The Murder of Samuel Teah Calls to Mind Other Boxers Who Were Homicide Victims


By Arne K. Lang

There will be a boxing show this Friday at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena, a low-budget card featuring the return of former IBF 130-pound world title-holder Tevin Farmer. During the event, there will assuredly be a somber moment when those in attendance stand and silently pay homage to Samuel Teah as the timekeeper tolls the traditional 10-bell farewell. Teah passed away last week on Black Friday, Nov. 24, another victim of America’s epidemic of gun violence. He was 36 years old.

Teah was shot in the mid-afternoon during an altercation that spilled onto the sidewalk of a street in Wilmington, Delaware, and died at a Wilmington hospital. As of this writing, there’s been no arrest, but the shooting was apparently not random. A bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, Teah was purportedly in Wilmington (roughly 35 miles from his home in Philadelphia) to visit the mother of his child.

Samuel Teah fought as recently as this past May when he suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of journeyman Andrew Rodgers at a show in Pennsylvania’s Newton Township, reducing his record to 19-5-1. Two months earlier he had spoiled the undefeated record of Enriko Gogokhia, an Egis Klimas fighter (think Oleksandr Usyk and Vasily Lomachenko) on a card in Ontario, California. This embellished his reputation as a spoiler. Earlier in his career, he had spoiled the undefeated record of O’Shaquie Foster, winning an 8-round unanimous decision over the man that currently reigns as the WBC world super featherweight champion.

What made Teah’s death more tragic, if that were possible, were all the tragedies that he had overcome. He was born in Liberia when that country was embroiled in a civil war. The family escaped to a refugee camp in Ghana and eventually reached the United States, settling first in New York and then Philadelphia. On the day after Christmas in 2008, when Teah was 21 and working at a Home Depot, he lost six members of his family in a fire that swept his mother’s West Philadelphia duplex after a kerosene heater exploded.

For some, Teah’s violent death may call to mind the murder of another Philadelphia boxer, Tyrone Everett.

That’s an awkward comparison.

Tyrone Everett was a world-class fighter. Six months before he was shot dead by his girlfriend in May of 1977, Everett, then 34-0, lost a 15-round split decision to Puerto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera in a failed bid to win Escalera’s WBC junior lightweight title, a decision so rancid that it stands among the worst decisions of all time. Moreover, the circumstances of Everett’s murder were sordid. His girlfriend, no stranger to the police, fatally shot him after finding him with a transvestite and there was heroin in the apartment they shared. (Editor’s note: For more on this incident, check out the new book by TSS contributor Sean Nam: “Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing” available on Amazon).

Samuel Teah was no Tyrone Everett. A man of deep faith, Sam’s positive attitude, despite all his tribulations, was infectious. “Everyone liked Teah,” said prominent Philadelphia sports journalist Joe Santoliquito who, upon hearing of Teah’s death, tweeted, “he will always have a special place in my heart.”

While the circumstances are different in every case, Teah joins a long list of boxers who met a violent death. If we limit the list to fighters who were still active at the time of their passing, here are four that jump immediately to mind.

Stanley Ketchel

The fabled Michigan Assassin, Ketchel met his maker on Oct. 15, 1910, at a ranch in Conway, Missouri. In the immortal words of John Lardner, “Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.”

Battling Siki

Famed for knocking out Georges Carpentier when the “Orchid Man” held the world light heavyweight title, Siki was only 28 years old when he was gunned down in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan on Dec. 15, 1925, but by then the Senegal-born Frenchman had already degenerated into a trial horse. Siki’s body was found in the middle of the street with two bullets in his back fired at close range by an assailant, never identified, who was thought to be avenging a beating he suffered at one of the speakeasies that Siki was known to frequent.

Oscar Bonavena

At age 33, Oscar Bonavena was still an active boxer when he was gunned down on May 22, 1976, on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, at the front gate of the infamous Mustang Ranch, a legal brothel. Bonavena had come up short in his biggest fights, losing a 15-round decision to Joe Frazier and losing by TKO in the 15th round to Muhammad Ali, but the rugged Argentine was still a major player in the heavyweight division.

The shooter was a bodyguard for the brothel’s owner Joe Conforte, and rumor has that Conforte was the de facto triggerman, having Bonavena assassinated because the boxer was having an affair with Conforte’s 59-year-old wife Sally who was also Bonavena’s manager of record at this point in the boxer’s career. The story about it spawned “Love Ranch,” a 2010 movie that despite a seemingly can’t-miss storyline and a formidable cast (Joe Pesci played Joe and Helen Mirren played Sally) proved to be a box-office bust.

Vernon Forrest

While all homicides are tragic, some are more distressing than others and the death of Vernon Forrest on July 25, 2009, was particularly gut-wrenching. Forrest was shot twice in the back by would-be robbers with whom he exchanged gunfire on July 25, 2009 at a gas station in Atlanta.

Forget the fact that Forrest was a two-division title-holder who had regained the WBC world super welterweight title in his most recent fight with a lopsided decision over Sergio Mora. Few in the sport were as widely admired. His philanthropic work included establishing group homes in Atlanta for the mentally disabled. His death came just two weeks after the death of Arturo Gatti who left the sport following a loss by TKO to Alfonso Gomez in July of 2007 and died under suspicious circumstances at age 37 at a hotel in Brazil.

We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to Samuel Teah’s family and loved ones. May he rest in peace.
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In 2001 on the streets of Lowell, Mass, a young 5x Lowell golden gloves champion boxer named Luis Ayala was gunned down and killed at an intersection not far from where I lived at the time. He’d tried out for the 2000 Olympics as a super lightweight and was just 23. His murderer was tried and convicted. I don’t know for sure but I would assume he’s still in a cage where he belongs. That’s Luis in the picture.


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