY HAZZARD: Oh, I thought he was on his way. He really demonstrated the skill level that said he belonged right there with top light heavyweights.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Murad Muhammad started booking more fights, and major networks like CBS and NBC started airing them. The announcers raved about Scott’s relentless style.

 

[CBS, James Scott fight

GIL CLANCY: He’s strong, he’s a good body puncher, crowds you at all times, just doesn’t give you a chance to think at all.

 

TRAINER, FERDIE PACHECO: Scott trains for 4 min instead of 3. He rests 30 sec instead of a minute, and he fights with oversized gloves every day.]

 

[NBC, James Scott fight

 MARV ALBERT: He will throw everything at you. Head, shoulders, arms. Just keeps coming, every part of his body utilized.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: As the warden had hoped, reporters starting coming into the prison to do stories on the boxing program.

 

 

[Reporter, CBS News Piece

JACK WHITAKER: This program is underway because of the inspiration set up by James Scott. A very articulate, sometimes witty, always single-purposed young man who has made good use of his time in prison.]

 

WALTER BARRY: He had interviews. He had people used to come up to the cell to do interviews in his cell. He’d be like, oh man, they gonna see my cell look a mess. No, it don’t. No it don’t. We in the house, brother. We got this.

 

[Reporter, NBC News Piece

DICK SCHAAP: He was a wild kid, a loser till he came to prison. Now he has more than 20 college credits and is articulate enough to compare gifted prisoners to unmined nuggets of gold.

 

JAMES SCOTT: There’s a lot of talent in prison. You got people that can write so good, it’ll make you cry, reading and writing. You got people that can draw, can sing and you got people that can fight. There’s lot of champs in the prison. Eventually these guys are going back on the street. So they should have some kind of incentive, some kind of hope, something to look forward to when they go back on the streets.]

 

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: He was a promoter’s dream. Very articulate. Very intelligent. And when we talked boxing, you’d have thought you were talking to Muhammad Ali.

 

[TRAINER FREDIE PACHECO: Are we ready for Yaqui Lopez, James?

 

JAMES SCOTT: Look, Yaqui Lopez, I hope you’re listening sucker. You pulled out twice for $20,000 and, boy, if you scared to make $20,000 as hard as times is, I know you scared of me.

 

MARV ALBERT: Light heavyweight James Scott, also Promoter James Scott. Marv Albert with Ferdie Pacheco.]

 

 

MARV ALBERT: He was very charming. And for us he was he was like a PR machine

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: When Marv Albert went to the prison to interview James, he’d find himself fielding basketball questions from inmates who knew him as the voice of the New York Knicks.

 

 

MARV ALBERT: They were very well informed, James and his friends. So at times you would forget that you were in a prison. It’s like you’re sitting around with a bunch of guys just talking sports. And I think we all felt like this: It was like visiting a kid at camp. After we would pack up and get ready to go, he would stall, he would want to show us everything that was in his cell…anything to have us stay there.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Beating Eddie Gregory put James Scott on the map. He went from a guy boxing in prison to the ninth best light heavyweight in the world. All through 1979, he kept winning. And since James’ fights were on major networks, huge audiences watched as he easily won his next four bouts, climbing higher and higher up the World Boxing Association ranks.

 

[Announcer, NBC, James Scott fight

ANNOUNCER:  Let’s hear it for Great Scott, Super Scott, James Scott.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: He went from number 9…

 

[Commentator, CBS, James Scott fight

TIM RYAN: The ropes right above us and they stop it. It’s a tenth round TKO.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: …to number 5…

 

[Commentator, NBC, James Scott fight

MARV ALBERT: And followed by a left, beautiful combination…

 

…and his ninth knockout Scott remains undefeated]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: …to number 3…

 

[Commentator, NBC, James Scott fight

MARV ALBERT: On our card it’s been all Scott thus far…

 

…James Scott by TKO. It is all over.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: …and then to 2…

 

[Commentator, CBS, James Scott fight

TIM RYAN: And a knockout victory for James Scott in the tenth and final round here at Rahway.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James Scott was now the second highest ranked boxer in his division.

 

[TRAINER FERDIE PACHECO: James Scott is one step closer to the light heavyweight champion of the world.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: … But with recognition came backlash.

 

TIM RYAN: There were those who thought this was ridiculous and he shouldn’t be allowed to do this and he’s a prisoner and how should he be able to get on television?

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Announcer Tim Ryan called two of James’ fights for CBS.

 

 

TIM RYAN: There was a lot of commentary and people who objected to the very idea.

 

LARRY HAZZARD: It wasn’t the most popular thing.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Boxing commissioner Larry Hazzard:

 

 

LARRY HAZZARD: Rahway State Prison? This guy’s in there making millions of dollars? They don’t know. They don’t really know the details.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James did get paid for the fights. But nowhere near a million dollars. The money went to the Department of Corrections with strict requirements on how he could use it. Things like paying back the public defender’s office, hiring private attorneys, training expenses, and contributions to a crime victims’ fund. But those details were never mentioned on TV.

 

 

LARRY HAZZARD: And they’re looking at that, and they’re like what the hell’s going on? Well, we don’t want youngsters to think that, you know, you go to prison, you get on television… No! That’s not the picture. That’s not the story. The lesson here is that he wasn’t given up on. Because often times people are just given up on. They’re thrown away. I felt that he was defying a belief that he couldn’t be something in life.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Despite the critics, the networks kept airing James’ fights — and ratings were good, but then came an objection that could change everything. This time from the World Boxing Association.

 

STEVE FARHOOD: I don’t know that everybody thought this out all the way through. It seemed like a pretty good idea, you know, televising this guy.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Boxing Analyst Steve STEVE FARHOOD:

 

STEVE FARHOOD: But now here he is winning, he keeps winning, and now we have to worry about is he going to fight for a title, is he going to become champion, is the belt going to be behind bars. Whoa whoa let’s let’s rethink this.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: In September, 1979, at the World Boxing Association’s annual meeting, some members raised the question of whether James should be allowed to be ranked at all.

 

 

STEVE FARHOOD: The reason a rating is so important, is because once he loses that rating, he doesn’t qualify for a world title fight. Even if the champion wants to defend against James Scott, if James Scott isn’t rated in the top 15, no title fight.

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: The argument was we are not giving our belt to a criminal.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Murad Muhammad was at the WBA meeting when the debate broke out.

 

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: I said well why did you let him go through the rankings? Well, we never thought he would be the leading available contender.

 

STEVE FARHOOD: It’s not like they didn’t see what was coming. They rated him rated rated him, he moved up, moved up, moved up. What did they think was going to happen? Were they secretly praying that he’d lose so that he’d go away?

 

Let me tell you, if you took away the boxing careers of every fighter who had ever been to jail whether it be pre-boxing, during boxing, or after boxing, you’d have a very different looking sport. So, the fact that boxing is worried about the image it’s projecting because James Scott is rated number two is kind of silly.

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: I knew that I read the rules. There’s no rule on the book says you can’t be in jail. Now, you’re going to change the rules tonight?

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Bob Lee, then the deputy boxing commissioner for New Jersey, was at the meeting too and a voting member of the WBA.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: When you got up in that meeting and spoke, what did you say?

 

BOB LEE: I took the floor and made it know that this was wrong. They were depriving man of right to fight for the title when they had given him that right in the beginning.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Finally, the vote: Should James Scott be ranked, or not? Except for BOB LEE’s lone dissent, the decision was unanimous. James was stripped of his ranking.

 

 

BOB LEE: Bottom line is they just didn’t want a guy locked up in prison to have the opportunity to be a world champion.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: But James wasn’t giving up.

 

 

[Commentator, NBC Sports World

 MARV ALBERT: Today on Sports World, Live from Rahway State Prison, a light heavyweight bout featuring inmate #57735 James Scott, stripped of his WBA second position ranking in October of this year. Scott faces his toughest test to date in the 10 rounder with California veteran Yaqui Lopez…]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Yaqui Lopez, then the number one contender, was the favorite to win. On December 1st, 1979, two months after the WBA stripped him, James didn’t just beat Lopez, he destroyed him.

 

[Commentator, NBC James Scott fight

MARV ALBERT: (Bell rings) And that is it. For James Scott certainly his most impressive performance. He has wanted Yaqui Lopez and you can hear James screaming “I’m the champ.”

 

JAMES SCOTT (screaming): I’m the champ!

 

MARV ALBERT: Alright, James, in 20 seconds or less, your reaction to beating a man that many thought you wouldn’t be able to beat in Yaqui Lopez…

 

JAMES SCOTT: Now, I don’t know what I’ve got to do to prove I’m the world’s champion. I think the public should write NBC… I want everyone to know that I am the uncrowned]

 

MARV ALBERT: All right, James we gotta sign off.]

 

 

STEVE FARHOOD: I remember leaving Rahway that day thinking, you know this guy could be the light heavyweight champion of the world. The only question was not so much can he be competitive in a world championship fight, but would he get the opportunity.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: If James had still been ranked beating the number one contender would have earned him a title fight, but James was stuck. He couldn’t fight for the title if he wasn’t ranked by the WBA. And, he couldn’t be ranked as long as his fights were in prison. James Scott still had one thing going for him. At a time when the light heavyweight division was the toughest, and most competitive in history, stacked with past and future title holders, James had still never lost a fight.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Was he hopeful that he would be able to get if he kept fighting and he kept winning that he would get the ranking back?

 

MURAD MUHAMMAD: Now that I believe. He was going to prove that I’m gonna beat everything that Murad brings in here. And you have to give me a shot at the title.  

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: It was a good plan…

 

 

[Commentator, NBC James Scott vs Jerry Martin

 MARV ALBERT: And Scott goes down.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: … Until he ran into Jerry “the Bull” Martin.

 

 

[Commentator, NBC James Scott vs Jerry Martin

 MARV ALBERT: A stunner here in round one, Jerry Martin, sending Scott to the canvas. And as you can see he’s hurt.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: … on May 25th, 1980, James Scott’s 9th professional fight behind bars…

 

 

[Commentators, NBC James Scott vs Jerry Martin

MARV ALBERT: And Scott’s legs looking very wobbly.]

 

KEN NORTON: Very wobbly. I told you Martin was a sleeper.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James met his match.

 

 

[MARV ALBERT:  James Scott, who had only been knocked down once before as a professional.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James bounced back, even rallied near the end but it was too late.

 

[MARV ALBERT:  And in a major upset, Jerry the Bull Martin has defeated James Scott here at Rahway State Prison. An enormous victory. And here’s James Scott to congratulate Jerry Martin. James, your comment.

 

JAMES SCOTT: Yeah, Jerry Martin a damn good fighter. He should have had a shot. At least he’s out of prison, I’m in prison. He should have got a shot before me. He’s a damn good fighter, man. God bless him. Can’t take nothing from him.]

 

STEVE FARHOOD: And I guess that made it easy for some people, when he lost to Jerry Martin, because now you didn’t have to rate him near the very top, and now there wasn’t as much of a call for him to fight for a world title.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: A far more serious loss was still to come. Six years after his first trial ended in a hung jury, James was retried for the 1975 murder. On February 4, 1981, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, though he still maintained he was innocent.

 

[JAMES SCOTT: I am presently in the courts seeking appeals and I’m sure that in the final analysis, I’ll be vindicated. I would like my fans to know the viewers of NBC that I have not quit so I’m still pursuing the light heavyweight title. I thank you for your watching this show and your time, god bless you.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: The appeal failed. Still, eight months later, James had another nationally televised fight.

 

[MARV ALBERT: Scott, an inmate here at Rahway State Prison, he is serving a life sentence for murder and a 30 to 40 year term for armed robbery.]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James lost, and that turned out to be the last professional fight of his career. Boxing analyst Steve Farhood:

 

 

STEVE FARHOOD: He had a great run. He proved he was one of the best light heavyweights in the world, but once that chance of him fighting for a world title was virtually zero, there was no reason for people to pay attention. Then it was much easier to just view him as every other inmate in a maximum security prison, which means forgetting him.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: One person who hasn’t forgotten James Scott is Bob Hatrak, the former warden of Rahway State prison. Bob’s retired, he’s 79 now. Not long ago, he ordered a bunch of DVDs of James’ fights…

 

BOB HATRAK: I was kinda missing all that, you know, the old days, and kind of excited to see all of that happening before me again. And the first fight I watched was the Eddie Gregory fight. I could have very easily not had Scott fight Gregory. All I had to do is tell Murad Muhammad, We’re not going to do it. Now what would that have done? What would that have gained?

 

It would have been writing Scotty off. It would have been like me saying there’s no salvation for you, you can’t ever be anything but what you are. I didn’t want to go there. And the fact of the matter is everybody goes home. Scotty was gonna go home. He was going to get paroled. There was a time when he was going to leave that place. And as long as we did things during the time that he was there, even if it was a long time, all of that would pay off on the day that he walked out of the place.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: In 2005 James Scott did, finally, walk out of that place paroled after 30 years. To help him adjust to life on the outside, his parole officer had the idea to take him to a boxing gym. The gym had a strong youth boxing program and Eric Judkins was one of the trainers.

 

 

ERIC JUDKINS: He loved it. You could tell. You could see it in his eyes. He was in his glory right there. You couldn’t put him a better environment.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James gave the kids pointers, and encouraged them. He put them through the James Scott conditioning routine: lots of situps and pushups. And he had a soft spot for underdogs.

 

 

ERIC JUDKINS: Well, you know if a kid was fat or whatever. He would be like, we gonna trim that down. Or if nobody really paid a kid no mind he would give that kid some extra attention. Come on little man, I got you. Don’t worry about that. We’re going to get you in shape. He would do stuff like that.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: When the kids traveled around the state to boxing matches, James went along too. Which is how he crossed paths with HENRY HASCUP.

 

 

HENRY HASCUP: I’m looking at him you know. Gee, that guy looks familiar. Wait a minute. That can’t be James Scott is it? So I’m looking, looking at him. Man, that looks like James Scott.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Henry Hascup is the President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

 

HENRY HASCUP: If you just go by his boxing career, you know, he should have been in years ago. But he had a checkered background to say the least. And that was one of the things that really held him out for a long time. But then I seen him at a couple of the fights and start talking to him and then I realized that he was actually helping out.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Hascup was still wary. Then he started talking to the owners of the gym, and the kids and trainers who worked with James.

 

 

HENRY HASCUP: They raved about him. And said he was great with the kids, you know, he was teaching ‘em and everything. And he more or less got his life in order. So then when I thought, you know, it’s about time, you know, we do the right thing. He’s a good candidate. In fact everyone on the committee voted him in.

 

 

[Announcer, New Jersey Hall of Fame Ceremony

ANNOUNCER: On behalf of all the members of the NJ Boxing Hall of Fame, I want to welcome each and every one of you to our 43rd annual induction and award ceremonies…]

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: On November 8th, 2012, James Scott, wearing a black suit with a red polo shirt, stood in front of a crowd of hundreds and was inducted in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

 

 

[Announcer, New Jersey Hall of Fame Ceremony

ANNOUNCER: He’s a founding member of Rahway Prison Boxing Club. While in Rahway Prison, he continued his pro career…]

 

 

HENRY HASCUP: A lot of people called me up, newspaper writers and stuff like that, about him. Why was he inducted, you know, his past and everything like that? I said yeah but do you know what he’s done since then?  

 

 

[Announcer, New Jersey Hall of Fame Ceremony

ANNOUNCER: His bouts were shown on CBS, NBC, even HBO. He made the most of it by…]

 

 

HENRY HASCUP: Imagine if he didn’t get in trouble. If somebody took him when he was a teenager, when he was going the wrong way, show him the right way, James Scott would be a household name today. And everybody would know him.

 

 

[Announcer, New Jersey Hall of Fame Ceremony

ANNOUNCER: He went on to beat Richie Kates and Yaqui Lopez. Let’s hear it for James Scott.]

 

STEVE FARHOOD: I don’t think the James Scott story could play out today. I don’t think people would be as lenient and as understanding. For that matter, I think without the willpower James Scott had maybe none of this would have ever happened maybe it never would have been launched in the first place. To think of how far this guy took this mission given his circumstances was amazing.  It throws stereotypes out the window and it’s a lesson I think in understanding the kind of man that is behind bars. You just can’t generalize.

 

[Andrew Mambo walks into a retirement home.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: I’m looking for a patient James Scott

 

[The elevator beeps.]

 

ANDREW MAMBO: After I spent months talking to other people about James, his sister Lori said I could finally come and meet him.

 

LORI SCOTT: Hey Andrew.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Hi

 

LORI SCOTT: How are you. Good to see you again. I think I deserve hug now. How are you doing?

 

ANDREW MAMBO: When she takes me over to James he’s in a wheelchair, looking out a window.

 

            LORI SCOTT: This is Andrew and [to Andrew] this is James.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: Hi Mr. Scott. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.

 

LORI SCOTT: You got a reaction. He shook your hand. He extended his hand to you.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: That’s a strong grip too. Still got that strength in the hands.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James turns 70 later this year. He lives in a nursing home – not far from where he grew up and where he boxed in prison so many years ago. Lori had told me James has late-stage dementia. She warned me I might not get any response at all, but as I talk to him about his career, his eyes meet mine and he seems aware.

 

LORI SCOTT: I haven’t seen him this animated and this engaged in a long time.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: But it’s clear, I am years too late to interview James Scott about his boxing days.

 

 

ANDREW MAMBO: About a few weeks ago, I was out visiting with Mr. Hatrak. He’s been thinking about you and he recently actually purchased some of the fights that you had in Rahway so he could rewatch them. I had a copy of the DVD from when you were inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and we played that for him as well so he could see you being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

 

LORI SCOTT (To James): That’s good news. Isn’t that wonderful? That’s good news, James.

 

ANDREW MAMBO: James opens his mouth to speak…

 

(James Scott attempts to speak.)

 

ANDREW MAMBO: It’s a challenge. We lean in as he tries to get the words out.

 

            (Audible sounds from James Scott.)

 

ANDREW MAMBO: I’m still not sure what he said. Part of me thinks he was trying to repeat his sister’s words, “good news,” but there’s a part of me that thinks he was saying “I didn’t lose.” Which, in the ring, James Scott rarely did.

 

[CROWD (cheering): Rajan, Rajan, Rajan…

 

JAMES SCOTT: This is Rahway State Prison – I want you people to know at home if you get up and get a soda go the bathroom, you might miss it…This is going to be one of the most exciting fights you’ve seen in a long time. James Scott the uncrowned champion of the world said that. Is that convincing?]