By Caleb Slinkard
Curtis Cokes is a genuinely nice guy. Enter his gym in South Dallas, and he’ll greet you with a smile, a firm handshake, and one of his captivating stories, like the time he met Jackie Robinson during the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training camp in 1955.
“The Dodgers called me Junior,” he said. “I had won this thing to go up there, and it was almost the end of training camp. I got a chance to see Don Newcombe, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. I was just a kid. They asked me, they said ‘Junior, we’re going to have a beer, you want some beer?’ And I said ‘Man, my momma would whoop me.’”
Of course, if you were a welterweight boxer in the 60s, Cokes may not have seemed like such a nice guy.
The first undisputed world champion from Dallas, Cokes held the welterweight belt from 1966 to 1969 and won 62 fights during his career. After he hung the gloves up, Cokes opened up his gym and began training the likes of Quincy Taylor and Kirk Johnson.
Cokes will be one of six panelists visiting Texas A&M University-Commerce on March 19. The event, which is titled “Boxing with the Stars” and is free to the public, is the brainchild of A&M-Commerce’s Dr. Robert Rodriguez. An assistant professor of political science, Rodriguez has covered fights and written articles for The Ring Magazine.
In 2009 he published “The Regulation of Boxing: A History and Comparative Analysis of Policies in the American States,” which examines the different rules states have for regulating boxing, since there is no national boxing commission.
Rodriguez regularly teaches a Politics and Sports class, and during the class he often brings athletes and individuals connected to sports to talk with his students. In 2011, he brought former world heavyweight champion John Ruiz to A&M-Commerce.
Rodriguez was contemplating bringing out former boxer and current referee Laurence Cole after he met Cole in December of 2013 while covering a fight.
“I went and met him for dinner, and I began thinking that maybe we could create something beyond Laurence coming to my class, like a campus event,” Rodriguez said. “Laurence’s father, Dickie Cole, is in charge of the Texas Combative Sports Program, and has been for some time; he knows everyone. So then I began speaking with Dickie, and this organically transformed from bringing a referee to my class to bringing several world champions to campus, in addition to the state’s top referee and top administrator for combative sports in Texas.”
Other panelists for Boxing with the Stars include former welterweight and light welterweight champion Victor Ortiz, who also appeared on Dancing With the Stars and can be seen in the upcoming movie “The Expendables 3;” former boxing, kickboxing, and karate world champion Troy Dorsey; and 2012 Olympian Errol Spence, who is undefeated in the welterweight division since turning pro in 2012.
“Everyone’s response was immediate and enthusiastic,” Rodriguez said about putting the panel together.
While the panelists will bring a wide variety of experience and specialities to the event, they are also all connected to each other through either their past or their projected career path.
Dickie Cole was a referee for some of Cokes’ fights, while Cokes trained Laurence Cole and Dorsey. And Spence is well on his way to challenging for the welterweight title and following in the footsteps of both Cokes and Ortiz before him. It’s even possible, Rodriguez said, that Ortiz and Spence may meet in the ring.
“It’s interesting to see that title lineage that might play itself out,” Rodriguez said.
Boxing with the Stars is free to A&M-Commerce students and the general public.
The event will begin at 7 p.m. on March 19 in the Ferguson Auditorium on campus. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions of the panelists and then interact with them after the Q&A section concludes.