Doc Odom Is a Millionaire Dentist, a Chicago Civic Leader, 47 Years Old—and Undefeated as a Pro Boxer
11/24/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
As any millionaire boxer might, Herbert "Doc" Odom drives a silver Caddy, sports gold chains around his neck and wears a beauty queen on his arm. Unlike other prospering prizefighters, Odom is 47, has a grandchild and draws his biggest paydays not by knocking teeth about but by fixing them—as a Chicago dentist.
Molars may be his profession but boxing, says Odom, "teaches you what life is all about." A onetime collegiate fighter, he decided to put on gloves again in 1978 and in his professional debut against an opponent 27 years his junior scored a second-round TKO. Last March at Chicago's International Amphitheater he racked up his third straight victory, a unanimous four-round decision over Larry Puchta, 31, of Minneapolis. Before the fight Odom had offered Puchta his business card, gibing: "Come in tomorrow and I'll fix anything that gets broken."
This fall Odom took on WBA welterweight champ Tommy Hearns in a four-round, no-decision exhibition fought without headgear.
Odom, at 6'2", weighed 152 for the exhibition but usually competes as a welterweight (a class with a 147-pound limit). He's in top shape, however; he jogs five to 10 miles each day, avoids smoking and drinks sparingly. "He has tremendous stamina and concentration," confirms his trainer, Clarence Griffin. "When he took his medical for the Illinois boxing commission, they thought his EKG belonged to somebody else." Says Doc: "Age is just a number. If those kids forget that, I'm going to beat the hell out of them."
As an undergraduate at Michigan State, Odom won the U.S. collegiate welterweight championship in 1954 and 1955. His coaches felt he could be a successful pro, but instead Odom headed to the dental school at Nashville's Meharry Medical College. "I knew boxing was temporary," he explains, "and a profession was forever."
He grew up poor in Flint, Mich., the son of an auto worker, and labored full-time on the General Motors assembly line while finishing high school. But Odom now owns his own split-level medical building, a profitable chunk of South Side real estate and, with his contractor partner, has broken ground on a 300-bed $6 million nursing home. While ex-wife Betty (he's been divorced three times) runs his new cosmetics company, Odom concentrates on his latest venture, a fight promotion company dubbed Doc O Promotions. He put together the card the night of his Amphitheater fight, hiring a band for entertainment, and wrote the newspaper ads—"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; nobody can say that but Ali and me."
Despite being troubled by a reading disability that nearly curtailed his schooling in the '50s, Odom in 1977 became the first dentist to earn an MBA from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. He served as chairman of Chicago Congressman Ralph Metcalfe's Citizens' Committee, which opposed the Daley machine. Doc is also a regional director of the American Cancer Society, a board member of Chicago's Independence Bank, the nation's largest black-owned lending institution, and a coach in various youth programs.
The father of two daughters (aged 13 and 26), Odom now lives alone in an apartment in Chicago's middle-class Hyde Park section. His third wife, Norma, whom he terms a "best friend," owns an apartment on the floor above. Odom has, however, given an engagement ring to Debra Nichols, 24, a minister's daughter who was Miss Black Illinois of 1978. "I would like to remarry and have a son," declares Odom.
He puts in 35 hours a week as a South Side dentist but, despite the demands on his time, plans to continue boxing. He has several charity bouts in the works for causes like the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH, the NAACP and the Ezzard Charles Montessori School of Chicago. Not surprisingly, Odom has not received an answer to his challenge to fight Roberto Duran, the WBC welterweight champ, but he insists he is serious about competing on a tougher level. "We all have fantasies," he smiles. "What's terrible in life is never getting to act on them."