Home Boxing Eric Walker of ‘The Contender’ talks learning to box in prison and how it changed his life

Eric Walker of ‘The Contender’ talks learning to box in prison and how it changed his life

by Alice
Eric Walker of ‘The Contender’ talks learning to box in prison and how it changed his life

His boxing robe on, hood pulled low over his head, Eric Walker has already worked up a light sweat.

“Everything that I [have] been through in life prepared me for this moment,” he says while walking through the tunnel and into the ring for his first fight on “The Contender.”

Walker successfully outpoints John Jackson, the son of former welterweight and middleweight champion Julian “The Hawk” Jackson, via unanimous decision. The hard-fought victory brings tears to his eyes right in the ring.

Before Walker was fighting under the bright lights on the rebooted version of the reality show to find the next great boxer, though, he was scrapping for respect and survival in prison.

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Walker spent 13 years behind bars. In fact, prison is where Walker learned to box; it started as a defense mechanism and proving ground but blossomed into a passion.

“Hearing about the guys up in prison getting raped and stuff like that, I was determined not to let nothing happen to me,” Walker told Sporting News. “I actually got into boxing because I was fighting around prison just to earn my respect. I fell in love with it.”

Walker grew up in what he described as the hardscrabble neighborhood of Plaquemine, La., witnessing drug deals and prostitution regularly. When he was 7 years old, his dad died, leaving him with his mom. By the age of 12, Walker says, he was selling drugs and breaking into houses. What started as knocking off homes regressed into a five-month robbery spree by the time he was 15 as everything from local barbershops to restaurants fell victim to his reckless run. In January 1999, Walker was arrested on armed robbery and attempted murder charges.

Not too long thereafter, the judge presiding over his case tried him as an adult, banging the gavel down hard on his future.

“I knew that I was going to be gone for a long time because the charges that I was facing and how I got caught up,” Walker says. “But I wasn’t thinking that I was going to be locked up for [nearly] 15 years.”

A day before turning 16, Walker was hauled off to East Baton Rouge (La.) Parish Prison. Eight months later, he was moved again, this time to the Dixon Correctional Institution about 30 miles from Baton Rouge.

“It was terrifying at 15 years old being tried as an adult and sent to an adult prison at 16,” Walker says. “I was determined not to get into any type of prison gangs or things they had going in there, so I just set my mind of educating myself because I didn’t want to leave prison the way I came in.”

Walker partly accomplished the latter by seeking out guidance from senior inmates who showed him the ropes of how to move accordingly in prison and life in general. Despite making the effort to evade trouble, trouble still found him; Walker says he had to frequently fight inmates who disrespected him to prove to others that he was not to be messed with or tried in any fashion. That willingness to throw hands paved the way for Walker to learn about Dixon’s boxing program when he was 18.

To his astonishment, the prison’s boxing program was organized. Boxers wore headgear and fought three rounds at three minutes per clip. The program even came equipped with its own version of a sanctioned governing body with judges and commissioners. Walker says inmates from five different prisons fought against each other, with each complex hosting two boxing cards per year.

“Whichever institution won the most titles throughout the year, you won a banner,” Walker recalls.

Walker says that he and other inmates in the program would have up to nine fights a year in a season that stretched from February to June and August through November, with July, December and January being the offseason. In addition to Dixon Correctional Institution, one of the participating prisons was Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, La., which inmates would refer to as the “Valentine Massacre” in reference to the February boxing card to start the season being held there, according to Walker.

He adds that the fights would be held in makeshift rings at the facilities’ visiting areas, where family members would come to see inmates during the weekends. Family members could attend the bouts, too, with tickets being sold for $5 for adults and $3 for kids. Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. and commonly called Angola, was another of the participating institutions.

“You have to understand … you’re fighting against cons,” Walker says. “These guys were locked up for rape, murder, and they’re serving time — 40 years, 50 years, life sentences. I actually fought a lot of guys from Angola. A majority of my fights was with those guys and I fought a lot of lifers, so you had to be real tough.”

Real tough Walker was, cutting his teeth to amass a 61-1 record in three different weight classes (welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight) over the remaining 12 years in prison that he served, even earning the nickname “The Babyface Assassin.”

Despite defeating fellow inmates as easily as he did, Walker says he never feared any opponents plotting revenge while behind bars or in the prison yards. In fact, he experienced the opposite.

“I never had that problem and never saw that problem the whole time I was there because it was a respect thing before we got in the ring. We used to see each other every month and we had family members who met at the institutions,” he says. “If someone got injured, we prayed for each other. We even wrote each other. If one of us got in trouble and we’d be in lockdown, we used to reach out to each other and let him know like, ‘Man, I missed you at the fight. You don’t need to be getting in trouble.’ It was more so like a family to me.”

That “family” followed his moves upon his release from prison to become his fan base, too. Since he fought 62 fights in prison, Walker only had five amateur fights before turning pro, building up a 15-1 record and joining “The Contender.”

It only took two episodes of the show for Walker to step between the ropes. He challenged Jackson, who was regarded as one of the hardest punchers in the competition.

(The Contender)

Walker, 35, negated that with a high volume of punches, proving to be extra efficient with his jab and combinations, which he rode to get the W.

Not to mention, he earned high praises from the show’s host, recently retired boxing champ Andre Ward. Part of the second episode even had Ward sparring with Walker.

“Walker’s game is not one punch, his game is volume and he got my respect immediately,” Ward said during the episode. “I had to really go in my bag of tricks to offset the volume punching of Eric Walker.”

Not too shabby of acclaim coming from an undefeated former undisputed super middleweight and light heavyweight world champion.

Legendary trainer Freddie Roach, who works with the blue team on “The Contender” with Naazim Richardson, who spearheads the gold squad, was also impressed.

“Walker is one of the best guys [on ‘The Contender’],” Roach says on the show. “I’ve trained a lot of world champions and he has something in common with Manny Pacquiao — his speed. When you add speed and power together, that’s even a bigger asset, of course. Walker has a little bit of both.”

How far Walker gets on “The Contender” remains to be seen; however, how far he has already gotten in life after what he endured is inspirational.

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