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Bernard Docusen, famed Fil-Am boxer, dies at 81

CHICAGO – Joseph Bernard “Big Duke" Docusen, a top contender for the world welterweight title in the late 40s, died last Sunday at the age of 81, a Filipino community leader said in an e-mail to community members Tuesday. Docusen died at a hospital in Detroit, Michigan, said Princess Emraida Kiram, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based, officer of the Filipino American Historical Society and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). A son of a former member of the Old Philippine Scouts from Rosales, Pangasinan in the northern Philippines, Regino Elegado Docusen, and a French mother, Viola DelMolle Lytell, Docusen suffered several heart attacks and lapsed into a coma and “fought until the end," according to his eldest daughter Patricia Ann “Patsy" Docusen-Maddox. Docusen is best known for his scrappy fight with Sugar Ray Robinson for the welterweight championship of the world on June 28, 1948 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Born on June 19, 1927, Ducusen started boxing at the age of 12. When he was 14, he won the 1942 National AAU Bantamweight title. He left high school in his sophomore year to work with his father and brothers as a shrimp trawler before turning full time as a professional boxer. Turning pro at 15, Docusen attracted big crowds in his native New Orleans, Louisiana due to his exciting, smooth boxing style. In 1948, Docusen challenged Sugar Ray Robinson for the world welterweight title. He was going toe-to-toe with Robinson, until he was knocked down in the 11th round. Robinson went on to keep the title. Docusen lost a very close 15-round decision to the man considered to be the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time. At that time, there were only eight weight classes and one champion per division. Docusen never got another crack at the title. By March 30, 1949, he had fought 68 bouts in four years as a professional, with one loss. .He defeated former champions and contenders Phil Terranova, Johnny Bratton, Tippy Larkin, John L. Davis and Gene Burton on his way to a log in a 73-10-6 pro record. He called it quits after suffering a TKO defeat from Joey Giambra in 1953. After retiring from the ring, Docusen moved to the Detroit, Michigan area where he worked as a welder and later as a custodian for a local high school. An active family man, he also hand-wrote his memoirs, “A Memoir, New Orleans Amazing Filipinos," t hat was edited by his daughter, Patricia Ann. Bernard was inducted into the New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1976 and the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008. Docusen married at age 17. Because Louisiana had a ban on interracial matches, New Orleans Judge Rene A. Vlosca ruled that Docusen and his older brother, Regino, were "half white" instead of "colored" (African-American) on March 29, 1949. Bernard and Regino were the elder brothers of bantamweight and featherweight contender Maxie “Little Duke" Docusen. The Docusens had been prevented from fighting in some states because they had been registered as "colored." The Docusens, according to surviving family, were actually of half-Caucasian and half-Filipino heritage. Ed Navarra, NaFFAA region 3 chair, who interviewed Docusen while alive clarified in the book, “Filipinos in Louisiana," (1988, A.F. Laborde & Sons) written by New Orleans-based Filipino American librarian Marina Espina, that claimed that Docusen’s father was one of the “Manilamen" who came to New Orleans in 1700s. Navarra learned that Docusen’s father was a member of the Old Philippine Scouts, the equivalent of the National Guardsmen in the Philippines during the early American Occupation of the Philippines and hailed from Pangasinan. Docusen’s father immigrated to the United States long after the “Manilamen" arrived in New Orleans. “The loss of my dad has left a hole in my heart. I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore. He was a true champion," Patricia D. Maddox said. Docusen is survived by his wife of 64 years Ernestine, six children (Patricia Ann, Jacqueline Ann, Marilyn Ann, Joseph Bernard Jr., David and Daniel), 15 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren, and 1 great, great grandchild. - GMANews.TV