Forgotten Legends: Clifford Etienne

By: Steve Gallegos

In the early 2000’s, American fight fans were searching for the next great heavyweight. Lennox Lewis was in his reign as the universally recognized “Undisputed” heavyweight champion and American fight fans adopted Lewis as one of their own. However they needed a successor and they thought they were getting it in CliffordThe Black RhinoEtienne.

Etienne was a good sized, well built heavyweight that had good power in both hands and he provided fireworks anytime he stepped into the ring. Etienne was born and raised in Lafayette, LA. At age 18, Etienne was arrested and charged with Armed Robbery in which he received a 40 year prison sentence. It was in prison that he took up the sport of boxing and would compile a prison record of 30-0. Etienne was released from prison after 10 years and would turn pro in 1998, winning his first 15 bouts, 11 by KO.

2000 would be his breakout year as he would gain national exposure and TV time. He met fellow unbeaten heavyweight and future heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster on 05/06/00 in Pittsburgh, PA. It was the first bout on HBO’s new boxing series “KO Nation”. Etienne shined well as he dominated Brewster in exciting fashion en route to a 10 round unanimous decision. After scoring a third round KO over Joey Guy the next month in Baton Rogue, LA, Etienne would return to “KO Nation” in September as he scored an impressive three round KO over Clifford Couser. He would close out 2000 on a high note as he appeared on the Lennox Lewis vs David Tua Pay Per View undercard.

He would face former U.S. Olympian and unbeaten heavyweight Laurence Clay-Bey. It was a back and forth slugfest from the opening bell and it would steal the show that night in Las Vegas. The end result would be a 10 round unanimous decision win for Etienne. Etienne was at the top of his game and it appeared he was on his way to becoming the next heavyweight champion. He would sign a big contract with Showtime Networks and was scheduled to make his first appearance on the network in early 2001. Etienne’s career was moving along very fast, however it was about to hit a major roadblock.

He met Fres Oquendo on 03/23/01 in Las Vegas, NV. The fight was supposed to be another showcase for Etienne, however he was destroyed in eight rounds in which Oquendo dropped him a total of seven times. It was a huge setback for Etienne, however he would bounce back. He would go 5-1-1 with four KO’s over the next year. This would put him in line for a big money fight against Mike Tyson.

The fight was scheduled for 02/22/03 at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN. Tyson would pull out of the bout just days before the scheduled match, however he would arrive in Memphis and would change his mind, putting the fight back on. Most of Etienne’s camp had left Memphis after Tyson had pulled out and Clifford wasn’t sure whether or not he should fight. At the last minute, Etienne decided to go through with the bout and the fight with Tyson was on.

Inside the ring, Tyson would knockout Etienne with a right hand in only 49 seconds of the first round. It was another major setback for Etienne and his stock would drop tremendously after this fight. He continued to fight over the next two years, going 5-2-1 with three KO’s. His troubles outside the ring however would once again get the better of him.

In 2005, Etienne was arrested on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder of a police officer. He would be sentenced to 105 years in prison without the possibility of parole. He remains incarcerated in Lousiana. His record as a professional stands at 29-4-2 with 20 KO’s. Did his career take off too fast, becoming too much to handle? Could his career inside the ring have been more successful had he stayed out of trouble outside the ring? Another case of “What If”.
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