A smiling James Page looked into the camera and — with the bravado that comes with being a professional boxer and world champion — proclaimed he was back.
It was 2012, and Page was fresh out of prison after a 11-year stint for bank robbery. He was, he said, “a young 39” and he insisted his troubles with the law were over.
Page answered the interviewer’s question without a flinch: “Do you think you can get back to the promised land?”
“I can guarantee you I can,” Page said in a video now posted on YouTube.
Then he resumed robbing banks.
Page is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for a series of East Bay bank heists that could keep him in prison for up to 20 years.
Page declined to comment for this story, as did prosecutors and his defense attorney, but his family, former managers and local boxing trainers tell a tale of a polite young man whose left hook propelled him to the top of the boxing world before his career was derailed by an inexplicable plunge into a life of crime.
“He had so much talent,” said Linda Hudson, who began working with Page when he was just a child and was his manager when he turned pro. “I hate to see somebody like that throw it all away.”
Page’s professional fights took him to Las Vegas, France and Puerto Rico, but he got his start in the blue-collar, east Contra Costa suburb of Pittsburg and its surrounding towns.
Hudson remembers when an 8-year-old Page first walked into her gym, Concord’s Little C, now called the Concord Youth Center. The young Page was polite, she said, and immediately became a fixture, showing up at the gym daily with a work ethic and a left hook that set him apart from other local boxers. He even sparred with Muhammad Ali when the boxing great stopped by the gym for a fundraiser. Boxing was his ticket off the streets of Pittsburg.
Known as the “Mighty Quinn,” Page turned pro in 1990 at age 19, and started out with an impressive 17-3 record including eight wins by knockout with Hudson as his first manager and her business partner, Terry Lee, as his trainer. Lee has said Page was “a devastating left hooker, one of the best in the business.”
“We admired where he came from and what he overcame,” said Virgil Hunter, trainer for Oakland-bred boxer Andre Ward, the current super middleweight champion. “To win a world championship in professional boxing doesn’t happen by luck. It comes through a lot of hard work, perseverance and ability. He had an abundance of all that.”
But within six years of going pro Page’s life started to take a dark turn.
After losing in a split decision to Robert West in 1996, he was arrested for theft from the Concord gym where he worked out. He served 10 months in San Quentin.
So began what would become a disturbing pattern for Page: a boxing match loss, followed by an arrest and incarceration.
After his release from prison in 1998, Page was picked up by promoter Don King. He quickly claimed the welterweight world boxing title, knocking out Russian Andrei Pestriaev in two rounds. He successfully defended the belt three times, but he was stripped of his title in November 2000 for failing to show up for a mandatory fight, and in 2001 lost to Andrew Lewis in a bout to regain the vacant title.
The FBI released a photo of the “Button Down Bandit,” who was wanted for robbing banks in the East Bay in 2013. Police say boxer James Page was arrested after an Oakley police officer recognized him from a bank surveillance video. (FBI)
At the same time, Page was entrenched in legal contract battles with King and had struggles with alcohol, according to reports at that time. Later that year, he was arrested for robbing an Atlanta bank and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
Hoping for a comeback, he got his boxing license when he was released from prison in 2012, but in November of that year, he lost the fight that was meant to be his ticket back into boxing.
Four months later, police say, Page started robbing East Bay banks, taking more than $20,000 in eight heists in Pleasanton, Oakley, Emeryville, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Antioch between March and early June.
Dubbed “The Button Down Bandit” by the FBI for his long-sleeve, collared shirts, he was arrested shortly after an Oakley police officer recognized him in the bank surveillance video. Page, who accepted a plea deal in the case, was never armed, police say.
People close to Page — Hudson, trainers at King’s Gym in Oakland where he has worked out, and family members — do not like to discuss the criminal side to the Pittsburg native.
“He’s a likable person, real gentle, real caring, real compassionate,” said his wife, Marquita Page, the mother of his 7-month-old daughter. “I didn’t see the other side.”
In court documents, lawyers have asked the state commission that regulates boxing for Page’s brain scans so they can reviewed by a neurologist.
Though it is unclear exactly how that information will be used, it is possible the brain images could be used to determine if Page suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that can affect boxers subjected to repeated blows to the head, and that has recently made headlines in the National Football League.
Wade Smith, director of the UCSF Neurovascular Service, said the disease’s effects on an individual’s behavior can “vary from someone who is very passive to someone who is very aggressive.”
Hunter, the boxing trainer who followed Page’s career, added: “If they told me boxing affected the part of the brain that impairs judgment I would certainly concur with that. It can.
“I know for a fact, he took some tremendous shots during his comeback. He was older, he wouldn’t back down and these guys hit him and hit him hard.”
This month, Marquita Page took a drive from her home in Oakley to Oakland, as she does twice a week, with her young daughter Jariah, to visit Page at the North County Jail. It was one of the last times she will see him there before he is moved to a federal facility, likely farther away. His mother, Pamela Page, was there too.
“I’m going to tell her the positive things about him,” Marquita Page said of her daughter. “The saddest thing is when I take her, she stands up to the glass and wants to touch his face but she can’t.
“There’s a deep sadness in his eyes.”
Source: David DeBolt, San Jose Mercury News