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The Most Well Known Criminals in Boxing

Mike Tyson vs Clifford Etienne

A look at some of the crimes and punishments of the biggest criminals in boxing.

Boxing has long been considered the shadow of the sports world. This sport is mired by the presence of the undereducated, impoverished and desperate. Much of the American boxing industry has been controlled by gangsters from the early days to the modern confines of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It is a world that makes its living inside and outside the construct and confines of US gambling laws.


• Sonny Liston while serving time in a Missouri penitentiary for assault.
• Etienne had a 30-0 record with the “Gunslingers, the prison boxing team.
• Don King was head of an illicit gambling ring making $15,000 a day.

Unfortunately, the sport of boxing hasn’t changed much nowadays. Boxers still lack a union, health insurance plans, or few rights outside of the exact language written in their contracts. Promoters/managers like Don King, Bob Arum and Al Haymon have held “god like” dominance over the careers of boxers. Let’s take a look at some of those figures who may have gone one step too far and got caught in the act.

Sonny Liston’s aura of insanity and Etienne’s cocaine-driven rage.

Sonny Liston mugshot

Former Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston was never considered a “nice guy.” In fact at the time of his reign in the early 1960’s Liston was an imposing figure that intimidated most of the boxing and non-boxing world. Even Muhammad Ali, despite his tactics to frustrate Liston, spoke of his awareness of Liston’s reputation. “I act crazy. He is crazy.” Perhaps this was the results of the two blank gunshots Liston fired at Ali.

Learning to box, while serving time in a Missouri penitentiary for assaulting a policeman and stealing his gun, Liston had most of his career under mafia control. Liston was arrested another time for impersonating a police officer and throwing a security guard in a garbage can. Liston was found died in his Vegas home with definite causes unknown. Although his medical report suggests drug overdose, some say it was heart disease.

There is little known about Clifford Etienne’s past. It is known that Etienne was born in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1970. From there to the time he was serving a 40-year sentence for armed robbery is draws a blank. At that time, Etienne, a George Frazier fan, learned to box and became a member of the “Gunslingers, the prison boxing team, and amassed a record of 30-0. Once released, “the Black Rhino” became a professional.

US gambling news caught up with him after Etienne was the victim of a 49-second knock out by Mike Tyson in 2003. Two years later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while high on cocaine, he entered a tirade at a check cashing shop. Etienne fired a shot in the air with his handgun, and carjacked two different vehicles while escaping the police. Once apprehended Etienne was charged with 1st degree murder of a police officer, armed robbery and kidnapping. He is now serving a 105-year prison term.

De Jesus kills in traffic and Don King kills while numbers trafficking

de Jesus Duran

Esteban de Jesus is a former world lightweight champion form Puerto Rico. He was gymmate of boxing legend Wilfred Benitez. Wilfred’s father Gregorio Benetez, the first boxer to defeat Roberto Duran after he turned pro, was Esteban’s trainer. Going by the name “Vita”, Esteban amassed a record of 58-5. Unfortunately, Esteban developed a drug habit.

In 1981, Esteban found himself in an altercation with a teenager amidst a traffic jam. The dispute resulted in Esteban shooting the 17-year old in the street. While serving time, Esteban found religion and became a minister. After the Governor of Puerto Rico found out Esteban contracted the AIDS virus, he was granted a pardon. Esteban would suffer a fate worse than prison and died from complications resulting from AIDS in 1989.

Don King is synonymous with sports criminals and website conspiracies. Yet he’s been courted by legal entrepreneurs such as Donald Trump and invited by two different U.S presidents to the White House. In the 1950’s he was head of an illicit gambling ring making $15,000 a day. He also paid a portion of his earnings to local Cleveland mafia bosses for protection. Between 1950 and1966 King was arrested over 30 times.

Once in Cleveland, a policeman was called to a situation involving assault. While approaching the scene, the officer saw one man stomping on another. Noticing the firearm in the attacker’s hand, the officer pulled out his gun and told the man to drop his weapon. The man threw the gun and kicked the man one more time to the head killing him. Having spent $30,000 buying off witnesses, Don King was charged with a reduced sentence and served four years in prison for manslaughter.

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