Ricardo Bryant was an outstanding wrestler at Washington High School and many believed he would be known for those skills.
So how did he get involved in boxing?
It was because of an incident at the University of Kentucky that pushed him into that sport and, eventually, into the spotlight of a major heavyweight title fight in Pittsburgh.
“A young man beat me up. He threw me around like a dish rag. I put it in my mind to go to the gym and work out,” said Bryant.
It made sense. Boxing not only was a great way to get into shape, it also provided skills in self-defense. Bryant got involved with the local Golden Gloves competition.
“At Kentucky, the Golden Gloves rules were simple,” he said. “You have to fight in the open division. After 10 fights, I made it to the finals held in Louisville, home of Muhammad Ali.”
Back in Washington, Bryant was under the guidance of Red Foley, who worked with Ricardo’s brothers, Carlos and Francisco Bryant.
When Foley thought he was ready, he got Ricardo entered into his first professional fight Oct. 10, 1981, a date Bryant will never forget.
“It was the 147-pound (middleweight) bout at the Monroeville Expo Mart. In the second round, I knocked out Roosevelt Moss out of Charlotte, North Carolina. I dropped him with a short left hook and straight right just before the bell rang, ending the round.”
Just three weeks later, Bryant got an unexpected boost to his career when he received a phone call to fight on the undercard of the heavyweight title bout between Larry Holmes and Renaldo “Mister” Snipes. The Nov. 16 fight took place at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.
“It was a Who’s Who of pro boxing,” Bryant said.
The card also featured Jimmy Young, a sparring partner of Muhammad Ali for many years, Randall “Tex” Cobb and Michael “Dynamite” Dokes.
Bryant got on the card when Carl Johnson of Pittsburgh failed to make the 150-pound weight limit. So it was Bryant who took on Bobo Haywood of Braddock.
“Of course, I couldn’t refuse,” said Bryant. “The fight was secured about an hour before I entered the ring. The atmosphere was crazy. The (Civic Arena) was packed and Howard Cosell and Myron Cope were the ring announcers.”
While Bryant was fortunate to get the fight with Haywood, luck was not on his side in the ring. Haywood scored a four-round split decision in their battle.
“I wasn’t really mentally ready for the fight,” Bryant was quoted in the Observer-Reporter the following day. “If I had known a little beforehand I was going to fight, I know I could have beaten him.”
Bryant returned to the Civic Arena Aug. 27, 1982 to face Ricky Davis of Columbus, Ohio. This ended well, a knockout for Bryant in the sixth.
Bryant’s first professional fight in Washington was against Robert Thomas in 1985, when promoter David Suski set up a show at Wash High that included John “Skip” Hutter. a welterweight.
“They brought in a fighter from Philadelphia, and I knocked him out,” Bryant said. “I made about $800 that night. I wasn’t worried about the money. I just wanted to build my resume. Funny thing is, I made more money that night in Washington than I made fighting on the same card ($400) at the Civic Arena with Holmes-Snipes.”
Hutter knocked out Julius Wright of McKeesport in the first round.
Bryant’s boxing resembled the moves used by Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard. He didn’t have the same success, finishing his career with a 15-12 record in 27 fights.
“I had a reach like Hearns, but I didn’t use it as devastating as he does,” Bryant said. “I also liked to move around in the manner of Sugar Ray. I tried to mix it up and keep my opponent off guard.”
Bryant’s biggest disappointment came Aug. 13, 1983 in Traverse City, Mich., against a talented fighter named Darnell Fox.
“Darnell was a good fighter,” Bryant said. “I had been cut over my eye, but I shut one of his eyes completely. I knocked him down three times, but he won by a decision. His fans even booed. Ring Magazine wrote an article on how I got homered.”
Still, Bryant has no regrets.
“I have fought everywhere with some of the best, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlantic City, Louisville. It was a great ride,” Bryant said with a smile.
“I got to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I was well-trained and well-managed.”
Bryant’s life has come full circle. He spent the past 15 years as a wrestling official and works many dual meets and tournaments in the area.
It might surprise you that his favorite athlete is not Ali, Sugar Ray or Hearns.
“I’m a big fan of Dan Gable, one of the greatest to ever wrestle on the college level,” Bryant said, “and he’s a pretty good coach.”
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter on local sports history.