I admit did not know the fame and achievement of Norman “Stoney” Stone when I first introduced myself to him at Somerville Boxing Club. A friend of mine on campus suggested I work out at the boxing gym because they offer free lessons. Never having experienced boxing before, I decided to give it a shot. I arrived at the place and instantly felt like I was on a Hollywood set. The air smelled of rubber and sweat. The sounds of gloves hitting punching bags rang throughout the room, with loud grunts following. Weights lay scattered, in varying levels of condition.
I found myself shocked at the diversity of the room, as men, women, and children from various ethnic groups all worked out with intensity. A man pointed me to the office where I could meet “Stoney.” I stepped in to see a room of blue collar Irish-Catholic and Italian-Catholic men and immediately introduced myself to the one I recognized from the Somerville Neighborhood News. Dressed in modest athletic clothing, he carried himself with humility and engaged in polite conversation with me.
I enjoyed hearing his thick Boston-area accent and the “ball busting” among the men. After a good workout with his long time friend, George, I said goodbye. I liked the place, and I liked Stoney. Little did I know that this former MBTA bus driver and Somerville native went on the adventure of a lifetime that led to the highest achievement in the boxing world.
A few sessions went by. I enjoyed them and took the place in. Eventually I saw a few photos of Stoney in his past. Questions popped into my head. My first internet search prior to arriving at SBC merely scratched the surface. A little digging led me to feel shock. This man trained
John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz, a two time heavyweight champion of the world! The excitement continued my search. YouTube videos showed Stoney in action for HBO specials that were sold around the world. I did not see the calm, peaceful man from my boxing lessons. The screen displayed a man filled with passion, competitive spirit, and aggression. In the ring he used the vocabulary of a tough Irishman growing up in Boston. The contradictions filled my thoughts. The next time I showed up to SBC I told Stoney I learned of his past. He laughed. I asked if he would be interested in an interview. He agreed, and then told me he had not done an interview in over a decade.
Question #1: How did you get into boxing and what kept you motivated enough to work as hard as you did?
Stoney: A friend of mine by the name of Paul Raymond got me involved when I was about seven years old. He used to take me to the gym with him. We would do different things, go back and forth. I just picked up a love for the sport. The only thing that got in the way was a thing called alcohol (laughs). Then I went to the service. I boxed a little in the service, boxed when I got out. But, alcohol just took over. Once I stopped drinking I needed something to do and I knew boxing was it. One of the first statements that I made when I got sober was, “I’m gonna go to the gym and bring home a world champion.” You know what I’m saying? And fortunately enough, that happened.
Question #2: You mentioned that you had a serious battle with alcohol. Can you tell us about that journey, understanding that you had a problem, and then overcoming it.
Stoney: The biggest thing for me was that I realized that the things I’d done, I didn’t really want to do. I’m not backing away from the fact that I was the one who had done everything. The thing is that I proved to myself when I stopped drinking, was that I didn’t do the things that I used to do. You know what I mean? Getting caught drunk driving, doing stupid stuff with people. I can’t say much about getting into fights because they still continued. But, I was in a lot of trouble with alcohol. I didn’t know it. My dad used to say, “If I had to do it all over again,
I would never pick up a drink in my life.” You know, I could say the same thing; I wish that I never picked up a drink in my life. I don’t know if my life would have changed, but my life is great. I have the opportunity to be around the guys, my cousin, my grandchildren. It’s just
amazing. And to be able to say what I said, and do what I had done! You know, John Ruiz got knocked out in nineteen seconds. No one wanted nothing to do with him. I mean nobody. Every time we went into an arena after he got knocked out they booed him. I got into a lot of
fights because of that. He came from being knocked out to being the heavyweight champion of the world. It was the drive that I had in me, from a higher power, that I put into him.
Question #3: You grew up in Somerville. Obviously the city’s changed a lot. What changes have you seen?
Stoney: I actually went to school here (in the same building where Somerville Boxing Club operates). The culture has changed 100%. It really has. It went from one end to the other. When we were here it was all Irish and Italians. Now it’s just integrated so much, it’s great! It’s a real good situation for a lot of people. You can come down and watch the people that are down here. Most of them are Spanish, a lot of them are Mexican or Latino. That’s who comes to the fights now. There’s not a lot of white people in the fight game anymore. From what I see.
Question #4: Somerville Boxing club has been open for a very long time. Can you think of a significant moment that made you proud to be in charge of this establishment?
Stoney: It’s been open for forty-three years. I have been in charge for the last thirty years. But, when we won the heavyweight championship of the world with John Ruiz. That was my proudest moment in boxing. To be able to overcome what we did, and do what we had to do; everyone was against us from the get-go. No one believed, no one. I was the only one. They all laughed at me, said all this, and said all that. But in true honesty, it turned out to be the right way.
Question #5 Do you have any goals or a vision for Somerville Boxing Club for the next five years?
Stoney: My goal is to try to keep the kids away from drugs and alcohol, and keep them off the streets. I know that I won’t be able to save everyone. I don’t know if I am going to save anybody. But one, is one less dead body out there. That’s my only goal. I already did all those things, you know being heavyweight champion of the world. My goal is try to keep the kids in the gym, keep the kids away from the drugs and the alcohol, and let ‘em go straight. That’s why I don’t charge down here. Some kids have money, some don’t. They don’t and they feel like they’re lost. They can’t come in, and I can’t see that. I never had any money growing up, he never had any money growing up (pointing to George). A place like this would have been ideal. I used to pay $6 a month to go to the gym in Boston. Some kids don’t even have that. It’s crazy. Then they get involved in drugs. My goal is to try keep the kids away from drugs and alcohol. We got some great fighters here: 19-0, 12-0, 6-0. That make you feel good.”
Conducting this interview and hearing Stoney’s responses gave me an enlightened perspective on this man. The enraged, testosterone filled beast that would even go after Ruiz’s opponents in the pre-match press conference, existed just as much as the reserved, jovial man that just wants to help kids in need.
Stoney’ greatest contribution extends beyond his success with Ruiz. It’s the culture he has established. Everyone comes to Somerville Boxing Club and pays homage to Stoney. On Wednesdays, he leads a group of friends to Alcoholics Anonymous. They come back to the club,
have some sandwiches, and enjoy life. The boxers train with the same passion that Stoney possesses. Even a young woman from Australia has recently come to train with Stoney. It’s a great establishment. Those who come in leave stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Lesley student Douglas Oakford, the person who recommended me to SBC and founder of the Lesley Boxing Club, said this about Stoney, “Meeting Stoney for the first time, he’s a very welcoming presence, an accepting man. The first time I sparred there he saw me go against a
person with a lot more experience than me. He saw that I put my all into it and told me to come anytime, and he would help me. He doesn’t care about your level as a boxer or fighter, he just enjoys having people there.” Thus, the ripple effect of Stoney’s decision to stop drinking alcohol has had a lasting impact: it has extended not only to himself, but to people from all over the world.