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Boxer Bivins Makes Biggest Comeback

August 13, 1998

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Although it is dark and silent inside the Loft Boxing Club, Jimmy Bivins imagines he can hear the speed bag pumping and jump-ropes swishing in the gym where he used to train.

He walks gingerly with a cane and can’t really move his left arm, the one that used to flick jabs at Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore.

``I feel OK,″ says Bivins, the boxing great found neglected in the attic of his daughter’s home in April.

He knows this is the greatest comeback of his life.

Bivins, a top contender in the light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions in the 1940s and ’50s, was found amid squalid conditions four months ago. Part of the middle finger on his right hand had to be amputated. He nearly lost a leg that was wracked with infection. He is partially blind in his right eye.

But after two hospital stays and nearly three months in a nursing home, Bivins, 78, is back on his feet. He visits a stuffy old gym three times a week with friend Gary Horvath, who helped nurse him back to health.

``It’s Jimmy Bivins again, back in the gym, being himself,″ said Horvath, trained by Bivins in the 1960s. ``The inspiration that the kids get, the kids are real loving toward him. They look up to him. He gets better respect or attention around here than I do.″

Bivins weighed only 110 pounds when he was found wrapped in a soiled blanket in a dank, filthy attic. Only the determination and years of conditioning that made him a 5-foot-9 fighting machine got him through the crisis.

``I just put my mind to it and came on through it,″ Bivins said softly, sitting ringside Wednesday in the gym where he tutors about a dozen of Cleveland’s up-and-coming fighters. ``I said, `I got to get up and walk again.′ I had a lot of boxing friends come around, and that made me feel better.″

Bivins now weighs 176 pounds, one pound over the light-heavyweight limit. Wearing a new outfit of slacks and a fashionable collared shirt, he climbs slowly into the ring, grasping the squeaky ropes frayed by heat and musty air. Once inside, he seems to move faster, gliding on the faded canvas.

``This is where I used to rest,″ Bivins jokes, leaning against the ropes in the corner.

The wit and old boxing bravado are sharp as ever. He recalls his fights with the likes of Louis, Moore and Ezzard Charles. His career included a 28-bout unbeaten streak from 1942-46 and eight victories over future champions.

``They were going around saying they were going to knock me out, and they didn’t even knock me down,″ Bivins said.

Horvath, 51, was named Bivins’ legal guardian on July 9, and three days later, he was released from the nursing home. His daughter, Josette, and her husband were indicted on neglect charges on June 23.

Horvath organized a boxing benefit in June that raised $6,100 for Bivins’ hospital bills. Bivins, born in Dry Branch, Ga., near Macon, now lives with two sisters.

After years away from it, he came back to the gym on his first day out of the nursing home. The boxer walked slowly to the rusted metal door, guarded by a giant padlock, and stepped into the makeshift lobby to let the memories bombard him like a punch combination.

``It was quiet, just like it is today,″ Horvath said. ``He said, `I can hear them now.′ You can hear the workouts and the noise and everything that a gym makes. If these walls could talk, I’m sure there’d be a lot of stories.″

The gym, across the street from a Baptist church, has one speed bag, two scales, five cracked mirrors and gloves and headgear stacked in a metal cabinet. The floor creaks, the walls await a paint job. Its origins as a church and movie theater are obvious from the high, curved ceiling and balcony from which a choir once belted out gospel.

With its rundown, humble atmosphere and thick air, it seems a perfect place to prepare fighters for their sweaty, brutal trade. They listen as Bivins punishes the speed bag with his one good arm.

None of them has trained harder than Bivins these past few months.

``If I got something to do, I go on and do it,″ Bivins said. ``It’s just like training. If you have something to do, and they want to see if you can do it or not, I show them that I can do it.″

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