The professional boxing world is populated by more than just the title contenders that get national television exposure and press acclaim. There are also the "gatekeepers", fighters that new up-and-coming stars must defeat in order to be considered a title contender. The largest segment of the population in the world of boxing, however, is constituted by the journeymen.
Journeyman boxers are, to put it simply, the boxers whose job it is to be a warm body for better boxers to beat on, hone their craft, and most importantly, pad their statistics. Mike Tyson didn't earn the 28-0 record that catapulted him to his first title shot by beating guys like Evander Holyfield every fight; he earned it by beating the journeymen. Journeyman boxers treat the sport as their profession rather than as a vehicle to superstardom. They float from territory to territory serving as fresh meat for any promoter that will sign them, often earning just enough money to get by. They can serve as fill-in opponents when scheduled fights fall through, or serve as a "tune-up" fight for a gatekeeper or a contender.
In the world of journeyman boxers, there is perhaps none more prolific than Reggie Strickland. In a career spanning just shy of two decades, Strickland accumulated two records that are likely never to be broken in the world of boxing: the most professional fights fought, and the most professional fights lost. In an amazing 363 official matches fought, Strickland lost 276 of them. It would be easy to chalk up a record such as this as the mark of an untalented fighter, but a closer look at Reggie Strickland's career reveals another, more telling side of the story.
Reggie Strickland began his professional career on January 6, 1987 in a super middleweight bout against fellow newcomer Ellery Thomas. Strickland lost the bout by unanimous decision. Nearly three months later, he would have his second fight, and first victory, when he scored a TKO over newcomer Thomas Burton in the third round. It would be Strickland's last taste of victory for nearly two years.
In the Spring of 1989, Strickland had accumulated a 1-9 professional record, and as many in the boxing world before him had done, began traveling all over North America fighting more matches in a month than many title contenders do in a year, competing under many different pseudonyms in order to keep his drawing power alive. At the peak of his activity, Strickland reportedly fought 13 fights in one month, and a widely circulated story among his peers says that he once fought two matches on a single card. For some perspective, a typical title contender will sometimes go several months between fights.
Strickland's career took him all over North America, and pitted him against some famous names. He faced off against Randall Bailey, Cory Spinks, Raúl Márquez and Keith Holmes, all future world champions in the super middleweight class. His last taste of victory came in 2004, when he handed the undefeated up-and-comer Tyrone Roberts his first loss. In October of 2005, at the age of 38, Strickland lost his 276th and final match to Dante Craig, a unanimous decision in 6 rounds, and retired from the world of boxing.
The Other Side of the Story
Despite holding the all-time record for professional losses, Reggie Strickland was by no means a bad boxer. His 66 professional victories are more than those of 37 out of the 42 recognized world heavyweight champions in the history of boxing, and more than any champion since George Foreman. He was only knocked out 25 times in all of his losses, meaning that over 90% of his 276 losses came as a result of a decision based on points awarded by the judges, a measure than can be subjective in smaller, less professional promotions. Strickland himself has gone on the record as saying that many of his losses were "political calls", and given the fact that journeyman boxers are often used to pad the statistics of up-and-coming stars, there may be a grain of truth to this.
Beyond the numbers, however, Reggie Strickland can best be said to exemplify the story that is the large majority of professional boxing careers. It can take a boxer many years to realize that his career has become that of a journeyman. In the meantime, he may continue to train and hope and dream under the belief that he is only one fight away from making the big time, when in reality he's only one fight away from being washed-up for good. The difference between Strickland and all of the other journeymen in the world of boxing, however, is that he appeared to embrace the status. Once asked point-blank by a reporter about what he did to train for a fight, Strickland famously replied, "I don't."
Strickland was, to a certain extent, a promoter's dream. He was a competent, experienced boxer who would fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, without any advance notice. He treated boxing like most other people treat their jobs: as something that you just get up in the morning and do, no matter how you might be feeling that particular day. No matter how many times he lost, he kept at it night after night, year after year, earning the money he needed to get by, until he simply aged himself out of the business. As such, Strickland can be considered a testament to his chosen profession, and a model for future journeymen to follow.