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Cecil Sims, a professional boxer who was known as ‘Cecil the Cobra,’ dies

Cecil Sims prepares for his pro boxing debut in 1990.
Cecil Sims prepares for his pro boxing debut in 1990. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Cecil Sims, a former convict and professional boxer known as “Cecil the Cobra” who walked away from the ring when he was 32, was found dead New Year’s Day at his home in the city’s Park Heights neighborhood. He was 59.

“Cecil took unbelievable beatings,” said Pat O’Malley, a former longtime Baltimore Sun sports writer. “Many of his fights were at La Fontaine Bleue and Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie. He was a very popular boxer who always gave it his all.”

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Cecil Sims, son of Elbert Sims and his wife, Mary Virginia Sims, was born in Baltimore and raised on Denmore Avenue in the city’s Pimlico neighborhood. He attended Pimlico Junior High School through the ninth grade before being sent to the North Avenue Reform School.

In 1980, Mr. Sims was sentenced to 27 years in prison after being convicted of assault and attempted murder after shooting an acquaintance on a Baltimore street. He received a 22-year sentence with five years added because he was already on probation for an earlier assault.

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“It’s something he would like to forget, yet it’s a negative he’s tried to turn into a positive. And when this 6-foot-1, 168-pounder looks at you and beams proudly from ear to ear with one of those winning smiles that makes you like him, you wonder how this seemingly nice, humble man could have gotten in trouble in the first place,” Mr. O’Malley wrote in a 1990 profile in the Anne Arundel County Sun.

“I used to let my emotions do my thinking for me, but I’ve learned from my mistakes,” Mr. Sims told the reporter. “I was very young, 19, back then and constantly getting in trouble, and probably if I had not been sent away, I would be dead today. God did it [sent him to prison] for a reason and I’m making something good out of this. I went into prison with the goal of straightening myself out and doing everything it took to get out early.”

The parole wardens urged Mr. Sims to get his General Educational Development diploma, learn a trade, get drug counseling and join the prison Jaycees, all of which he did. He taught other inmates welding and otherwise during his years behind bars was a model prisoner.

“My goal was to go on parole early so I could get out and use my talents the right way,” he told Mr. O’Malley.

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Mr. Sims, who was paroled July 5, 1989, after serving 10 years and seven months, was released for good behavior.

“There are a lot of prisoners who would love to be in my position,” Mr. Sims said. “I really hated being in there away from my family and not having my freedom. Now I’ve got it, and intend to keep it.”

After leaving prison, he worked in maintenance. As a kid, he joined his mother at the old Maria’s 500 in Little Italy, where she was a chef and he prepared sandwiches. He later worked at the old Shane’s in Timonium as a sandwich maker and then in August 1989 landed a job as a cook at Dino’s Restaurant in Glen Burnie, where he prepared Italian dishes alongside his mother, who was the restaurant’s chef.

While he was in prison, he joined the prison boxing program, and after going three rounds with the well-known Baltimore welterweight Vincent Pettway in an exhibition match, Mr. Pettway urged Mr. Sims, who had earned a black belt in karate, to consider a career in boxing.

After training with Frank Gilbert at Gilbert’s Loch Raven Gym, Mr. Sims made his professional debut Feb. 21, 1990, as a super middleweight.

“Whenever Cecil got kayoed, he’d bounce right back in,” said Mr. O’Malley, also a ring announcer. “Whenever I announced Cecil’s bout, the crowds went wild because they knew they were in for a real show. Crowds would wait to shake his hand when the fight ended.”

At the age of 32, with a record of 5-15-1, Mr. Sims decided to step out of the ring for good. In his last fight, Jake “The Snake” Smith scored a technical knockout at 2:22 of the fourth round of a scheduled six-rounder.

“I retired and am getting out being able to say that I have never been seriously hurt,” Mr. Sims told The Sun in 1993.

“His skills waned and the losses piled up,” Mr. O’Malley wrote at the time. “But unlike many in boxing who went through the motions, Sims displayed a competitive pride. There were nights when we all wondered how he took the punches he did and kept on coming back for more. There were nights when some of us feared for his safety, yet just when you would think he was out, he would reach within and bounce back. The guy always trained hard and answered the bell.”

Mr. O’Malley wrote that Mr. Sims’ decision to retire in the end was the right and decent thing to do, “but also a painful one for those of us who admire fierce competitors.”

He added: “It’s a shame that Sims did not possess the skills to match his heart. In terms of heart, desire and class, Sims retires a world champion.”

“Cecil was a really good guy who gave it up too soon,” Mr. O’Malley said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Sims later became a bricklayer and was working for Brawner Builders at the time of his death.

Services were held Jan. 23 at the Parker Funeral Home.

Mr. Sims is survived by his wife of many years, the former Lolessia “Lisa” Yerby, a retired receptionist; two sons, Tavon Sims and Taron Sims, both of Baltimore; three daughters, Saundra Sims of Lansdowne, and Sherita Bryant and Unique Sims, both of Baltimore; a brother, Elbert Sims of Baltimore; a sister, Deborah Parker of Baltimore; and 13 grandchildren.

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