Name: James Scott
Birth Name: James O. Scott
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, USA
Hometown: Rahway, New Jersey, USA
Height: 6′ 1″ / 185cm
Boxing Record: click
Photo 2, Photo 3
James Scott, while serving time in prison, was a light heavyweight contender in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Scott was the second of 12 children born to Ursuleen and James Scott Sr. According to prison officials, Scott was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 17, 1947. However, the Miami Herald reported his birth as occurring in 1946, and the program from his 1974 fight against Kirkland "Baby Boy" Rolle listed the year of his birth as 1947.
When he was 13 years old, Scott was arrested and tossed into Jamesburg Home for Boys on the charge of truancy. For the next five years he bounced around different New Jersey juvenile reformatories. Scott was officially declared incorrigible in 1965 and transferred to Trenton State Prison, where he crossed paths with another inmate named Al Dickens, serving his 16th year of a 51-year stretch for armed robbery. Dickens had done some boxing in the U.S. Army and later told Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated, "When I first saw Scotty, he was a tough punk running around breaking heads with an iron pipe. But I got him to thinking about boxing instead."
Scott sparred with former middleweight contender Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was serving time at Trenton for a triple-murder conviction, which would be overturned in 1985. Scott, despite his inexperience, lasted a full three rounds against Carter, one of only a few prisoners to do so. With Carter's and Dickens' encouragement, he began training seriously.
Scott was released from Trenton in 1968, but he was soon busted on a robbery charge and sent back to prison, now staring down a 13-17 year sentence at Rahway State Prison. "I guess I wasn't listening too close when Dickens tried to teach me about life," Scott told Sports Illustrated. "They let me out of prison and it wasn't long before I was back. That's when I really took up boxing."
Scott became so dominant in the New Jersey prison system that after he won the state prison championship, prospective challengers simply refused to fight him.
In 1974, Scott was released from Rahway on a work-parole program. Before his release, he had contacted numerous boxing managers and promoters across the country to find representation as a professional boxer. Miami architect Murray Gaby offered him a managerial contract on behalf of a group of Miami Beach businessmen. Gaby also had enough political connections—namely through his brother Dan, a heavy hitter in the New Jersey Democratic Party—to have Scott paroled out of state to Florida.
Chris Dundee, owner of the 5th St. Gym and the older brother of Angelo Dundee, promoted Scott's fights, the first 11 of which were in Miami Beach. After every bout, Scott would invite his opponent out to dinner; only one declined.
Scott's early record is subject to debate. He boxed a four-round exhibition with light heavyweight contender Joe Burns, who was 14-0 with 7 knockouts, in New Orleans on July 29, 1968. That has led many to wonder if Scott was boxing as a pro in the late 1960s.
Official records list the date of Scott's professional debut as January 22, 1974. Scott, who weighed 178 pounds, climbed off the canvas in the opening seconds of the first round to score a sixth-round knockout of undefeated John L. Johnson, who weighed 217 pounds.
After eight consecutive wins, Scott fought a 10-round draw against Dave Lee Royster. Two fights later, on February 25, 1975, Scott outpointed undefeated Jesse Burnett over 10 rounds, advancing his record to 10-0-1 with 5 knockouts.
Scott was on the verge of a title shot against WBC light heavyweight champion John Conteh when he went back to Newark and got in trouble again. In May 1975, he was arrested in Newark and charged with armed robbery and the murder of Everett Russ.
According to Phil Berger's account for Esquire, the Essex County prosecutor's version of the night in question went like this:
- Toward midnight on May 7, 1975, Everitt (sic) Russ was standing out front of a bar on Howard Street in Newark with a friend when he was approached by James O. Scott. Russ climbed into a blue four-door sedan with Scott and others. The car proceeded to the Lincoln projects in Newark, where Russ led them to the apartment of Leo Skinner. The way Russ told it, Skinner would be able to buy drugs for them in a building next door. In that adjoining building, the men held the elevator for Yvonne Barrett, who lived up on the tenth floor with her sister Antoinette. The Barrett apartment, as it happened, was where the group was headed. Reluctant to take so many people there, Leo Skinner stopped the elevator on the eighth floor. At that point, one of Scott's companions, William Spinks, pulled out a pistol and ordered the project residents, Skinner and Barrett, out. Scott exited too. Everitt (sic) Russ rode to the lobby and waited in the sedan with the other man in Scott's party. Back on the eighth floor, Spinks handed the weapon to Scott, who pistol-whipped Skinner and ordered him to disrobe. Later, Spinks, holding the gun on Yvonne Barrett, robbed her sister's tenth floor apartment of $283 and glassine bags with white powder in them. At about 1:30 that morning, the body of Everitt (sic) Russ was pushed from a blue four-door sedan, dead from gunshot wounds.
After Russ' body was pushed out of the car, a passing motorist took down the license plate number and reported it to the police, who discovered that the car belonged to Scott.
Scott claimed he lent his car to Spinks and had nothing to do with the crimes. He said Spinks' accomplice in the crime was a man named Black Jack, whom Scott said looked a lot like him.
William Spinks (unrelated to boxing brothers Leon and Michael) never had the chance to offer his own version of the events that day. One month after the crime, another stick-up claimed his life before police could locate and question him about the surrounding events that led to Russ' murder.
Questioned in court by the Essex County prosecutor, Skinner conceded that Black Jack and Scott looked very much alike. But Skinner said there were differences: Black Jack was smaller and his hairstyle was slightly different. Then:
- Q: Did Black Jack beat you up on the night of May 8, 1975?
- A: (Skinner) No sir.
- Q: Did Black Jack stick a gun in your mouth on May 8, 1975?
- A: No sir.
- Q: Did Black Jack make you strip off all your clothes on May 8, 1975?
- A: No sir.
- Q: Did Black Jack threaten to throw you off the roof on May 8, 1975?
- A: No sir.
- Q: Who did all those things to you on May 8, 1975?
- A: Scott.
Scott was convicted of robbery, but the jury was hung on the murder charge. Even though he beat the murder rap, as a multiple offender, Scott was sentenced to serve 30 to 40 years in prison.
Scott returned to the New Jersey penal system on March 22, 1976, first incarcerated at Trenton State Prison and then, on May 27, 1977, he was transferred to Rahway State Prison, becoming inmate No. 57735.
The prison superintendent, Robert S. Hatrak, created the Rahway State Boxing Association and put Scott in charge. After seeing Scott's progress with the boxing program, Hatrak approached Scott with an offer. He told Scott that if he could persuade a promoter to get involved with the boxing program at Rahway, he was willing to do everything in his power to help Scott resume his professional boxing career.
Murad Muhammad agreed to promote fights from Rahway and arranged a fight for Scott against Diego Roberson on May 24, 1978. Scott won by a second-round knockout. He fought again on September 9 and knocked out Fred Brown in four rounds.
On October 24, 1978, Scott fought Eddie Gregory (later Eddie Mustafa Muhammad), the WBA's No. 1-ranked light heavyweight contender. The fight, televised live on HBO, took place in the same auditorium at Rahway where seven years earlier convicts waged a bloody riot and seized six hostages, including the warden. There were over 450 paying customers from outside the prison walls and the inmate population watched on three large screens set up in the Drill Hall.
Scott, a 4 to 1 underdog, won by a 10-round unanimous decision. Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated reported:
- Scott took charge from the start, swarming over Gregory at close quarters, firing punishing hooks from both sides. In the fourth round, he raised an ugly lump under Gregory's left eye. . . . Scott won the fifth round, then coasted through the sixth and seventh, which he lost on all cards. From Round 8 on, he resumed command and never let up. Always it was the same: inside and savage. At the end, with his corner screaming for him to go for a knockout, Gregory was barely able to hang on.
Harold Lederman, who was one of the official judges at ringside, said in 2012: "On that day, I thought James Scott was the greatest light heavyweight I ever saw in my life. That's how great he was. On that one day when he beat Gregory, he was the best light heavyweight I ever saw. I never saw a performance like that — anywhere. I don't think Bob Foster was as good as that. I don't think Archie Moore was that good."
After the fight, People, Esquire, the New York Times and Sports Illustrated swarmed Rahway and circulated Scott's story across the country; television networks CBS and NBC clamored to get Scott and Rahway back on TV; and Rahway was flooded with letters from around the world addressed to the prison's most famous inmate.
Yaqui Lopez was the No. 1 contender and Murad Muhammad already had a fight between Scott and Lopez scheduled for December 1. Muhammad asked that the bout be changed to a 15-round championship fight for the vacant WBA title. However, faced with the reality of a potential champion behind bars, the WBA, for the first time, raised the issue of Scott's criminal record. Suddenly, they concluded that the notion of a jailhouse fighter set a bad example for the sport, and fighting in prison put his opponents at a disadvantage.
At its annual convention, the WBA voted 60 to 1 to strip Scott of his ranking. The organization also voted to reinstate Galindez as light heavyweight champion after he apologized and agreed to fight Marvin Johnson. Scott briefly retired in protest.
Scott returned to the ring on October 27, 1979, and outpointed Jerry Celestine over 10 rounds. On December 1, Scott defeated Yaqui Lopez by a 10-round decision.
On May 25, 1980, Scott suffered his first loss when Jerry Martin, the WBC's No. 1-ranked light heavyweight contender, outpointed him over 10 rounds. Martin floored Scott in the first and second rounds.
In early 1981, Scott was retried for the murder of Everett Russ. On February 4, after an eight-day trial, Scott was found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison on March 20.
Scott returned to the ring on August 10, 1981, and fought a rematch with Dave Lee Royster, with whom he fought a draw in 1974. Scott won by a seventh-round knockout.
Scott fought for the last time on September 5, 1981, losing to former Rahway inmate and future two-division world champion Dwight Braxton (later Dwight Muhammad Qawi) by a 10-round decision. Scott ended his career with a record of 19-2-1 with 11 knockouts.
In 1984, Scott was transferred from Rahway to Trenton State Prison and later to South Woods State Prison.
Scott was paroled from prison in 2005 at the age of 58. In 2012, he was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
As of 2014, Scott was suffering from dementia and residing in a New Jersey nursing home.
- "Slambang Win In The Slammer: Eddie Gregory was the No. 1 contender until he met up with inmate No. 57735" by Pat Putnam, Sports Illustrated, October 23, 1978
- "Gold In The Mud: The Twisted Saga Of Jailhouse Boxer James Scott's Battle For Redemption" by Brin-Jonathan Butler and Kurt Emhoff, SB Nation, March 12, 2014