By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
While Clem Sr. had retired from boxing in 1980, the sport remained an obsession. In 1989, he opened a gym of his own, BT Bombers, initially in partnership with former Minnesota Viking Joey Browner, then later with Wayne Bebeau, a local businessman and boxing enthusiast. For a spell, St. Paul police recruits trained at BT Bombers, with Tucker providing instruction. The gym also became an epicenter of St. Paul's amateur boxing scene. Tucker, assuming the role of Gym Sage, preached an anti-drug gospel and earned a reputation for reaching out to the hardest cases. "The more trouble a kid was in, the harder he tried," Bebeau remembers.
When CJ took up boxing, Bebeau managed and Clem Sr. trained. The three traveled the Midwestern and Southern fight circuits, racking up the wins and building up the young middleweight. "Clem Sr. worshipped CJ," Bebeau says. "He worked hard at making sure that Clem Jr. had everything that he wanted. Probably gave him a little too much."
In his days at Como Park High School, Clem Jr. had flourished. Charismatic and handsome, he was a standout in track, first saxophone in the school band, and a state champion wrestler, earning a scholarship to the University of Minnesota. As his father would later put it, "Clem wasn't a star. He was an all-star."
At home, young CJ was an object of adoration, a golden child. "People always say parents don't have a favorite child, but that's not true," says Clem Sr. "Clem Jr. was my wife's favorite. My daughters always talk about it. They say, 'We're all grown now. We don't have to lie. Everybody knows Clem is your favorite child.'"
For Clem Sr., having a son represented a chance to set right what had gone wrong in his own childhood. "I always wanted to do things for him my father never did for me," he explains. "I stayed close to him to keep him out of trouble. We were like one."
Through boxing, father and son forged an even tighter bond. Although Clem Jr. didn't put on his first pair of gloves until he turned 19, he quickly won three Upper Midwest Golden Gloves titles and turned pro in 1994.
Three years later, the Star Tribune profiled CJ in an article headlined, "The Fighter Is Picture Perfect." In admiring tones, the piece paid tribute to Tucker's forays into modeling (he had appeared on the cover of Minnesota Law & Politics) and acting (he had landed a supporting role in the indie flick Shimmer).
But soon after the story appeared, CJ started drifting. He lost the biggest fight of his career against former International Boxing Federation champ Paul Vaden. He also began drinking more heavily and putting on weight. Then he became mired in a bitter custody dispute with his daughter's mother.
"His nose got opened so wide, he couldn't hold a decent booger," Clem Sr. recalls. "He lost focus on what he was doing. I think that was the start of his demise."
IN 1999, CJ had his last pro fight at a low-rent casino show in Keshena, Wisconsin. It was an unglamorous capstone to a once-promising career—a six-round decision victory over an opponent who came into the ring with a record of 7 wins and 77 losses.
"After he lost interest in boxing, that's when the problems started," says Bebeau. "The drinking. The womanizing. The changing jobs all the time."
Since he was a kid, CJ had dreamed of following his father into policing. For a spell, he worked as a parking enforcement officer in St. Paul—a common stepping-stone to the police force. Then he landed a part-time gig with a security company called Icon Protection Services. He also worked in a cubicle at US Bank.
Then, at the age of 27, CJ made a dramatic decision: Against his father's wishes, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. In 2003, he was called up for active duty and shipped to the Middle East, where he served in Kuwait and Iraq for nine months.
After his discharge in September 2003, CJ wasn't the same. He says he couldn't rid himself of certain memories—-the stench of human corpses, the clouds of flies, the sight of an Iraqi oil thief whose head had been split open by a .50-caliber round.
"Something was wrong, we could all tell. He wasn't playful like he used to be. He had a blank look," Clem Sr. says, recalling that CJ would monopolize the dinner table conversation with talk of Iraq. "I'd tell him, 'Clem, nobody wants to hear about it.'"
CJ endured other traumas as well. Near the end of his military service, he and Nikki suffered the death of their newborn son, Tristan, from a respiratory disease—a subject that CJ says is still too painful to talk about.
The return to US Bank didn't help. Instead of working at a computer, Tucker found himself stuffing envelopes. Even that proved too stressful.
"I was wound too tight. Things didn't roll off me," he says. "Going back to US Bank, when conflict arose, I was thinking of breaking necks."
Not long after, Tucker quit that job. For a war-weary veteran looking for a more tranquil life, his next move seems odd. He committed himself to a career as a bodyguard and bar bouncer. In 2004, he toured the U.S. and Europe with the R&B star Usher. When he was in the Twin Cities, he worked part-time at Johnny A's 200 Club, a popular black nightspot in north Minneapolis.