CRIME STATISTICS for large cities tend to move up or down in any given year, but mere statistics never fully gauge the impact on lives that are played out on streets where drugs, guns and gangs are omnipresent, and trips to prison or the graveyard can hinge on something as tenuous as a momentary lapse of reason or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For all the terrific boxers produced in Philadelphia, many who might have been just as accomplished never reached their full potential because of the temptations and pitfalls of inner-city neighborhoods where despair and violence are all too common.
Some fighters who might have become casualties of urban life have succeeded in altering their destinies in a positive and beneficial way. Longtime former middleweight champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins was headed toward a dead-end future as a thug and career criminal when, during a youthful stretch behind bars, it dawned upon him that there had to be a better way.
Here is how it often goes for prospects with a chance to hit it big in the ring: Identified as hot growth properties, and as such possible superstars and millionaires, they draw instant "advisers" and hangers-on.
That highway to the top suddenly becomes a boulevard of broken dreams.
"I call them street managers," longtime Philadelphia promoter J Russell Peltz said in describing the would-be entourage members who seek to attach themselves to fighters on the rise like pilot fish do to sharks.
One fighter who seemingly has the chance to make it to the highest echelons of boxing is welterweight contender Mike Jones (16-0, 14 KOs), who swaps punches with late replacement Dairo Esalas (31-15, 25 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder Friday night at the Blue Horizon. Jones, 25, a North Philadelphian whose fringe NABA 147-pound title is on the line, already is ranked No. 11 by the IBF and WBA, and he is one or two high-visibility victories from charging up the ratings into major contention.
"It's not just that he can be my next world champion," Peltz said. "He has a chance to be a megastar. I'm looking for this kid to get it all."
So Jones seemingly has the goods to become another Hopkins, which is to say Philly's next franchise fighter. But does Jones, a devoted father of two daughters who still works at a home-improvement center in Cherry Hill, have the mental resolve to ignore the siren song of street people who see him as their own ticket to the big time?
Jones' support team - Peltz and co-managers Doc Nowicki and Jim Williams - believe their guy is well-grounded enough to avoid toppling into the sinkhole that has claimed the lives and primes of so many others.
"Mike Jones is very quiet," Nowicki said. "He doesn't curse, he bows his head and prays before he eats. But in the gym he's a workhorse. His lifestyle, as much as his talent, gives him a chance to be special."
In death, as in life, North Philly welterweights Garnet "Sugar" Hart and Charley Scott probably were destined to march in lockstep toward a shared destiny.
On Oct. 19, 1959, in Convention Hall, Hart and Scott engaged in one of the more brutal and memorable slugfests in local boxing history. Scott knocked out Hart in nine rounds to leapfrog past him into the No. 1 rating.
But the victory came at a cost for Scott, who was 58 when he died in 1994, as it did for Hart, who passed away in 2003 at age 66.
"That fight was a career-killer for both fighters," said J Russell Peltz. "After beating Hart, Scott lost back-to-back to Benny 'The Kid' Paret and was never again the fighter he had been. And, really, neither was Hart."
Scott, who finished with a 34-32 record that included 19 victories inside the distance, will be posthumously inducted along with Hart (29-7-2, 22 KOs) into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall on May 17 at Romano's Caterers in Philadelphia.
The list of living inductees is headed by two former world champions - Robert "Bam" Hines, 47, of the Logan section, who held the IBF light middleweight title, and Calvin Grove, 46, of Coatesville, who reigned as the IBF featherweight champ. Others to be honored include lightweights Sidney "Sweet Pea" Adams, 73, and Henry "Toothpick" Brown, 76, and middleweight contender Dave Tiberi, 42.
Non-boxers to be enshrined include the late cutman extraordinare Eddie "The Clot" Aliano and the late trainer/cutman Jimmy Wilson.