Boxer Scott LeDoux never won the world heavyweight title. But "for a guy with no talent and a big smile, I did OK," he once said.
The Crosby, Minn., native, who fought for the championship in 1980, died Thursday at his home in Coon Rapids after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was 62.
LeDoux was the only man to step into the ring with 11 heavyweight champions, including Muhammad Ali in an exhibition.
His overall record was a respectable 33 wins, 13 losses and four draws, but his power transcended the ring. The man who once knocked sportscaster Howard Cosell's toupee askew on national TV was executive director of the state commission that oversees boxing and related sports. He also was twice elected Anoka County commissioner -- by overwhelming margins -- before resigning last year because of his illness.
"A real-life fairy tale," former NHL goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch said of the close friend he met when both were students at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"I remember when he fought at Madison Square Garden, pointing at the marquee, and shouting, 'It says Scott LeDoux up there in lights. Scotty, it doesn't get any bigger than this!'"
But LeDoux, a poor miner's son who grew up milking cows, always put things into perspective with a quip that came as quickly as his overpowering right hand.
"When I was ranked seventh in the world, I was still ranked 25th at Tommy Byrnes' bar in Duluth," he joked.
Always the underdog
LeDoux lost to Larry Holmes in their title fight at the Met Center in Bloomington in 1980. But it was his 1976 fight against fellow Minnesotan Duane Bobick that drew 14,130 people to the Met Center -- still a state boxing gate record.
LeDoux's fans adored him because they thought he was one of them, an underdog who ignored the odds and kept plugging along.
Many recall with heavy hearts the story of his first wife, Sandy -- the real fighter in the family, he often said -- who was diagnosed with terminal cancer just months before LeDoux's bout with Holmes.
Sandy was given weeks to live. She lasted another 10 years -- through 11 surgeries and two experimental procedures.
"They saw me bleeding on the outside," LeDoux once said. "But Sandy was the toughest person I'd ever met."
He often credited Sandy's example and the care of his wife of the past 15 years, Carol, for helping get him through his bout with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. But he also credited his thousands of well-wishers.
What he wanted
LeDoux said years ago that all he ever wanted was for people to say to his son, Josh, and daughter, Molly, "Your old man was a helluva fighter."
His face once read like a road map that bobbed and weaved through boxing's last golden era. George Foreman bloodied his nose and opened a 12-inch gash above his left cheek.
"George Foreman hit me so hard my ancestors in France felt it," LeDoux said.
Friend and former Twins player and manager Frank Quilici said: "I told Scott that with the Foreman fight, he could have been the first guy who could have advertised at the bottom of his shoes." Holmes, who stopped LeDoux in seven rounds in their title fight, jammed his thumb in LeDoux's left eye. Ken Norton's uppercut lifted LeDoux's feet off the canvas. Mike Tyson, who hired the then-retired 42-year-old LeDoux as a sparring partner, opened an eight-stitch gash above LeDoux's left eye.
And Ali? In their five-round exhibition in 1977, the Greatest verbally singed LeDoux's ears.
Battles with Spinks, Norton
LeDoux earned a draw with Leon Spinks, the Olympic gold medalist who was undefeated at the time and shocked Ali to win the world title in his next fight. Spinks was so impressed that, after their fight, he went to LeDoux's dressing room, embraced his opponent and told him, "You're a warrior."
The Norton fight, in which LeDoux floored the man who broke Ali's jaw, ended in a draw. Norton ran into LeDoux and Carol years later. "You beat me up," he told LeDoux.
But there was also a much softer side to LeDoux. He worked tirelessly for charities, particularly Wishes & More. He was "truly a gentle giant," Anoka County Board chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah said Thursday.
LeDoux's ALS diagnosis came in 2008. He rarely missed County Board or Boxing Commission meetings until the illness forced him to resign both posts.
His wife, Carol, was elected to his County Board seat in November.
LeDoux refused to let his guard down, never asking for sympathy. Privately, he shared his fears and how he dealt with them.
"It reminds me of all those times I sat alone in those locker rooms, just terrified," he said when he learned he had but months to live, a prognosis he outlasted by more than a year.
"And then came the knock on the door and someone would say, 'Five minutes to go.'
"That's when I got brave."
In addition to his wife, Carol, and his daughter, Molly, son Josh, and their families, LeDoux is survived by two sisters. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419