In the smoky half-light of the Copa Room in Atlantic City's Sands Hotel, the ring announcer reads the judges' scorecards: "8-3-1, 7-4-1, 6-5-1. The winner, by unanimous decision, Wilford Scypion!"
But it's not quite unanimous. Lucille Fletcher, mother of Frank (The Animal) Fletcher, who lost that Feb. 13 middleweight fight to Scypion, is dissenting with vigor. A lean and active woman, she'd been prowling just outside the ring for all 12 rounds, yelling, "Dirty taxis! Dirty taxis!" which, translated out of her West Philadelphia accent, means "dirty tactics." On her card, The Animal was ahead 8-4.
She's still screaming as she climbs into the ring. "My son's been robbed!" she shouts uselessly. The outburst is not merely a display of maternal emotion, however. When it comes to boxing, Lucille knows more than the average mother. She has been a licensed amateur boxing judge for the last six years in Pennsylvania and Ohio. "She's a mouth, but a knowledgeable mouth," says Marty Feldman, The Animal's manager.
Two of Lucille's brothers were pro fighters, and three of her sons still are. And it was she who taught them all how to box. Some folks say she's still the best fighter in the family.
Until he met Scypion, The Animal seemed virtually untamable. He was 16-2-1, and in line to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the title. But Scypion controlled the bout by repeatedly tying Fletcher up, and as a result it's Scypion who'll go into the ring against Hagler on May 13. Lucille claims she would have taken three rounds away from Scypion for holding, butting and grabbing. She had a point: The fight looked more like a Greco-Roman wrestling match than boxing. On the other hand, her judgment may have been clouded by material concerns. A Fletcher-Hagler fight might have brought as much as half a million dollars to her Animal.
A born brawler—perhaps because she had 11 brothers and sisters—Lucille first got interested in boxing by listening to Joe Louis fights on the radio. "When he went into the ring," she says, "he didn't keep us waiting eight rounds to knock somebody out. And when he won, everyone on the block came out banging their pots and pans."
Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were her favorites. "That man could dance," she says of Robinson. "He'd come into the ring with a well-singed process and leave 15 rounds later with every hair still in place."
Lucille Turner—that was her maiden name—was a pretty good fighter herself, learning to punch while she was still getting a handle on the ABCs. "My mother and grandmother used to keep me nicely dressed with sashes on my clothes and ribbons in my hair," she says. "The other girls in school picked on me. My grandmother told me if I ever came home again with my clothes torn, she was going to beat me, too." When Lucille was eight, a classmate taught her how to put combinations together. By the end of fourth grade, she stalked the corridors of Hoffman Elementary School in West Philadelphia with such confidence the other kids were calling her Little Joe Louis.
With her friends Gloria Thompson and Rosetta Long, she formed a street gang called Glo, Ro and Lo. "I was the littlest, but the leader," Lucille says. "We fought other girl gangs with names like The Top and The Bottom. You never heard about nobody cutting or killing nobody, though. When the fighting stopped, we all shook hands."
Soon she was showing her brothers how to hold their hands and move their heads in a scrap. "She told us to stick with your jab and come over with your right," says brother Dick, who in the early '60s was ranked among the top 10 welterweights. "She taught us how to fight, but she never told us how to duck."