In the early morning at the McCann Arena, the sounds of pounding leather and animalistic grunting can be heard coming from a small dance studio tucked above the building’s pool. But the students inside aren’t practicing the type of dance one would expect. The dance they are learning is one that involves gloves and punching bags – the dance of boxing.
Their instructor is a 75-year-old man who, even in the latter years of his life, still carries the physique of a professional boxer. His name is Ron Lipton, and he has had a vast and extensive career in boxing.
For Lipton, becoming a fighter was only natural because, for much of his childhood, he fought for his own life.
At the age of eight, Lipton was diagnosed with a severe case of ulcerative colitis, which is a disease that causes inflammation and ulcers to form all along the digestive tract. This forced Lipton to constantly be in-and-out of New York Hospital for about five years. During that time, Lipton underwent extensive procedures and was even required to complete his schooling from the hospital.
“I couldn’t gain weight and they thought I was dying,” said Lipton. “It was very rough. But finally, after all those years, I started to get better. And I told myself I would never go to a hospital again and I’m going to dedicate myself to physical fitness.”
Lipton took up bodybuilding and would go on to get his black belt in judo at the age of 21. At age 14, Lipton got into the sport of boxing., learning its history and he yearned to learn the sport for himself.
At a YMCA in Orange, New Jersey, Lipton spoke about his interest in boxing with Bill Grant, who had won the International Federation of Bodybuilding’s Mr. World competition in 1974. Grant suggested that Lipton go to a boxing gym in Newark, New Jersey. There, Lipton befriended and became sparring partners with legendary boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the subject of a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington movie.
“I would go to training camps with him before every one of his major fights in Madison Square Garden,” said Lipton. “I survived him, and after sparring with him, fighting anyone else was like nothing to me.”
Lipton’s friendship with Carter would last until Carter passed away in 2014 due to complications from prostate cancer. Even when Carter was wrongfully convicted for three murders, Lipton remained loyal to one of his best sparring partners and closest friends.
“We stayed pals and I stayed in contact with him all the way up until he died,” said Lipton. “And when he went to prison, I never turned my back on my friend. I visited him every month for 19 years and seven months. I never missed a visit.”
Lipton often tells stories of Carter, and many other legendary fighters, to his class. His stories tell of the days when he would partake in thousands of crunches and knuckle push-ups with Carter, or when he would travel and work on projects with boxing legend Muhammed Ali.
For the students of the class, hearing about the history of boxing from someone that lived it is just as exciting as learning how to box.
“It makes you realize how experienced he is and how much of a legitimate boxing icon he is,” said senior Jake Rigney, a student of the class. “His stories about his training with so many famous boxers is crazy because you always hear stories about those guys but he was actually there training with them.”
Eventually, Lipton became a police officer, working as a police firearms instructor, head of the SWAT team, and a detective for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I felt it was the most useful thing I could do to help people,” said Lipton. “I always tried to be the kind of officer that attempted to defuse situations. If there was someone who needed help that was being abused or a troublesome individual who simply needed someone to talk to with respect, I was the guy that they called.”
Even though Lipton was a full-time police officer, boxing never left his life. And in the early 1990s, the sport began to call Lipton back. Since he was still in good shape, had spent so much time in the ring, and had a deep understanding of professional boxing, it only seemed right that he would become a boxing referee.
“One day I went to a fight in Binghamton, New York, and I saw the commissioner Randy Gordon sitting ringside,” said Lipton. “I said to him that I could do this as good as anybody because a lot of these refs never had a glove on and I know how fighters feel, I know what a punch feels like. And I told him to give me a shot and told him about my background, and he said ‘Wow, you’ve got it.’”
From that point on, Lipton began a career as a referee that still lasts to this day. In that long career, Lipton has refereed the likes of Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Durán, and Tommy “The Duke” Morrison.
Lipton’s career as a boxer, referee, and renowned boxing historian has placed him in both the New York and New Jersey Boxing Halls of Fame. His induction to the New York Hall of Fame is a recent one on Sept. 19, 2021.
“It’s illuminating, just illuminating, to know that I not only have taught boxing history and studied it for so long but now I am part of it,” said Lipton. “It’s a very prestigious honor to be inducted into the New York Hall of Fame, as well as the New Jersey Hall of Fame. And I was inducted along with illustrious company.”
After gaining years of experience and credibility, Lipton has passed on his boxing knowledge to the students of Marist College. And it’s been something that he has been doing for nearly 20 years.
“Throughout the last 20 years at Marist my students come to me with enthusiasm and a desire to learn about boxing, its rich history and all its excitement,” said Lipton. “I teach them the rules and regulations of professional boxing, and how iconic fights have impacted on Americana, the world, and politics.”
Some may wonder why Lipton would teach college students, with little-to-no experience, how to box. Some may argue that it’s a waste of time. But for Lipton, training the untrained is an extremely rewarding experience.
“Everybody has to start out somewhere,” said Lipton. “I love the students at Marist, I love them like a father would. My main goal is that they have fun with it and that they learn a lot. And, over the years, I get the student evaluations back and I’ve been very fortunate because they are very glowing and appreciative.”
After two decades at Marist, nothing has changed. The Marist students’ love for Lipton’s boxing course still hasn’t wavered.
“I went in thinking the class would be more demonstration based and I didn’t realize how much working out you do,” said Rigney. “I didn’t realize how much repetition we would be getting and how much boxing technique we would learn. He’s teaching it the best way possible.”
If you find yourself wandering McCann in the morning hours of the week, pass by the building’s dance studio. You may just get a glimpse of a boxing icon teaching a couple of Red Foxes the dance of boxing.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Mackenzie Meaney
Photo courtesy of Ron Lipton