New Bedford’s Own ‘Rocky,’ Paul Poirier, Passes Away at 59
Paul Poirier--known to New Bedford family and friends simply as "The Champ"--has passed away at the age of 59.
The former pro boxer and three-time New England Heavyweight Champion passed away from a heart attack on Monday.
Even before he ever stepped foot in the ring, the New Bedford born and raised Poirier was a fighter, battling whatever life threw at him from a young age. Poirier lost his father in 1967 after an accidental house fire caused by a lit cigarette, and his mother died three years later of a cerebral hemorrhage. Poirier and his sister Jacqueline were then taken in by their oldest sister, Lillian. It was her husband, Russell Pike, that got Poirier involved in boxing.
Poirier was a 1977 graduate of New Bedford High School, but began boxing professionally before he even graduated. He turned pro at 15 and was 21-0 by his 17th birthday.
At 15, he won the 125-lb. Silver Mittens Championship in Lowell, and won the bronze at the Junior Olympics. He reached the semifinals of the 1973 New England Golden Gloves Tournament, and spurred by his success there, became a professional fighter at age 15 using a fake birth certificate.
However, after his seventh straight win, the Massachusetts State Boxing Commission discovered his real age, and tried to force him to stop boxing until he reached the legal age of 18. But Senator William "Biff" MacLean introduced a special bill that allowed Poirier to continue to compete, and in December 1974, at just 17½ years old, Poirier became the youngest fighter in history to box at the Boston Garden, beating undefeated middleweight Jesse Bender in two rounds for his 25th professional win.
After an eight-round win over John L. Sullivan in the Garden in January of 1975--and with a career mark of 26-0--Poirier abruptly retired at the age of 18. He wanted to finish high school and return to the ring at age 20, but during his hiatus, his family converted to the Jehovah's Witness religion, which would keep him from fighting. He spent the next 15 years raising a family and working on the fishing docks and in the New Bedford school system.
After being inspired by former heavyweight champ George Foreman's return to the ring, Poirier made a comeback in 1990 as a heavyweight, rattling off nine straight wins and capturing the New England Heavyweight belt three times. That led to his most famous fight, a 1993 clash with former world champ Larry Holmes. He went six rounds with Holmes before a cracked rib forced him to throw in the towel.
Poirier then turned down a 50-thousand dollar offer to fight Eric "Butterbean" Esch and retired for good with a career mark of 31-3 with seven knockouts.
He worked in recent years as a custodian at Third District Court and in the New Bedford school system. His hobbies included riding his Harley and building Adirondack chairs. In 2005, he was inducted into the Ring Four Boxing Hall of Fame. A permanent exhibit of his career, including many of his personal mementos, is on display at Knucklehead's Bar and Grill in New Bedford.
Poirier is survived by his wife of 39 years, Gilda, as well as their children, Melissa and Bradford, as well as three grandchildren: Ethan, Ava and Maverick.
Services will be held at the Saunders-Dwyer Funeral Home at 495 Park Street in New Bedford on Friday from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.
See the entire 1993 bout between Poirier and Larry Holmes here: