GREENFIELD — Robert Heflin does not believe in failure. He didn’t back then, and he certainly doesn’t now.
Life repeatedly told the 68-year-old Greenfield native “no.” Heflin’s response? A couple of right hooks — literally.
Heflin, who was born in Kentucky and moved to Indiana at the age of 8, did not grow up with dreams of becoming a professional boxer. However, given his natural size and family history in the sport, Heflin became exactly that — although it was a long and exhausting ride.
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Heflin did not become a professional boxer until the age of 32, 16 years after getting involved in the sport at the local (Greenfield) Boy’s Club, which sits in the same location as it did back then (1963).
He was destined to become a fighter. Yet at 16 years old, he didn’t know it.
Heflin’s father, Edward, was a semi-pro boxer during his time in the service (World War II) and was given the name Edward “Dusty” Heflin for his ability to “dust” opponents out of the ring.
Fighting is in Heflin’s blood. Despite his wife’s distaste, Edward’s one present to his son on his fourth Christmas was a pair of boxing gloves.
Heflin did not show interest in the sport, however, until his cousin, Wayne Hogan, gave him an ego boost one day while playing basketball.
“We were down at the Boy’s Club. He said I should try it with my size and the fact that my father was a semi-pro,” Heflin said. “That kind of got my mind going. I just wanted to find something to do.”
One way to break the ice and meet new friends, especially during an era with little to no technology, was sports. He played football and baseball, as well, but never had much luck with either.
At 16, Heflin was a lanky 6-foot-2 and weighed around 135 pounds. Not exactly a heavyweight by any means, but his length gave him an added advantage.
An advantage, when the sport was so young, that instead of in a ring like the sport today, Heflin began boxing in a cement room.
“The first rings weren’t even rings,” he said. “We fought in an 8-by-10 concrete room that’s probably been remodeled by now.”
Despite his growing interest and noticeable skill, nothing panned out.
So after he graduated from Greenfield High School in 1966, Heflin joined the Marine Corps and served until 1970. Another opportunity at a boxing career started to form as soldiers would fill spare time with sparring and other similar activities.
Many soldiers were known to become professionals after serving their country.
But like before, Heflin struggled to find a way get his pro career off the ground. Just when things seemed to be going right, it would take an immediate turn.
After the Marine Corps, Heflin found various jobs around town like delivering beer for a beverage company and working for a local plumber. Eight years disconnected from the service (1978), with almost all hope gone, Heflin finally caught a break.
“I always had trouble keeping my mouth shut,” he said of the numerous jobs through his 20s and 30s.
At the tender age of 32, in the boxing world at least, Heflin met Bill “Pepper Pot” Lewis, an amateur fighter who worked out at a gym nearby. Heflin asked if he could join in on his workouts and Lewis, who was skeptical at first, agreed.
Before he knew it, Heflin was fighting in Niagara Falls, New York, against the top amateur in the world, Jimmy Clark.
Heflin lost in three rounds, although after the fight Clark whispered to him, “You’re one hell of a fighter.”
“I never was the champ but got beat up by the champs,” Heflin added.
From there, Heflin’s trainer, Clyde Mudget, asked if he was ready to become a pro. Mudget had seen enough.
“Had I known it was that easy I would have tried earlier,” Heflin said. “I thought they (sponsors) came to you with contracts and stuff. I guess that’s only if you’re really good.”
Heflin made his professional debut on April 4, 1978 against Stanley Dollison (250 pounds). By then, he stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 195 pounds.
Forty supporters from the Greenfield area witnessed the light-footed Heflin knock out Dollison just two minutes into the second round. Dollison was unable to get to his feet for nearly 10 minutes after the final bell.
After years of never giving up, Heflin finally made it. Although, it did not last long.
His career came to a quick end in 1979 after taking a serious right blow to the left temple. He woke up in a hospital bed, surrounded by family.
“My family prayed for me, and eight hours later I was awake and didn’t know where I was,” Heflin said. “All I remember was seeing black, then waking up at the hospital.
“God touched me and my family that night.”
Heflin had basically suffered a severe concussion, with his brain swelling to the size of his head.
He made his short career count, however, finishing 5-4 overall, including a 4-0 start, in nine career fights. Heflin also had a 44 percent knock out rate, according to boxrec.com.
After a year of recovering, Heflin found work at the Pendleton Reformatory for 13 years. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from his years in the military and was forced to retire.
Now, Heflin, who is 68, remains busy with his church and wife, Yolanda, and daughter, Gretchen, who graduated from Greenfield-Central in 2015.
Yolanda said Heflin’s driven personality is what led him to become a successful boxer and the great community member he is today.
“He is very dedicated to what he does,” she said. “When he does something, he does it all the way. He puts his whole heart into it.”
“When I first married him (1992), I could feel he was intimidating to others. Even though he was a professional fighter, he knows to stay in line even when he does get threatened and respects other people.”
Heflin said he owes God everything for letting him wake up that day and for finally allowing his dream to come true, even if it was only for a short time.
“I love my savior,” Heflin said. “I give my Lord Jesus all my thanks.”
Currently resides: Greenfield
Graduated: Greenfield High School (Tigers) in 1966
Pro size: 6-foot-4, 195-pound Heavyweight
Pro debut: April 4, 1978. Won by knockout in second round
Pro boxing career: 5-4 in nine starts with 44 percent knockout rate
Family: Wife, Yolanda, of Greenfield and daughter, Gretchen, Greenfield Class of 2015
Current hobbies: Church, walking and going to the library with his daughter