COLUMBIA — Kenny Milligan, a retired professional boxer and trainer, met Raymond “Sting Ray” Fowler at a S.C. Boxing Hall of Fame event, heard Fowler’s story and the two struck up a friendship.
“I was fascinated by his story. We’ve been tight ever since,” said Milligan, who helped Fowler get back into fighting shape. “I just pushed him.”
Milligan said witnessing Fowler’s transformation from a sickly 160 pounds to a heavyweight fighter, which Milligan dubbed a 150 percent turnaround, was utterly unique.
“I’ve never seen anyone in my life comeback and want to do it like Ray,” Milligan said. “He’s really got boxing deep down in it. He’s one of a kind, I’ve never seen anything like him.”
Fowler and Milligan decided to spar for a belt, The Champion’s Challenge Heavyweight Belt, which was awarded to Fowler.
“He earned it,” Milligan said. “Wasn’t nothing given. I would describe Ray as a die-hard. He will not give up no matter what gets in his way.”
Fowler said he’s proud of his belt, of which there is only one in the world and said he’s glad there’s only one.
“There’s only one of them, and I would never want anyone to have to go through what I went through to earn that belt,” Fowler said.
With the Champion’s Challenge Heavyweight Belt— and the work it took to earn it— in his past, and a foundation hopeful in his future, Fowler spends his time volunteering at the White Rock Boxing Gym, which is owned by Billy Stanick, who has been honored with the Floyd Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award and serves on the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and supporting charitable endeavors.
One such event recently brought him to Winnsboro, where Fowler said he was blown away by community spirit.
“When I saw those people coming together, it made me proud to be a human being,” Fowler said.
At the Winnsboro event, Fowler was joined by Kyle Nunn, former left tackle for the University of South Carolina.
Nunn said the two met at a charity event and soon realized they share commonalities.
“We realized there was a shared passion for helping others,” Nunn said. “We also had a common interest in boxing.”
Fowler helped train Nunn and introduced the former Gamecock to Milligan. Nunn attributes his 2-0 amateur boxing record to the quality of his training and said he finds Fowler’s story to be inspirational.
“It motivates me to be a better person when I can, and a better fighter,” Nunn said. “He’s a great friend and an even better coach.”
Universally, Milligan, Nunn and Kudrik said they hope Fowler is successful in starting a charitable foundation and said the work would suit him perfectly.
“He’s a guy, and there’s very few left, who enjoys helping others,” Nunn said. “I think it would be perfect.”
Battle of his life
When Fowler was younger, he had a difficult life. In fact, his wife Cyndi has said as much. He was abused as a child, been in street fights, beaten in brawls, had his heart stop during surgery. And he’s fought Stage 4 cancer.
Some might say all that tough guy stuff is what has given the 47-year-old Fowler the constitution he needed to fight for his life. His doctor would agree.
Fred Kudrik, medical oncologist for South Carolina Oncology Associates, treated Fowler for head and neck cancer and then Fowler underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment for the cancer.
“The chemo and radiation are a butt whipper,” said Kudrik.
Before the diagnosis, Fowler had been in excellent physical shape while training for a fight. This allowed for aggressive treatment.
Kudrik said the treatment wasn’t anything experimental, but Fowler’s relative health allowed him to tolerate a lot of chemotherapy.
“If he was an 81-year-old guy, I couldn’t have done what I did without killing an 81-year-old guy,” Kudrik said. “The more reserve you have, the more you can tolerate, and the better chance for results.”
Fowler said treatment was extremely physically taxing for him, as he also suffers from Fibromyalgia, but he was determined to remain as self-sufficient as possible.
“I never let anyone help me,” Fowler said. “I always walked or crawled anywhere I went. People got encouragement from that.”
Kudrik said after some relative low points, Fowler is doing well, and has been in remission for more than two years.
“Sometimes whupping someone’s tail gives you a better chance at knocking out the disease,” Kudrik said. “He was just woefully low. It’s a credit to his significant other to get him through. He’s been cruising the last couple of years.”
Fowler agrees with his wife’s importance to his recovery and well-being.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my rock,” Fowler said. “What can you say about a woman like that?”
Once his treatments ended, Fowler decided he would like to get back to doing what he loves — boxing.
So as a cancer survivor in his mid-40s, Fowler started to train.
He recalls crawling up his steps, throwing one punch at his bag, then half-crawling, half-falling down the steps.
“I just knew nothing was going to stop me,” Fowler said. “I can do anything through God’s strength.”
On any given day, Fowler said he exists at a seven on a traditional one through 10 pain scale as a result of his battles with various disease and three decades of intensive training.
“That burn from lactic acid, that’s what he feels all day long,” Fowler’s wife said.
Fowler said in his charitable efforts, he finds relief.
“I live life one day at a time, one hour at a time,” Fowler said. “Helping other people takes stuff away.”