“When Joe [Frazier] came to England in ’89, which puts me at fifteen-years-old, he was promoting his ‘Champions Forever’ book on the Terry Wogan show. I got to meet Joe at his hotel and he said, ‘would you like to have a workout so I can see what you got?’
“So we went to the Thomas A Becket gym, I worked out for about an hour and a half under Joe’s tutelage and he liked what he saw. He said ‘you’re fifteen-years-old when you get to eighteen would you consider being a pro?’ I said ‘I’d love too. But, I can’t wait until I’m eighteen! I’ll get out of school at sixteen in England can’t I come over now? I don’t care about school.’ He said ‘no, you have to finish school. If you can find your own way to the US I’ll give you a room above the boxing gym.’”
Richard T Slone, the man behind the easel, came from a bare knuckle boxing background as he attended the Appleby fairs from the age of thirteen.
Two years on from his first Appleby Fair, whilst his father shoed horses Richard and his brother, John, would partake in bare knuckle boxing against other kids, Slone was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I was over the moon. I left London and went back to Cumbria with a whole new vision that I was going to be a fighter. I learned every day, I studied Joe like nobody else so I could impress him.
“May 1990 I jumped on the plane, I had never been on a plane before, I booked a really cheap flight so it went to Boston to Detroit and finally to Philadelphia.
“I got to Philly and I had $40 to my name, the immigration guy said you can’t come into the country with just $40 and a pair of boxing gloves. She was like ‘you’re clearly coming to box and make money here.’ I said ‘no, I’m just here to train with Joe.
“Jesus Christ, it’s America, I’ve seen the movies I’ll get robbed so I’m not going to bring all my money. My family will send money as and when I need it.’”
Slone stepped into a boxing gym for the first time at the age of four. Everything he did in his life from that moment onwards was for the sweet science.
The opportunity presented by “Smokin’ Joe” was a once in a lifetime experience and it certainly shaped the rest of Richard’s life. However, things were almost very different as Slone’s world came crashing down around him momentarily.
“A week before I arrived I said to Marvis, ‘I’m ready to come, do you guys want me to bring anything?’ Marvis told me, ‘Pops had a change of mind. You’re sixteen, man, you’re too young.’ I pleaded with him and said ‘Marv, even though I am sixteen I’ve grown so much. I’ve worked on the doors, I’ve lived on my own since I was fourteen. I’ll sleep in the garage, man, anything. I’m not a pussy! I will sign any waivers you can’t take this dream away from me.’
“‘When pops makes up his mind, that’s it, man.’ Marvis continued. ‘The two years will go fast.’
“I remember I had tears running down my face as I said, ‘Marv, you can’t take away this dream.’ I said let me talk to him [Joe] because he’s a patriarch and he’ll know where I am coming from.
“After five minutes of talking to Joe and expressing how bad I wanted it Joe said ‘come on, son, we’ll pick you up from the airport. On one condition, if you don’t make it I don’t want any whooping and hollering. If there is, you’ve got to go.’ I said that was fair enough. ‘If you don’t like what you see we’ll shake hands and I’ll be on my way.’ He gave me the chance.”
Philadelphia was a long way from home for Richard and one hell of an eye-opener. The teenager had traded farms and the countryside for the ghetto all for a dream.
“I’m from a really rural area where there were more sheep than people, it was a real working class. There certainly wasn’t much crime back then in the eighties it was a pretty clean and hard working place. So, to come to Philadelphia was a total shock.”
Over the years Richard and Joe became more than just a teacher and a student. They were more than just accomplices. They had a true friendship, an unbreakable bond. Brothers that didn’t share the same bloodline.
“We had a mutual respect and a brotherly love for each other for many years. I was a pallbearer at his funeral, which was likely my biggest honour in my many years in the fight game. We were best friends. He would tell me things that he couldn’t tell his kids about; his womanising, his finances, there were [other] things, we had a very special relationship.
“But he was hard [on me in the gym] he wouldn’t give me any breaks. For example, he would expect me to hang out with him, which I loved doing, he would say let’s go to New York. He loved to drive and New York is a two and a half-hour drive from Philadelphia.
“So, we would drive to New York in his Cadillac, I’d be knackered as I would’ve been up from six in the morning running then spent the day training and then all of a sudden its four in the morning and I’d be dressed in a suit and he would drop me off about four miles from the gym, this is at four o’clock in the morning, and say ‘time to get out and do your roadwork.’
“I was like, let me get a couple of hours sleep first or at least let me get into my running gear and he was like ‘nope, you do it now otherwise you’ll never get it done.’”
Richard, or “Slogger” as he is known to his friends and family, can recall enough memories and stories to fill a book twice over. But, the one memory that stuck out was one that occurred within a week of him stepping off the plane in Philly.
“It belongs in a movie. But the best story and the best memory that I have was the first week I was there, there was a bodega, which is a small shop in America, it’s kind of like a corner shop. But this particular bodega was known for selling drugs. It had bulletproof glass everywhere and it had nothing but scumbags hanging outside. Homeless, hookers, drug dealers. It was 100 yards from the gym.
“We walked over there in daylight. About 2:00 PM he said, ‘Come over, just take a walk, I’ll show you where the store is if you get hungry, want a drink.’ So we walked over and a couple of people said, ‘Hey Champ.’ You know, a couple of these bums and drug dealers and stuff.” Slone continued.
“He had his stetson hat on, he liked his stetsons, and he walked with a limp. And he walked over there and I felt like I was walking with Clint Eastwood. He had a six-shooter on his side, open carry gun. I’d never seen such a thing being from England. And I’m like, Jesus, we’re in the Wild West here. He walks over and he says, ‘Everybody gather around, gather around.’ They all come around. I assume they thought he was going to give them money because he often did.
“Like a gunslinger from the Wild West he said, ‘All right, this is Richard. Richard is from England and Richard is my son.’ He said, ‘If any one of you motherfuckers fucks with him, I will come back here and pull this gun out,’ he says, ‘and I will kill every one of your sons of bitches.’ I was like, holy shit, man. I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, this is Clint Eastwood and he was so surreal. I was like, am I dreaming? This is crazy. And everyone said, ‘Oh no, we won’t have any problem with him. If he needs something, we’ll help him.’ That didn’t go too far. About two years later I was stuck up in that place.”
Richard T Slone swapped clenching his fists to clenching a paintbrush as he now captures his memories in a moment that lasts a lifetime. His artwork, and signature especially, is now synonymous with boxing as you find his talents across the cover of The Ring magazine or fight programmes.
Now residing in Las Vegas, the home of boxing, however strangely a place Frazier never got to fight, Slone and his tales from Philadelphia live on. Richard really did lose a brother when Joe passed away.
“The best way I can sum him up, he truly was the kindest man I ever met and also the strongest man with the most principles that I ever met. If he said something, he meant it.”