Sometimes you don’t want to write a story, because you don’t want to report on a fateful demise, yet it has to be done. This morning I awoke to tagged Facebook posts with the headline “Police arrest serial bank robber dubbed ‘button down bandit.’” I already knew what the story was about before I opened it: Former WBA welterweight champ James Page had been arrested for bank robbery. Again.
Page was a fairly well known fighter in the late ’90s and the powerful boxing columnist Mark Ortega has written numerous stories detailing what exactly happened during this period. To summarize the story, essentially Page tasted the evils of stardom. Page, a power puncher from the urban neighborhood of Pittsburg, Calif., could draw a crowd and possessed flair, which made him highly promotable. But whether it was him losing a fight at the wrong time or tales of his entourage famously trashing the Hilton in Concord, Calif. so bad that they never housed a fight again, Page never pieced it all together.
In 2001, months after losing his last bout to Andrew Lewis at the MGM Grand by TKO, a fight he claimed would be his last, Page was arrested in Atlanta just 45 minutes after he had robbed a Bank of America. Page was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail and seemingly done with boxing, but leading up to his release date, the boxing media heard whispers that Page was looking to make a comeback and demonstrate how a focused Page could be a dangerous foe for anyone. It was not until the Andre Ward-Chad Dawson weigh in where Page made his first appearance on the stage. Not unlike Denzel Washington in the final frames of “American Gangster,” Page walked across the stage looking around at how the world had changed, and seemingly no one in the crowd knew of him. Nick Cannon, who was the MC for the weigh ins, announced an interesting tidbit: Page would be fighting in Sacramento later that year.
It wasn’t easy to find. It took me a matter of chance as Mark Ortega essentially invited me up to the event on a whim, and I was lucky that I was even around. The Four Points by Sheraton in Sacramento is on the outskirts of town in a sleepy little corner near the airport. More than likely, it garnered most of its business from people who missed connecting flights. The Sheraton lobby had a table for the five media members who covered the event. It wasn’t a big deal at the time because the majority of press who covered local boxing probably planned on attending the next Page fight, since they figured this would be his gimme, an easy comeback fight.
The mood was jovial. It was the beginning of a bright future for the successful Sacramento promotion outfit O.P.P. Presents, with damn near all of Pittsburg in the building watching the fights as stars of the past such as Juan Lazcano sat front row just see to see Page make his comeback. Page made an entrance unlike any other fighter that night as he came out to Makaveli’s “Hail Mary” with a towel over his head. He was focused and, of the over 200 people attending the fight, essentially all of them were cheering for him. His foe, Ruhman Yusubov, was a journeyman who had mixed results throughout his career, but found work as a man willing to fight on a minutes notice in anyone’s hometown. What happened next is that of legend.
Page charged across the ring and nearly knocked out Yusubov in the first 45 seconds of the fight, as uppercuts destroyed Yusubov who looked to naturally try to clinch, but his pride stopped him from doing so. Page, the more muscular of the two, seemed to have used a majority of his energy quickly then almost got knocked out in return right before the bell in what was a fun opening round. The second round saw Page unwilling to box, coming straight forward and getting hit with power shots that finally, in the later stages of the round, he could no longer take. Page had lost his comeback fight, a fight 11 years in the making and potentially the one thing that kept him focused throughout the tribulations of his trial and incarceration.
It was assumed Page would retire and that was it, Father Time had defeated him. A month later his Facebook fan page posted a very odd message stating that “sometimes people take for granted the people who were always there for you through it all and unfortunately there will no longer be any more updates.” It was odd since it felt as though it was written by someone else who was angered at the troubled fighter and not Page himself. The page would then later be deleted. From then, it was just assumed that Page would open a gym in Pittsburg and focus on training youngsters with his renewed passion for the sport. Sadly, it looks like the opposite happened.
Page is a suspect in a string of Bay Area bank robberies between March and June of this year. Page was found guilty of robbing an Atlanta bank in 2001. The Button Down Bandit moniker is a tribute to the collared shirts the bank robber wore during heists. Page was arrested for the crimes this week. He told the Contra Costa Times that he plans to write a book about his life, and said he will contest the charges.
“It’s something I got to fight,” he said of the charges. “I’ll have my day in court.”
From the outside looking in, it appears as though Page had hit rock bottom and felt hopeless and resorted to a tactic that had gotten him out of tough situations before. Page will more than likely now have spent a third of his life in prison after he serves his sentence, and with little to be learned from it. It is sad when you see so much good, positives like inspiring the community to attend fights and fueling interest in smaller boxing club shows, get outweighed by the evils of life–the environments or situations that dictate our lives at times. That is the fate of Page, a man who was a champion and held his city in his fingertips, in a powerful clenched fist, but a man whose bad decisions set him back nearly a lifetime.