On any given day, a dozen or so homeless citizens can be found soliciting change or just hanging out by the fountain at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Broadway downtown. That's where Willie Jewell was Tuesday morning, asking passers-by for a little bit of spending money.
Jewell's been homeless for nearly the entire 21 years he's lived in San Diego. He says he came out to California from Ohio on a two-year pro-boxing contract and fought professionally three times, including at the old ring in the El Cortez Hotel.
But, he says, the California Boxing Commission revoked his license after he lost his last fight by a technical knockout a year-and-a-half into his contract. He may have also been banned by the commission from boxing for a 20-year period, but this part of his story was difficult to understand.
In any case, once he “retired” from boxing, Jewell says, he went to school for a time, received government assistance and worked a bit as a sparring partner, but he “started smoking marijuana a little more than I already do” and wasn't able to cobble enough money for an apartment.
He's been hanging out downtown ever since, at times earning jail stints on burglary or drug charges.
Asked for his thoughts on the future, Jewell strikes an expression that suggests that his questioner hasn't been paying attention. Now 47 and past the apparent 20-year ban, Jewell says he could end up back in the ring. “I completed 20 years,” he says. “There's a chance I might be fighting for a championship belt. I don't know how it's gonna go.”