Fresh off a marquee fight in Atlantic City, burly heavyweight boxer Bruce Perry returned to his Massachusetts home and was gearing up for one of his many morning jogs on Revere Beach.
The year was 1984 and the already established Perry was in his physical prime, climbing the heavyweight ranks in swift fashion. His sunrise beach trots were just part of his daily training routine — something that helped him remain in peak form as he inevitably endured blow after blow in the ring.
Unfortunately, this particular run didn’t start or finish like the others.
Instead, Perry’s car was struck by another driver before he even stepped foot on the sand. The individual had blown through a stop sign, with the impact resulting in a serious injury to Perry’s right knee.
Just like that, his prominent rise in the boxing world came to an abrupt halt.
“I had a bunch of torn ligaments and had to have reconstructive surgery,” recalled the Danvers resident, who still sports an extensive scar down the middle of his knee.
“It was tough,” he said. “That really put a hold on my career.”
Building his legacy
Perry wasn’t bred into a family of boxers, nor was he a fanatic of the sport growing up. In fact, during his teenage years at Dorchester High School, he was a standout football, basketball and baseball player, but had never seriously stepped foot in the ring.
At age 16, Perry moved out of his childhood house — just a short walk from the Wahlberg family home — and made ends meet through a local bartending gig. He even received a scholarship offer to play college football at the University of Michigan under legendary head coach Bo Schembechler, but reluctantly turned it down.
“It was just a mistake I made in life,” Perry said. “I should’ve went and played for Schembechler.”
While that may be true, Perry likely never would’ve strapped on the gloves if he had accepted the offer to play for the Wolverines. So it wasn’t all bad.
By the time he was 20, Perry began to realize his potential as a boxer.
“I really kind of just stumbled into it. I was working out at the gym and Sal Bartolo (a World Boxing Association featherweight champion in the 1940s) came up to me and started asking questions,” recalled Perry.
“‘I’ve never seen somebody with your size have such quick hands and quick feet,’” Bartolo said to Perry.
At the time, Perry stood every bit of 6-foot-4 and weighed in at close to 250 pounds of sheer muscle. He was a natural athlete, having played for the Charlestown Townies semi-pro football team, as well as the New England Patriots B team (the Colonials). Boxing seemed to come easily to him — undoubtedly due in large part to his upbringing on the rough streets of Dorchester, where it wasn’t uncommon for him to have to defend himself.
From that point on, it was all business.
Perry began training in South Boston and then at the New Garden Gym, eventually learning the craft of boxing from all-time greats like Bartolo, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, and Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta and his professional trainer, Dickie Divola. He met numerous other renowned champions, including Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
“Two of the only fighters I never got the chance to meet were Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson,” Perry said.
After about a half-dozen amateur fights, Perry entered the Golden Glove ranks and competed at New England Nationals, among other big-name bouts. A year off in ‘79 paved the way for his professional debut, and he went on to compete in 12 pro fights in 1980 alone.
“I fought a lot of good fights ... fought in Atlantic City a few times, fought down in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Madison Square Garden in New York, fought up in Canada once. But I never got to fight in Vegas,” said Perry. “I used to fight one night and play semi-pro football the next.”
Perry was at the top of his game, making multiple appearances in Ring Magazine as an up-and-coming heavyweight. A handful of his fights were even televised on ESPN.
The unfortunate car accident put all that on hold, but Perry did attempt a comeback in 1989 and likely would have had similar success if it wasn’t for another freak injury while he was on the job for Anheuser-Busch.
“I was making a delivery and fell down a bulkhead, and a glass bottle went right through my arm. That was it,” Perry said as he showed off the scar on his left arm.
Before he really even got started again, Perry’s future in boxing was over for good.
He finished his career with an impressive 61-6 record, including 47 knockouts.
But his fascinating life story? That was just beginning.
A steady and compelling career
As his boxing and football careers rolled on, Perry entered the workforce for Anheuser-Busch in 1979. He went on to drive tractor-trailers for the company for 40 years before retiring recently.
“It wasn’t my first choice; that would’ve been to play professional football or continue as a professional boxer,” admitted Perry. “But it was a good job. They took good care of us and I met a lot of good people.”
The free cases of Budweiser were certainly a nice perk, too.
In addition to his day job and prolonged athletic duties, Perry also did some television acting and had a real passion for it. He appeared on 12 episodes of the popular 1980s show “Spenser: For Hire” as well as an episode of “Miami Vice.”
But it was his involvement as a limousine chauffeur that Perry really made his mark.
For the past 30-plus years, Perry has served as a driver for Dav El/BostonCoach. His boxing background and overall strapping figure made him quite the bodyguard, as well. When high-profile celebrities — such as musical groups and actors and actresses — rolled into town, they often requested “Big Boy Bruce Perry” as their personal driver.
It’s a gig that’s allowed him to meet and befriend countless people over the years and continue to build relationships to this day, he said.
The next chapter
At 65 years old and hobbled by injuries from over the years, Perry could easily settle down and enjoy his retirement on the North Shore. But that’s just not how he’s wired.
Instead, he continues to work for the limousine company, offers private bodyguard services every so often, and works out seven days a week at Peabody’s Work Out World.
Now he plans to get back in the ring and test his mettle as a boxing referee.
“(The limo driving) is a fun job, but I miss boxing,” said Perry. “I can’t be a trainer and referee at the same time because it’s a conflict of interest, but I’m going to Bunker Hill Community College to take a referee course and hopefully start reffing at the amateur and professional level.”
Thanks to the help of his real estate agent Denise Lake, wife of longtime friend Joe Lake, Perry gets to call Danvers his new home as he embarks on his new path. He moved to town three years ago and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
“I wish I moved here 20 years ago,” he said. “I’ll probably spend the rest of my life here.”
Perry is a huge supporter of Lake, a boxing trainer out of West Peabody, and has done everything he can to help young aspiring boxers reach their goals.
“Joe’s the best trainer around. If I was young again, he’d be my trainer,” said Perry.
As Perry makes his push back toward the boxing circuit as a referee, he plans to continue to spread his love and passion for the sport with hopes that it will return to its once-celebrated glory across New England.
“There’s just not as many gyms dedicated to boxing any more. It’s sad,” said Perry. “But it’s starting to make a little bit of a comeback. It’s doing really well in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and starting to come back in Massachusetts, too. There are more and more fights, which is great.”