Reggie Gross (born January 1962) was a
journeyman heavyweight boxer in the 1980s. His most notable wins were
upsets of undefeated Smokin' Bert Cooper (TKO8) and outstanding
amateur and 14-0 pro Jimmy Clark (TKO9).
He was most famously stopped in one round by Mike
Tyson, in an exciting but brief bout where he took the fight to the
feared contender. He also suffered losses to Frank Bruno and Jesse
His final fight was in June 1988, on the Tyson/Spinks
undercard, where the hard hitting Jamaican Donovan Razor Ruddock
bombed him out in two rounds.
In 1989, he was imprisoned for three murders, after
a dispute over a game of cards. He is currently serving his two life
sentences in a maximum security prison in Edgefield, South Carolina.
He will be eligible for parole in 2009.
Down for count, he's still fighting
Reggie Gross was a promising boxer in Baltimore in
the '80s before his bout with drugs ended with three life sentences
for murders he says he didn't commit.
By Dan Rodricks - BaltimoreSun.com
November 6, 2001
EDGEFIELD, S.C. - This is where the long, hard fall
of Reggie Gross ends - in a two-man cell deep inside a maximum
security prison on the piney outskirts of Strom Thurmond's rural
hometown. He hasn't had a visitor in seven years. He hasn't seen his
daughters in 12. Parole is a distant cloud. "As it all shakes out,"
predicted one of the men who prosecuted Gross, "he'll die in prison."
Once upon a time, Reggie Gross was a promising
heavyweight fighter from Baltimore - the last one to make headlines
before the emergence of Hasim "The Rock" Rahman on the international
For a few good years in the 1980s, with the
legendary trainer Mack Lewis in his corner, Gross built an impressive
record, first as a light heavyweight, then as a heavyweight. He
traveled to Europe and to South America for fights. He fought, among
others, teen-age sensation and then-future champion Mike Tyson at
Madison Square Garden. Reggie Gross was once Lewis' pride and joy.
And maybe his greatest disappointment.
And not because Tyson finished him off at 2:36 of
the first round.
But because Gross lived a double life: He was an
enforcer for one of Baltimore's most violent drug gangs. Federal
prosecutors accused him of serving as paid assassin for a heroin
dealer who waged bloody war to control drug commerce in and around a
West Baltimore housing project that no longer exists. In an indictment
aimed at busting that drug gang, a federal grand jury pinned three
brutal street killings on Gross, all occurring in September 1986, just
three months after his main event with Tyson.
Gross pleaded guilty to the charges in 1989, got
two consecutive life sentences and went to prison. Under guidelines
that existed at the time of his crimes, his sentence is viewed as 60
years by the U.S. Parole Commission. He'll be eligible for parole
after serving a third of that, about 2009. But it will be difficult
for an admitted hit man to win parole at first eligibility unless he
owns up to his crimes - Gross denies committing the murders - and
lives a clean life in prison.
"I haven't had any fights, no violence," Gross said
in an interview, his first since being incarcerated. "I don't bother
nobody. I keep to myself. I mind my own business, and nobody bothers
me. They know I can fight. Ain't no use in me going around bragging or
none of that stuff. I don't do that. A lot of people say, 'Man, why
you in prison? You don't belong in prison, man.' They say that because
of my personality. I don't bother anybody."
Now in his 13th consecutive year behind bars, the
40-year-old Gross still has a bright smile and a huge handshake, the
same friendly manner that made it so difficult for people to believe
he could be a cold-blooded killer. His arms still seem like long,
thick branches of trees jutting from a mighty trunk. In his first
years as a prisoner, when he was housed at a federal penitentiary in
Atlanta, Gross ballooned to more than 300 pounds. But these days, at
the 1,600-bed Edgefield prison, he appears to have his weight under
control. He's careful about what he eats, even within the limits of
Edgefield's daily offerings, and he excercises to keep in shape.
But there's no boxing. It's not allowed.
Gross writes frequent letters to Lewis, now 82 and
enjoying the reflected glory of Rahman, the world heavyweight champion
who, like Gross, got his start at Lewis' old gym, at Broadway and
Rahman, who in April knocked out Lennox Lewis in
South Africa for the World Boxing Council and International Boxing
Federation crowns, will defend his titles in a rematch Nov. 17. Rahman
stands to make tens of millions of dollars from the fight in Las
This has not gone unnoticed at the low-rise, gray-block
institution here, where Gross earns $200 a month in the prison factory,
sewing button-hole plackets on uniform shirts for the Army and Air
He uses a good amount of his wages for telephone
calls to "Mr. Mack" at his East Baltimore rowhouse. Lewis, the last
man to visit Gross in prison, remains his only contact from the glory
"I hear from him all the time," Mack Lewis said. "I
really feel sorry for him. But, you do what you can. I can't correct
For a time, boxing and Mack Lewis were among the
few positive influences in Reggie Gross' life. Raised by a single
mother - his father, Russell Allston, was stabbed to death during a
West Baltimore street fight when Gross was 3 days old in 1961 - the
big, friendly kid with the ready smile was never far from trouble.
Some of the neighborhoods in which Gross' mother rented homes were
populated with heroin and cocaine addicts. When he was 13, he was
arrested in connection with a purse snatching, and police found a toy
gun in his possession.
He spent several years in a group home for juvenile
offenders. While there, he met another teen-ager - "Sugar Ray
Leonard's sister's boyfriend," Gross said, unable to remember his name
- who knew some boxing fundamentals and training exercises. Gross
learned to block punches and to shadow box. He jogged every day.
By 1979, he was out of jail, working in a
construction job and bragging about being the next Muhammad Ali. Co-workers
and friends challenged the boastful kid to prove himself and to sign
on with Lewis, trainer of hundreds of boxers over several decades.
Lewis, whose eyes popped at Gross' 6-foot-3 body
and his instincts, took him into his gym, trained him to fight, molded
a muscular young man into a light heavyweight boxer. He liked him,
worried about him, scolded him, admonished him to stay away from bad
guys. And from women.
For a while, Gross followed at least part of that
admonition. (The first of his four children, a son, was born that year.)
"In one month with Mr. Mack, I was ready to fight,"
said Gross, who had a 19-3 record as an amateur. "In 11 months I
turned pro. Eleven months! I was 19. I wore Pro Keds for my first
fight, against a guy from Virginia."
Fighting as a light heavyweight, Gross at one point
had a 14-0 record. Things were going good.
But, even with the promise of a boxing career and
the mentoring of a legendary trainer, he could not elude the long
reach of Baltimore's illegal drug trade.
In recalling this part of his life, Gross mentions
a slightly older and savvier man he knew as "Wimpy."
Wimpy - Gross said he never knew his full name -
drove a Datsun 280Z. In March 1983, he drove it, with Gross in the
passenger seat, to Atlantic City, N.J., for a light heavyweight
championship fight between Michael Spinks and Dwight Braxton.
"On the way up in the car, he showed me $80,000 in
the glove compartment," Gross said, still awed by the vision of so
much cash. "Eighty thousand dollars! I was green, man. I was living
with my grandparents. I didn't know nothin'. He whipped the cocaine
out. It was raw, good stuff. One sniff and it made you want more. I
knew I couldn't do it."
But, apparently, Gross did use the cocaine.
"I had did it," he said during the interview. "But
He was still going to Mack Lewis' gym, still
training to fight and still serious about a ring career.
In spring 1984, Gross' son, 5-year-old Philip, died
from burns he received in a fire at his grandmother's rowhouse.
After that, Gross lost his heart for boxing, in the
opinion of many people who were watching him closely.
But he kept going and trained as a heavyweight,
hoping for a shot at Tyson the next year. He showed some promise by
knocking out a fighter named Jimmy Clark in Philadelphia. When Tyson's
managers agreed to a date - the day after Christmas 1985 - Gross
trained with greater conviction. He ran up and down the back hills of
Druid Hill Park with future world junior middleweight champion Vincent
Pettway, also a Mack Lewis protege, and another boxer named Warren
"I was in shape," Gross said. "I'd never been in
shape like that before. I scared myself."
But the Tyson fight was postponed - a payday Gross
could not make up with his fight, a month later, against future World
Boxing Federation heavyweight champion Bert Cooper.
"I needed money," Gross said. "So I went out on the
During the next year, Gross said, he committed
numerous street robberies all over Baltimore in an effort to get drugs
or money for drugs. And his boxing buddy, Boardley, became a ruthless
and ambitious West Baltimore drug dealer who employed Gross to do his
killing in what became known as "the war against the Downers." This
urban shootout took place over the summer months of 1986 as Boardley's
gang - according to federal prosecutors, one of the most profitable
and violent in Baltimore history - fought for territory against
brothers Spencer and Alan Downer.
Even as Gross became more deeply involved with
Boardley and the gang's $50,000-a-week drug operation, he managed to
train and to fight, his trainer unaware of his addiction.
That summer, he got his delayed shot at Tyson.
Gross was one of three heavyweights booked to fight the 19-year-old
knockout artist as Tyson primed for a title bout with Trevor Berbick.
In Fire and Fear, a book about Tyson, former world
light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres writes: "Of the three boxers
scheduled to fight Mike - Reggie Gross, William Hosea and Lorenzo Boyd,
I was most concerned with Gross. I had seen him in vicious battle in
Pennsylvania against Jimmy Clark and I was so impressed with both
fighters I urged [Tyson's manager] to keep an eye on them and to put
them on his list of possible opponents for Mike."
On June 13, Gross met Tyson at Madison Square
Garden and came out swinging his big arms. In the first round, he
unleashed a 10-punch flurry, including a jolting uppercut that briefly
stunned Tyson. "The crowd released a collective murmur as if they'd
shared the pain," Torres wrote in his memoir.
"I say to myself, 'Oh my god, I hit him,' "
recalled Gross, 15 years after the bout. "I hit that man on the chin.
I say, 'Suppose I hit him one more time with this right hand. I'm
gonna knock his block off.' "
But Tyson exploded from a crouch with a left hook
that sent Gross to the canvas.
"I say to myself, 'Oh my god, I'm on HBO, let me
get up!' "
And Gross got back to his feet.
"Tyson landed two more left hooks to floor Gross
again," The Sun's Alan Goldstein reported. "He gamely regained his
feet, but referee Johnny Lobianco decided he was in no condition to
Gross received $50,000, his biggest payday as a
When he looks back on his record of earnings, Gross
said, he feels he should have done better - and might have, he added,
with a more sophisticated manager. He received as little as $1,000 for
some of his best fights. In 1987, he did better, making $10,000 for
fighting future WBF heavyweight champion Adilson Rodriquez in Brazil,
$15,000 for going eight rounds with future WBC heavyweight champion
Frank Bruno in Spain. In 1988, he earned $8,500 in his defeat to
Canadian champion Donovan "Razor" Ruddock on the undercard of a Spinks-Tyson
But when you've become addicted to drugs - and when
the police have come after you and charged you with murder - that kind
of money disappears fast.
In fall 1986, Baltimore homicide detectives
arrested Gross in connection with the execution-style killing of a
rival of the Boardley gang, a street dealer named Andre Coxson. Gross
allegedly approached Coxson on Fayette Street in West Baltimore, shot
him once, then stood over him and fired five more bullets into his
head as he begged for his life and tried to crawl away. Though at
trial the state produced several witnesses who said they saw Gross
carry out the killing then flee down an alley, the fighter was found
not guilty of the charges by a jury in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The acquittal, in May 1987, was a victory for
longtime criminal defense attorney Harold Glaser, who was paid with
most of Gross' take from the Tyson fight. When the trial was over,
there was a brief celebration and Gross returned to his training at
Mack Lewis' gym - but not without a warning from Glaser that FBI
agents were on his tail.
Still, Gross claimed to have been the victim of
snitches, lying witnesses and overzealous prosecutors. "Now that I was
found innocent, where are all the apologies? Someone's got to pay," he
told The Sun in 1987.
That year, as Gross was traveling overseas for big
fights, a combined force of federal and state investigators was slowly
stripping away the defensive shell of the Boardley gang. One of
Boardley's intimates, Larry Donnell "Donnie" Andrews, cooperated with
the investigation and wore a hidden microphone so the FBI could record
his conversations with, among others, Reggie Gross.
The focus of the investigation was on the bloody
war of September 1986. When the U.S. Attorney's Office released an
indictment in the case, 10 operatives of the Boardley gang were named
in it, including its alleged enforcer, the once-promising Baltimore
heavyweight. Gross was accused not only of the Coxson killing, but
also in the sub-machine-gun deaths of two other men who were mid-level
Set for trial in summer 1989, Gross pleaded guilty
to the charges at the last minute, admitting to killing Coxson on Sept.
12, 1986, and, 11 days later, Zachary Roach and Rodney Young on Gold
Street in West Baltimore.
"I was strung out on [heroin] by that time," Gross
said in a small visiting room at the prison here. "I was doing drugs
hard. I was robbing people just to get fixes. ... I [overdosed] once,
was taken to the hospital to be revived after a month of every day
getting high. ... I had my car and my house and my girl and everything,
but she didn't know I was going around robbin'. She used to fuss at me
all the time and find needles in my shoes. We'd been robbin' people
all over the city, all month, for drugs and money for drugs."
On Gold Street, he said, "There wasn't supposed to
be no killin'."
But the government said the killings were hits and
that Gross received $3,000 for each.
He entered guilty pleas, expecting a 75-year-sentence
from U.S. District Judge Paul V. Niemeyer.
"I made some huge mistakes. I can't change the past,
but I can do better in the future," he told the judge. "I know that I
will be going away a long while. I just pray that it will not be for
the rest of my life."
But Niemeyer did something unusual, going beyond
the prosecutors' recommendation and giving Gross a sentence of three
life terms - two of them to run consecutively. "You fell from a most
promising career as a boxer," Niemeyer told him. "Unfortunately, you
elected a life in which you would pursue some of the most brutal
Gross should be eligible for parole for the first
time in about eight years.
His final record as a professional fighter was 19
wins, eight losses.
His drug-dealing pal, "Wimpy," was shot to death in
1986. So was another Boardley operative Gross knew as "Shorty." One of
the victims of the September 1986 westside war, Alan Downer, has been
a quadriplegic since he and his brother were shot in an assassination
attempt. Boardley went away for 47 years, with a judge recommending he
serve 40 before being eligible for parole. Other gang members went to
prison, with sentences ranging from eight to 18 years. Some who
cooperated with the investigation got life sentences with
recommendations for early eligibility for parole.
In prison, Gross has earned a high school
equivalency certificate, learned to operate a forklift, completed a
course in pest control and attended numerous counseling programs,
including one for drug abuse. He's taken part in "scared straight"-type
sessions with at-risk teen-agers from South Carolina and Georgia. His
team won the prison basketball championship.
Mack Lewis, accompanied by Pettway, made the last
visit to Gross, and that was years ago, during his stint in Atlanta.
His two youngest daughters visited Gross in 1992,
when he was housed at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. None of the
girls has seen him since, and Edgefield is a long trip from Baltimore.
Gross hopes for transfer to a prison closer to his hometown.
"I get frustrated," he said quietly. "I wanna talk
with my kids. I wanna talk with my family. I can't do all this time."
In a letter from prison last summer, Gross wrote:
"I have contact with my mother, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews,
even the 18 new ones that were born since I've been in prison. I love
them all dearly, though I don't call that much. When I do call, they
all ask the same thing: 'When are you coming home? We love you and we
miss you.' "
He watches television and follows sports. "Anything
from Baltimore I root for," he said, and that includes the reigning
world heavyweight champion, Rahman.
"Hasim has a good punch. ... I told everyone here
he was going to beat [Lennox Lewis]," Gross said. "I stayed up all
night waiting to hear the decision on my radio. When I heard the
decision, I felt good for him, his family and the city of Baltimore."
He watched video replays of Rahman's victory on
"I like what I saw. What I want Hasim to do is work
on his stomach. I saw him get hit in the gut, and he was almost like
Larry Holmes. When he got hit in the gut, he spit out water. Got to
work on his stomach."
Gross sent that training advice to Rahman in a
congratulatory card he mailed to Mack Lewis' house. He asked the world
champ for an autographed photo, something he could hang in his prison
cell. He hasn't heard back.
Time counting down: Having lost to Mike Tyson in
1986, Reggie Gross was still working out at Mack Lewis' gym in the
summer of 1987, but two years later he would be convicted of three
photo by Perry Thorsvik / November