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Jersey City boxing legend Jimmy Dupree was champ in and out of ring

Patrick Villanova/The Jersey Journal January 31, 2014 at 10:00:27 EST

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It was March of 2001 and 13-year-old Tyrell Wright was looking for an outlet. It came in the form of a boxing gym on Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City, and more specifically the man running the outpost, Jimmy Dupree.

 For eight years, the former light heavyweight champion-turned-trainer helped mold Wright into the fighter he is today — a hulking heavyweight still in the infancy of a promising professional career.

For 38 years, Dupree ran the gym and helped countless Jersey City kids like Wright find direction through boxing. Dupree died Sunday of complications from Alzheimer’s, his daughter, Pearline Dupree, said. He was 77 years old.

A viewing will be held tomorrow at St. Michael’s Methodist Church, 37 Virginia Ave., in Jersey City from 1 to 3 p.m. A funeral service will follow at 3 p.m. at the church.

 Family members and former pupils recalled Dupree’s caring nature, his sense of humor and his prolific career as a professional boxer during the 1960s and 70s.

“He was a tough trainer, but he was also loving and caring,” said Wright, now a 26-year-old with a 4-0 record in the pro ranks. “He knew when to be tough and he also knew when to be caring.”


Born and raised in South Carolina, Dupree moved to New York in his 20s and made his professional debut in 1961 against Joe Reynolds at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City, despite having just four amateur fights under his belt. By 1971, he was a contender and defeated Ray White in 12 rounds for the NABF Light Heavyweight championship later that year.

Nicknamed “The Cat,” Dupree boxed for four more years, retiring in 1975 with a career record of 40-10-4 (24 KO), according to

Dupree, who went on to work for the Jersey City Recreation Department, opened his gym around 1970. He would often recruit kids right off the streets and even confronted those trying to rope his fighters into the trappings of the street.

“To some of the kids that maybe didn’t have fathers at home, he was a father figure,” said his other daughter, Audrey Dupree. “A lot of them didn’t become boxers, but he helped keep them on the right path.”

Andrew Bentley can trace his current success back to his first encounter with “The Cat.” Fourteen or 15 years old at the time, Bentley was walking home from Snyder High School one afternoon when he crossed paths with the former champion.

“I was in the area one day coming from school and he said, ‘You want to box? You look like you can fight,’” said Bentley, who will take on Philadelphia’s Samuel Teah tonight in a lightweight bout at Richard J. Cody Arena in West Orange. “He just pulled me right in from the street, just pulled me right in.”

A member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, Dupree counted former heavyweights Marlon Hayes and Willie Palms among his pupils, and also worked with former champion James “Buddy” McGirt and Joe Gatti.

Dupree is survived by six children ­­— daughters, Audrey and Pearline, and sons, Frank Dupree, Rodney German, Christopher Kirskey and Ray Carl Davis — as well as four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Aside from his place in boxing, Dupree was an avid fisher and often sold crabs in front of his gym during the summer months.

“He was such a knowledgeable guy in boxing. Whenever he spoke, I would be quiet, because he knew boxing,” said Joe Botti, founder and president of the Union City Boxing Club.

“A huge loss for the city of Jersey City, a huge loss for Hudson County boxing and New Jersey boxing,” Botti added. “The guy was a staple.”


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