7:35 PM EDT, July 4, 2013
Marlon Starling has found himself in all sorts of fascinating places in his 53 years. He has found himself in the ring twice with Mark Breland and Floyd Mayweather Sr. He has found himself in the ring with Michael Nunn, Lloyd Honeyghan and, on Sept. 15, 1989, he found himself in front of 7,788 fans at the XL Center defending his WBC welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Yung-Kil Chung.
All the fascinating places, of course, haven't been inside the ropes.
"I danced with Donald Trump," Starling said. "I went out with Michael Jackson. In this state, I had five days named in my honor."
"I've been taught by an Olympic champion in high school, [100-meter gold medalist] Lindy Remigino. ... I've been around drug dealers on the streets of Hartford. … I've driven a limo. I was with Joan Rivers once, taking her from the casino to New York, in the early 2000s. She told me to shut up. They invite me into the conversation and then Joan Rivers tells me to shut up."
Starling is laughing now, appreciating the thick chapters of a diverse life and the absurdity of the comedic queen of barbs telling a former world champion to put a sock in it.
"What can I do?" Starling said. "I shut up. I know how to please people for a good tip."
As terrific as it is that 50 Cent is giving a number of state boxers a proper stage at the Connecticut Convention Center for ESPN's "Friday Night Fights," there was a time when Hartford didn't need a celebrity promoter to turn a buck on the sport. There was a time when Hartford could set off boxing fireworks without 50 Cent's Birthday Bash on a Fourth of July weekend. There was Willie Pep, a wisp of a god among lesser mortals. And there was Marlon "Magic Man" Starling.
Boxing is a cruel sport, not only for the physical pain inflicted, but for the financial distress so many former boxers find themselves in. And on a weekend like this one, when boxing steps to the front porch of our town, it strikes me that someone, some group or corporation, could help Marlon Starling chase his goals.
"In my era, Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, there were like five boxers in the world making that elite money," Starling said.
Starling estimated that he made about $2.5 million in a pro career that spanned from 1979 to 1990. The most he made in one fight was $800,000. Taxes, percentages to managers, trainers. Investments, good and bad. Friends good and not so good …
Asked how his finances are in 2013, 23 years after he quit boxing — he insists he never retired — Starling answers, "Not good."
Then Starling said the damnedest thing.
"I do have a lot of class," he said. "I was like this when I had $800,000 in the bank. I'm the same way now. I don't like my situation. I'm poor. I'm back to poor. But I've got dignity and I've got respect. I've got a place to sleep. I'm happy."
And he has this dream.
Starling already goes over to the San Juan Center in Hartford multiple times each week to counsel kids and demonstrate boxing technique. There's no paycheck in it, only the kind of goodwill that helps measure the worth of a man. Starling also does personal training, an intense hourlong session that includes old-school training and boxing fundamentals. Right now he's training three or four people. He wants to greatly expand those numbers.
Long term, his dream is to combine the two aspects of his life — the training and mentoring — in one place.
"I'd love to have my own gym, my own building," Starling said.
A more immediate goal is to find an affiliation with an area fitness center and build a clientele base. If people are intimidated by the idea of boxing in public, Starling will come to your home.
"It's a hell of a workout," said Walter Schuppe of Avon, who trains with Starling. "It keeps you mentally sharp. It's not like just lifting weights or aerobic exercise. There are old-time calisthenics to get you going, and stuff you never thought of before, which is kind of cool. Once you get into the boxing, getting the technique down, throwing combinations, you're burning calories at the speed of sound."
"Before Marlon, I boxed with a woman, because she had done martial arts, so she could use the mitts. People saw it and asked other trainers. They really had no idea what they were doing. If you saw me with Marlon, saw he wasn't swinging back, saw what the workout entails and the instruction, I'm sure people would go for it."
Schuppe, senior vice president/managing director of the Special Assets Group at CapitalSource in Farmington, is originally from New York. His view of boxers' conditioning had been Joe Frazier sinking to the bottom of the pool and being a lousy weightlifter on "Superstars." He didn't know Starling during his career. Now he is Starling's advocate.
"I thought all boxers were guys who took punches," Schuppe said. "There's so much to what he does. He won't just let you wail away. He shows you combinations and what's right. I leave sometimes, my brain is killing me, because of the concentration it takes. It's about boxing, balance, conditioning."
"And fun," Starling said.
"I tell my friends that if it wasn't so much fun," Schuppe said, "I still do it for at least another year, so I'd have four years of stories for a sitcom."
Schuppe gave Starling his UConn tickets one game and the next time he went, the guy in front of Schuppe turned around and told him about how Starling signed autographs, regaled fans with stories. At the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Sylvester Stallone made a point of giving Starling a shout-out. So did 50 Cent at a recent press conference. There's still a cachet there, and Marlon makes no pretense than to be anything other than an open book.
"If it happened in anyone's career, it happened in mine," Starling said.
That might make a man rich in spirit and in stories, but it doesn't necessarily put food on his table. For $50 an hour, $60 at your home, he will teach you "The Marlon Starling Method." Whether it's for MMA skills or boosting cardio, regardless of age, he is convinced that you will be better off for it.
"I'm addicted to the art of boxing and I'll teach it," Starling said. "Some have asked me about learning to get hit. You never want to learn how to get hit. That's a mistake. I've heard people say boxers are stupid. I think a good boxer is very wise, very sharp. Some sports you have to change every game, every hour. In boxing you might be forced to change every minute."
Retirement from boxing has forced him to change, too. He was a security guard. He worked with Catholic Charities. He worked with the mentally challenged. He still drives a limo. He believes he has a real calling in training. He is looking for some people to believe in him.
"Regardless of how it works out, I'm going to keep talking with kids. I'm not looking for no pat on the back for that. The cocaine, all the drugs, they were all out there when I was out there. Ain't nothing different. The kids who come in San Juan Center have had problems, at home, at school, wherever. They come in to burn off steam. I feel like I got to talk to them first, like a parent, like they're my own kids. Some of them, that's all they need. Some of them, they don't want to box. Let's teach these kids how to be human beings first. If they want to box, God bless them. Believe me, a lot of them don't have a lot. There are too many kids raising kids."
"I've had some bad luck in my life. I've also learned so much. I had some people I thought were good people. I had Mac Buckley [his long-time manager]. He was a smart guy. Me and Mac went as far as we could go together."
And now Marlon Starling could use some help to build something for himself, for the community. He believes he has a good idea. Who's willing to invest in the champ?
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