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Remembering Champ Cleveland ‘KO’ Parris

Sports Scope
  • Cleveland ‘KO’ Parris. Late Bahamas heavyweight champion.

Guardian Columnist/Sales Executive

Published: Apr 16, 2012

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One of the most compelling boxers in Bahamian history has passed away.

When he died recently and his burial was scheduled for April 13 at the Most Holy Trinity Anglican Parish in Stapledon Gardens, Cleveland ‘KO’ Parris was 74 and an almost forgotten sports figure. It is truly amazing how so many sporting heroes and stalwarts from other sectors of our society are swept aside in the flow of this nation’s history.

Those who remember how fearsome Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Mike Tyson were in their prime would be able to relate to the aura of Parris. There was a time during the very late 1950s and early 1960s when he was viewed as undefeatable. In fact, my recollection is that he retired undefeated.

Parris was an enigma. He was indeed every bit a paradox. He emerged seemingly out of nowhere. The boxing heavyweights talked about at the time of his emergence were George Knowles, Roy Armbrister and a young Leonard ‘Boston Blackie’ Miller. All of a sudden, there was Parris. He fought Miller for the Bahamian heavyweight title on February 29, 1960. Parris was such a powerful puncher that it was difficult for him to find sparring partners.

A wily Miller managed to survive the 10 rounds, losing the bout unanimously. Miller had to be artful, crafty, sneaky and swift on his feet to get out of the way of Parris’ big blows. To put it bluntly, Miller, courageous as he has always been throughout his life, stayed away from Parris. He never got into the ring with Parris again. Actually, Parris didn’t fight for very long after the Miller bout. In this country, we are terrible when it comes to keeping records. The Bahamas Boxing Commission (BBC) does not have the complete ring record of Parris and many other boxers, unfortunately.

In remembering Parris however, one defense (a knockout over Bomber Smith) and a match against an American (Levi Forte) happened. Then, Parris was gone. It was as if he simply disappeared from the scene. He attended very few boxing shows after he retired. He was seen for a while, and then, never again at boxing matches.

The truth of the matter is, Parris was very much an introvert. He was not a snob who did not wish to engage others. No, he was not that at all. Parris certainly was not self-centered. Goodness sake though, he was shy. I believe in my career I have been (and still am) as aggressive as any other media person. However, I was never able to get much out of Parris. Very early, some 40 years ago, I sought him out for an interview. He made a few comments and just shook his head and said his “fighting days” were behind him.

There was one other occasion. I approached him and he simply shook my hands and indicated very politely that he didn’t want to say anything. I respected him. I never bothered him again. Really, I never saw him again. His quiet attitude was a source of mild frustration for his father, Arthur Parris Sr. Once ago, the late Arthur Parris Sr. and I were friendly and he lamented often when we talked sports and the conversations shifted to boxing. He didn’t quite understand his son.

“I can’t reach him,” he would say. I always understood though, the pride he felt for what Cleveland had achieved. Now, the quiet has become the ultimate silence. Cleveland ‘KO’ Parris is gone. May his soul forever rest in peace! I offer condolences to his wife Carolyn, his children and the rest of his family.

To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at sturrup1504@gmail.com.

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