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Keith Mullings, former junior middleweight champion, dies at age 53

Keith Mullings after defeating Davide Ciarlante in 1998
29
May

Keith Mullings, the tenacious overachiever who ended Terry Norris’ final championship reign, has died at age 53.

Gary Pippa, the head trainer at Be First Boxing in Peekskill, N.Y. announced the news on Twitter. Mullings had been a trainer there years prior, Pippa said. Pippa said he had been informed of Mullings’ passing by his daughter, but had no further details about the cause.

Mullings, who fought professionally from 1993 to 2001, had an inauspicious record of 16-8-1 (11 knockouts), but it was one night in December of 1997 that etched his name in boxing history forever.

Norris was in line for a multi-million dollar payday against Oscar de la Hoya if he got past Mullings, which many felt was a given. Only Mullings didn’t seem to get the memo. Late in eighth round, Mullings took advantage of an over-aggressive Norris and landed a perfectly placed right hand to Norris’ chin to score a knockdown. Norris survived the round but was pummeled the following round by Mullings, prompting the referee to stop the fight and award Mullings the WBC title.



Mullings’ toughness was apparent before he had ever stepped in the ring. Born in Jamaica in 1968, Mullings relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he attended James Madison High School, which also counts Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, and Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg among its alumni.

He began boxing while served as an Army infantryman in Operation Desert Storm, which inspired the line from HBO commentator Larry Merchant during the Norris fight: “How would you like to go to war with a few thousand [Keith] Mullings?” Mullings told The Sweet Science in a 2006 interview that he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder from his military days.

Mullings won his first 13 bouts before a series of decision losses derailed him. He turned his career back around in July of 1997 when he defeated Donald Stokes, who was 39-1-1, by a unanimous decision. Two months later gave IBF junior middleweight titleholder Raul Marquez all he could handle in a split decision loss. Three months later, he was in the ring against Norris.

Mullings made one successful defense, carving up the previously unbeaten Davide Ciarlante to win a fifth round stoppage due to a cut. He’d lose his title the following year on a split decision to Javier Castillejo in Spain.

Mullings would fight three more times, losing decisions to WBA titleholder David Reid and future Hall of Famer Winky Wright (which featured Mullings dancing to the ring to Mystikal’s “Danger” in the ring walk), before being stopped in two rounds by Steve Roberts in England in 2001.

Even after becoming champion, Mullings was never too far from his military ties, holding his training camps at the U.S. Army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Ron Katz, the matchmaker who made a number of Mullings’ fights, remembered him as “a kid who gave everything in the ring each time he showed up.”

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