Ronald Stander, October 17, 1944 – March 8, 2022

Decades before Terence “Bud” Crawford put Omaha on the prizefight map, would-be Great White Hope Ron Stander challenged champion Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title at a packed Civic Auditorium on May 25, 1972.

The journeyman brawler stood the proverbial slugger’s chance but lacked the skill to pose a serious threat. Smokin’ Joe’s pin-point power shots made Stander’s face a bloody fright mask. The bout was stopped on cuts in the fifth round. The Sports Illustrated headline read: “The Bluffs Butcher Gets Tenderized.”

A multi-sport athlete at Abraham Lincoln High School, Stander played small-college football, took up boxing and developed a following as two-time Omaha Golden Gloves heavyweight champ. Stander brought a 23-1-1 record, including a KO of Earnie Shavers, into his “Rocky” title shot. SI’s Mark Kram dismissed the mismatched Stander with, “He should seek gainful employment elsewhere.” The fighter’s then-wife, Darlene, disparaged her husband as a “Volkswagen” in the Indy 500.

Years after their tussle, Frazier and Stander reunited for an Omaha charity event. The former foes had turned friends.

The Omaha Press Club honored Stander as a Face on the Barroom Floor. He became a referee and colorful gym presence. Despite the battering he absorbed, he retained his wits, making him a popular bodyguard for Hollywood stars (Liza Minnelli, Gene Hackman) and rock acts (The Eagles, The Stones). He chilled with Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evel Knievel and Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon. He shared a scene with Burt Young in the film “The Mouse” about Omaha sports character Bruce Strauss.

Stander was also a machinist at Vickers Manufacturing. This habitué of bars once owned one, The Sportsman’s Club.

From 2008 until his death, he was married to Toddy Ann Stander, who nurtured his legacy.

— Leo Adam Biga

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