Former titleholder DeWitt continues to perform
A lot of fighters use the word “perform” to describe what they do in the ring. And once one gives that type of performance, no other type is likely to be as intimidating.
Doug DeWitt will tell you that. The former middleweight titleholder, now 48, entertained boxing fans from 1980 to 1992. And from about the time he retired he has done his performing on stage or in front of a camera.
Acting isn’t easy but it isn’t life and death, as boxing is, unless it’s one's sole means of putting food on the table. DeWitt makes a good living as a boxing-for-fitness trainer in New York City and has made good investments, allowing him to accept stage roles without pay.
However, even in middle age, he wants to make a living acting as he once did in the ring.
“I enjoy it,” said DeWitt, who plays an ex-boxer in a play – “The Cutting Den” – that opens a three-week run on Thursday at Soho Playhouse in New York. “That’s the great thing. I have a business that keeps me going. If I had no money, I couldn’t do it.
“ÔÇª I don’t want to do it as a hobby, though. I still believe I’ll make it. I did in boxing. I was a poor 15-year-old kid when I started and made a great career for myself.”
DeWitt said he tries to accept his accomplishments in boxing because he can’t change anything now. It’s not easy, though.
The native of Yonkers, N.Y., was a skillful boxer. He won a major middleweight title when he knocked out Matthew Hilton in the 11th round in 1990 and generally won the fights he was expected to win.
However, he more often than not came up short in his biggest fights during an era rich with talent in and around his weight division. The list of his most-recognizable opponents is hair-raising: Robbie Sims (twice), Milton McCrory, Thomas Hearns, Sumbu Kalambay, Hilton, Nigel Benn and James Toney. DeWitt went 2-6 in those fights.
His best performance might’ve been a unanimous-decision loss to a peak Hearns in 1986, a time when The Hitman was among the two or three most-feared fighters in the world and few could stand up to his punches.
“A person learns to deal with whatever they accomplished or didn’t accomplish,” said DeWitt, who tries but fails to live by that philosophy. “Do I think I could’ve done better? Yes. Do I think I had a chance to have a great career? Yes. ÔÇª It haunts me every day.
“I know I could’ve beaten everyone I lost to if I was a little more dedicated. But you have to go on with life ÔÇª and I think I’m doing well in that life.”
DeWitt was always captivated by movies as a child but had no real acting experience when acquaintance and fight fan Mickey Rourke, impressed with his performance against Hearns, encouraged him to try acting.
Soon, with his boxing career winding down, he began taking acting classes and a second passion was under way. He said his acting coaches gave him positive feedback immediately and he continues to work hard on his craft.
He has worked mostly in the theater in New York but has done some television and film, including a small part in the 1996 Rourke film “Bullet.”
“The first time I really tried acting was a short story for a teacher at the Lee Strasberg Institute,” he said. “I played a boxer. She [the teacher] was blown away. I thought she was kidding me but she said, ‘Doug, you were so natural.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I want to give this a shot.' I knew I could do it like I knew I could box.
“And here I am today, still doing it.”
DeWitt said boxing and acting are completely different in some ways but similar in others.
Of course, the physical demands aren’t comparable. No one tries to hit DeWitt in his second career. However, for him, the discipline required to succeed in boxing has extended to the stage. Hence his work ethic.
And the necessity to stay relaxed in the ring is another tool he uses in acting. He was always comfortable performing.
“I know a lot of people think it’s easy,” he said. “I know guys who can’t say a speech as best man at their brother’s wedding, though. They get nervous. Some people are that way. ÔÇª I have confidence from boxing. I don’t understand why a lot of fighters struggle after boxing. To me, everything is easy after boxing.
“Nothing you can do is harder than that. I don’t care what I do; it’s easier than boxing. It’s life and death in there. That’s the easiest way to say it.”
“The Cutting Den,” the play that opens on Thursday, was written by someone familiar to DeWitt: former New York State Athletic Commission Chairman Ron Scott Stevens, a playwright since the early 1980s.
His latest work, according to a press release, “is a modern day flood story set in a Brooklyn barbershop/bookie parlor during the first week of the Major League baseball season. When debts go unpaid, sparks fly until the shop burns red-hot.”
DeWitt plays a thug hired by a local crime family to collect outstanding debts who also happens to have been a former middleweight contender, which was no stretch for the real-life middleweight. Stevens said the character, Eddie Armstrong, is in the early stages of pugilistic dementia and his behavior is erratic.
DeWitt’s mind is fine but he was a natural fit for the part.
“I’ve known Doug a long time,” Stevens said. “I knew him when he became WBO champion. I used to watch him ringside and watched him train for years. A few years ago he told me he was acting. I told him I write plays and that one day I’d write a play where I could cast him.
“When I wrote this play, I thought of him immediately. I asked him to read for us with a group of actors and then he had an audition for the director. He did well and won the role.”
DeWitt is excited about the new project, although he believes he was capable of playing the lead. He doesn’t want to be type cast as a boxer. And, again, he’d love to be paid.
If that doesn’t happen on a large scale? He’ll be OK with it. His No. 1 priority and love of his life is his 3-year-old son, Douglas, who could be heard playing happily in the background when DeWitt did this phone interview.
And he truly enjoys acting and expects to continue doing it with or without paychecks.
“The greatest job I’ve ever had is being a father,” he said. “God is No. 1. I believe strongly in God. Then comes my son. And I have brothers, good friends, a lot of people in my life I care about. So I’m happy with life.
“My son comes before anyone else, though. He’s a smart, good-looking boy. I expect him to be something big one day.”
Just like dad, a former champion who has made life after boxing work.