March 28, 2003

Hollywood Film-Maker Shines A Light On “Uncrowned Welterweight Champion” Randy Shields

By Fiona Manning

Sugar Ray Leonard once said, “Fighting Randy Shields is like fighting a shadow. You think he’s there but he’s not.”

This is quite a compliment from the boxing great who went the distance twice with the talented and durable Shields. Shields is set to be the subject of a new documentary to be directed by highly-regarded actor/director Steve Railsback.

Shields has been robbed in more than one questionable decision. On July 30, 1979, he faced tough Jose Pipino Cuevas for the WBC welterweight championship and although Cuevas won the decision, many felt the victory belonged to Shields.

Shields vs Cuevas

The fight held in Chicago, is still considered one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history. The Chicago Tribune scored the fight 11 rounds to 4 for Shields. In fact, many fans don’t know that Cuevas was never the same after fighting Shields. He collapsed in his dressing room and spent nearly a month in hospital.

Now Shields the “Shadow” needs your help. He and Railsback are desperately looking for lost footage of the May 17, 1973 US national championship in which Shields defeated Leonard to become champion.

This fight led to a grudging respect between the two men and a questionable decision victory for Leonard in his 15th pro outing against Shields five years later.

“Randy Shields should have been the world champion,” said Railsback over lunch at the Four And Twenty restaurant in Studio City, CA with La Prensa San Diego and Shields, during which the two men outlined the documentary.

It encompasses not only his career in which he racked up an impressive 41-9-1, 21 KO ledger, but the amazing real-life feat he pulled off at the restaurant itself when he single-handedly fought off three armed robbers – hospitalizing two of them – when they tried to hold up the Four And Twenty 11 years ago.

Shields is not only a legend among die-hard boxing fans who appreciate the fighter for his elusive gifts, but with locals in the neighborhood who respect the fact he did the unimaginable: got involved and risked his life to save others.

“Steve and I met right in this restaurant 20 years ago,” Shields said. “I was sitting at that table, he was sitting over there and we just became friends.”

“Thirteen years ago, Randy introduced me to my wife Marcie and we now have a beautiful son so I feel like it’s my turn to do something for Randy,” said Railsback.

“I am a lot more comfortable working with actors because I know actors, but this is important to me. I have always loved boxing and I feel so strongly about the way Randy’s career should have gone, that I see this as being a tremendous challenge. I am the sort of person who needs new challenges.”

For the “First lady of Boxing” Jackie Kallen, this documentary is long overdue. “I have known Randy Shields for 22 years,” she said today. “He is the angel of all time. He is not only a prince among all men but if every boxer were like him, the sport would be very, very different.

“To me, Randy was the uncrowned welterweight champion because he fought so many of them. He fought so many tough, tough fights and he was unbelievable because he was so stoic.

“Randy never showed pain and he never quit. He would never stop even when you thought he might not be here anymore. He never stopped unless the referee stepped in and made him stop.”

While both men plan on interviewing the various participants in Shield’s boxing career, they are also sorting through fight tapes and mysteriously, seem unable to find a tape of the “lost” national championship.

“Sugar Ray Leonard is the most charismatic man I know,” said Shields. “He has the sort of star quality which is very rare. People are just drawn to him magnetically. I’ve never seen this with any other fighter or even movie stars. He’s somebody very special.

“As such, when something bad in his past crops up, like magic it disappears. If it’s good, he and his team capitalize on it.”

Shields and Leonard went toe to toe the first time for three, three-minute rounds at the US nationals. “He was cocky even then,” said Shields. “When I won, he didn’t acknowledge me.

“I ran into him a few years later in Italy and again, it was like I didn’t exist. The funny thing was though that the people there just gravitated to him. I remember a bunch of us guys walking past a convent where the children came running out and they just started putting their hands all over Sugar Ray.

They just wouldn’t leave him alone. There were other black guys there, but it was something about Ray. He just has that quality.”

When the two met again in Leonard’s hometown of Baltimore in 1978, they fought to a decision for Leonard but it’s a fight many, including Railsback feel Shields actually won.

“The Washington Post said I won,” said Shields. “Even the reporters who felt Ray won described some of our rounds as close, which means I won them.”

Shields felt he was disadvantaged fighting on Leonard’s home turf. “It was a Sugar Ray Leonard production all the way,” he said. “There were fireworks, music, you name it.”

Some critics felt that had the fight taken place anywhere else, that Shields would have gone on to not only win but become world champion.

“A lot of things happened which I don’t want to talk about now, I want to put in the documentary,” Railsback said.

One can only assume it has a lot to do with decisions made by Shields’ very controlling father and trainer Sonny Shields.

“My dad was a very focused man, very driven,” said Shields who befriended trainer Joe Goossen as a child.

Goossen recalled a stopwatch Sonny used while training the boys. “He had the longest rounds of any trainer in the history of the world,” said Goossen of the tough technician, with whom he worked the corners of Randy Shields’ fights.

“I remember that stopwatch,” said Shields. “My dad would call out 10 seconds and two minutes later, we’d still be in the ring.”

Railsback and Shields see within each other a kindred spirit. Railsback, who burst onto the international movie scene with a searing portrayal of convicted killer Charles Manson in the movie Helter Skelter 27 years ago, has become known as an actor’s actor – and now director.

“Hollywood and boxing have a lot in common,” said Railsback drily. “There are scumbags in both businesses, but there are some wonderful people too.

“Randy is not only one of the most beautiful people I have ever met but I watched his fights. He was amazing. Even Tommy Hearns, who stopped him on cuts in the 13th round of their fight, still talks about how tough Randy was.”

Shields himself has found he has been bitten a little by the Hollywood bug. He has penned his own screenplay, “Within Reach” about a Latino fighter from East LA.

“I loved the first draft but he keeps re-writing it,” said Railsback who knows all about re-writes.

When this reporter mentioned one of his earliest movies, the thriller “Turkey Shoot” filmed in the Australian outback, his eyes widened in horror.

“You saw that? Oh my God, I’m sorry. The script was much better than that, I promise you.”

Railsback recounted hilarious tales of alligators having to be dynamited out of watery locales for the film shoot.

“I had to get into the water with the actress Olivia Hussey and we were clutching a log for this scene and we were not entirely convinced that the alligators were gone. I started humming the theme from Jaws and let’s put it this way, I completely freaked her out.”

Considering how well Railsback portrays bad guys on screen, the actress deserved a medal for bravery as well as every dollar of her paycheck.

“I went back to Australia three times to make movies,” the actor said. “I turned down The Thorn Birds though to go to Yugoslavia to make the movie Veliki Transport (AKA Heroes). Three days into the shoot, Robert Vaughn came over to me while we were having lunch and he said, ‘Steve, this movie is a dog. And I know dogs.’ I never forgot that.”

The movie had its upside however. Shields had finally persuaded his two best friends, Railsback and his now-wife Marcie to meet. The two finally caved in and four days before he left for Yugoslavia, they talked on the phone.

Marcie’s father was boxing manager Ed Sobel. “I don’t know he’s an actor,” she said, reluctant to meet him. Shields told her Railsback wore jeans and boots. She said, “Well,” she responded. “Maybe he’ll be okay.”

He was more than okay. Railsback called Marcie every single day from Yugoslavia during the film shoot.

“I think he spent more on the phone calls than he made on the movie,” said an admiring Shields who is still proud of his match-making efforts.

Railsback and everybody else who knows Shields are full of admiration themselves, for two incidents in the fighter’s life.

The first was when he and his corner were attacked while attempting to leave the Sports Arena in LA after he defeated Mauricio Aldana in December, 1979.

That Shields took the fight at all remains one of the most bitter memories in the fighter’s career which ended in 1984 but he made a brief, victorious comeback in 1990.

“I walked away from it, even though I won my last fight. I was very frustrated,” he said.

His father Sonny Shields – with whom Randy maintains an often difficult relationship – insisted he take the Aldana fight.

“I was a white guy fighting a Latino fighter in front of a Mexican crowd and I knew what would happen. I’d had problems before,” said Shields. “I didn’t need this tune-up fight, I was in good shape and I was ready to face Cuevas in the rematch we had planned [and which never happened] but my father wanted me to take it so I said I would, on condition that I had security escort me to and from the ring.

“Security walked me to the ring but as the fight progressed and it was obvious I was winning, the crowd started throwing things in the ring. They were throwing cherry bombs and the security guys got scared and ran off, leaving me there.

“At the end of the fight, the referee told me before the decision even came that I had won but I should leave. I didn’t need to be told twice. My dad and Joe Goossen and his brother Danny Goossen [the promoter] came and got me out of the ring and we were beaten up by the crowd before we even got past the first row.

“People threw chairs from the balcony. I was so badly hurt my skull was split open and my right ear drum was broken. The doctor told me after the fight that I could lose my hearing completely just by walking fast.”

While some of the melee is on tape, most of it is audio. “The fight commentators kept talking about what was happening. You actually hear them saying, ‘somebody just threw a chair from the balcony,’ ” said Shields.

The other out-of-the-ring adventure that Railsback wants to focus on of course is the attempted robbery on The Four And Twenty.

“Three guys tried to hold up the place. They had already robbed three other places,” said Shields. “On the way home, they came through the parking lot three times, and on the third time, came in with shotguns blazing.

“They fired over 38 shots into the building just to get everybody’s attention. It happened exactly at midnight. I know that because they killed the clock with one of the bullets and the time was two minutes past twelve.”

Shields, who is licensed to carry a gun turned the tables on the men and shot two of them. He was shot himself in the left hamstring.

“I was the first one shot and I went down I threw out my left clavicle,” said Shields when prompted, but it’s something he frequently forgets to mention unless somebody else brings it up.

Railsback had a faraway look in his eyes as Shields talked. You could tell what he was thinking: Hollywood could never dream up a hero like Randy Shields. Sometimes, just sometimes, the bigger-than-life heroes are real.

If you have any tapes of Shields’ fights (especially the Olympic Auditorium fights) or any other material or information that could help the dynamic duo in pursuit of the documentary on the life of Randy Shields, please contact Steve Railsback at: or Randy Shields via pager on 818 828 9941.

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