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On a humid Wednesday night, the Styx Sports Bar & Grill in North Miami Beach smells of Swisher Sweets and stale beer. Patrons lazily shoot pool, and hip-hop blares from the speakers as Randall Bailey feeds a dollar into a punching bag machine. Dressed in all purple — T-shirt, mesh shorts, and an off-color Marlins hat — Bailey pulls the bag down, steps back, winds up, and throws his right fist forward.
The machine rattles and rocks with the impact. Lights flash on the screen and the numbers on the display climb and climb. It's a new high score, but Bailey isn't impressed.
"Shit ain't even accurate," he says before drawing back and throwing another haymaker.
Bailey is used to his punches producing more dramatic results. Despite his slight stature — a few inches shy of six feet and just 155 pounds — he has racked up dozens of knockouts with arguably the most devastating right-handed punch on the planet.
"One either has power or doesn't, and Randall has power," says Robert Ecksel, the editor in chief of Boxing.com. "That's a gift from the gods."
It's a gift that's been routinely overlooked, though. Even Bailey's biggest win — a huge upset for a welterweight title last month broadcast live to a million viewers on HBO — was overshadowed by the next fight on the card, when Manny Pacquiao walloped Tim Bradley for 12 rounds yet lost in a laughable decision. Critics rightly point to the travesty as everything that's wrong with boxing, but they've missed that Bailey's fight is the story of what's right: a 37-year-old journeyman who, with one miraculous punch, earned the victory of his life.
"With Randall's punch, I don't care whether it's [Floyd] Mayweather or Pacquiao or anybody else," says Si Stern, his manager. "If a guy stands in front of Randall at the wrong time, he's going to get knocked out."
Bailey, born on September 13, 1974, has been delivering knockout blows since he was 6 years old. His father Randy left early in his life, forcing his mother, Cynthia King, to raise Randall on her own in Carol City. Older boys in the neighborhood would force Bailey and other kids to fight in the streets near North County Elementary School, a few blocks from Bailey's home. It didn't matter if the opponent were bigger or stronger; if the older boys said fight, Bailey had to fight.
"I saw shootings, dead bodies, really bad fights, people getting jumped... all kinds of nonsense," Bailey recalls. "I got jumped a couple of times, but you couldn't tell. They looked worse than I did. I got into a lot of fights, and I knew how to fight."
By the age of 14, Bailey had started selling drugs and messing around with guns. One day, he and his friends were hanging out in a room in the Crystal Lake Apartments on NW 207th Street. Bailey was sitting on the floor while a friend standing behind him toyed with a .30 caliber rifle. Suddenly, there was a deafening bang, and Bailey felt something zip past his leg. A round had gone off and buried itself in the floor right next to him.
Bailey stopped selling drugs when he was 15 — "I started getting involved with girls," he says by way of explanation — but guns continued to give him trouble.
On April 7, 1994, Miami-Dade police arrested him after a car accident near the West Bridge on State Road 112 when they discovered him carrying a concealed Browning 9mm pistol reported stolen from a Hialeah home two years earlier. That landed him in jail for a day. A year later, on August 29, 1995, he was again found carrying a gun that wasn't his. This time, police nailed him after he tried to throw a stolen .380 semiautomatic pistol under his Pontiac Grand Am during a traffic stop at the intersection of NW 60th Street and 18th Avenue. As a repeat offender, he was given 64 days in prison.
"That two months felt like a year, and that was enough for me," he says.
At 21, Bailey was a convicted felon and a dropout, having given up on school at 16. He already had one son — Randall Jr., born in 1993 — and would have another, Brian, born five years later. Bailey had been entering amateur fights for years, but never seriously trained. As he left jail, though, Bailey made a decision: He would try to go pro.
Ask him today where he would have ended up without making that determination, and the answer is simple: "In jail," he says. "Or I'd be dead."
Bailey's first fights came in small clubs and casinos across Florida and the Midwest, against other unknowns or career retreads. His fifth opponent, for example, boasted a record of 3-30; his eighth had a mark of 6-27. Bailey knocked them out, one after another, for 21 straight fights. He didn't use speed or endurance; he just drew back his right hand, waited for an opening, and sent it screaming for their heads.
"He was regarded as the next Tommy Hearns because of his power," Boxing.com writer Ted Sares says, referring to a fighter nicknamed "the Hitman," who won six titles in his Hall of Fame career.