Back in the mid-1970’s, Richie Kates was making a name for himself around the world.
Kates, who grew up in Bridgeton, grew into a light-heavyweight boxing contender, fighting for the world championship belt twice.
Now, Kates’ name is being remembered in his hometown.
In August, a street in Bridgeton was named Richie Kates Way by city officials during a ceremony to honor the boxer.
“I really didn’t expect it,” Kates said. “It caught me by surprise. It felt weird to be alive and to see that.”
A recent documentary called “Uncommon Journey” told the life story of Kates, a courageous and inspirational journey of growing up working the farms of Cumberland County with his parents, John and Alice, who were migrant workers from Georgia, and his 10 siblings to fighting for the world title.
“I do really feel good about it,” Kates said about his career in the ring. “I started my boxing career by saying I was 18 years old when I was 16. I was able to do a lot of things as a pro.”
Kates started boxing out of a gym in Millville as an amateur and soon made his pro debut in 1969 while a sophomore at Bridgeton High, winning a four-round decision over Bobby Haynes in Baltimore.
The 175-pounder retired in 1983 with a career record of 44-6 and 23 knock outs. The record is even more impressive since he fought during an era when the light-heavyweight division was loaded, including Camden’s Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Washington Township’s Mike Rossman and Philadelphia’s Matthew Saad Muhammad.
Kates fought for the World Light-Heavyweight Championship on two occasions against Victor Galindez. He suffered a 15-round knockout to Galindez in 1976 and a year later he lost a 15-round split decision to Galindez in the rematch.
Kates, 64, now lives in Vineland. He says people still recognize him.
“They tell me I look young,” Kates said with a laugh.
Over the last couple of months, Kates has been back to “his street” in Bridgeton.
“I’ve been there a few times,” Kates said. “It is really an honor and I’m very appreciative.”
When jokingly asked if he still has his left jab, Kates laughed and said, “that’s all I got.”
Actually, Kates has much more. He has his wit and he keeps in physical shape
‘I’ve always taken care of myself,” he said.
Kates helps trains young fighters in a Vineland gym.
“I was just at the gym an hour ago,” Kates said the other night.
Kates is working with young fighters, not much older than he was at 16-years-old stepping into the ring.
“I enjoy doing it because it is my way of giving back to the community,” Kates said. “I believe in the philosophy of ‘each one, teach one.’ I believe in passing it on to someone else.”
And now he has a street to remind each one just how great he was.