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Articles of 2010

Butterbean Wants A Piece Of Dana White

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The King of the Four Rounders is, at 43, still spoiling for a fight and he knows his target. This time it’s the Octagon, or at least the guys who run it.

Eric Esch, known more widely as Butterbean, is just about out of the fighting world but that doesn’t mean he’s not still in the fighting business. The former self-proclaimed “King of the Four Rounders’’ may be retired from boxing as well as sumo wrestling, kick boxing and mixed martial arts but that doesn’t mean he isn’t ready to take on Dana White’s UFC stranglehold on MMA from another venue.

“They can’t have all the good fighters in the world,’’ Butterbean said this week while in Worcester, Massachusetts to promote along with Moosin, the South Korean-based mixed martial arts outfit, a show featuring former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia against MMA novice (2-0, 2 KO) and five-time world’s strongest man Mariusz Pudzianowski in a pay-per-view show the Bean claims will break international pay-per-view records.

The latter may be Butterbean hyperbole but combat sports have long been the home of hyperbole and no one knows it better than The Bean, who turned an aggressive personality, knockout punch and 415-pounds of heftiness into a money-making phenomenon for nearly 20 years in boxing.
Now he’s eyeing White’s UFC, the unrivaled king of MMA, believing his show business sense combined with an international roster of mixed martial artists might be ready to give White a run for his considerable money.

“They do have a lot of the top fighters in the United States,’’ Bean conceded. “I can’t even pronounce the names of some of the guys on this card but we have top fighters from Poland, Japan, Korea. That’s how we’re competing. We went global.

“This will be the highest viewed MMA event ever because of the overseas broadcast.’’

The man formerly unknown as Eric Esch based that claim on numbers that, like most involving both MMA and boxing, are not really verifiable. Then again, a lot of things in boxing and MMA are not verifiable, which is part of the appeal of it all.

Bean claims this show will do five million buys in Poland, a number based on the fact 15 per cent of Poland’s 38 million people watched Pudzianowski’s MMA debut in December. If true that would mean 5.7 million Poles tuned in.

To do that will cost them 99.35 zloty’s tonight, which is $29.95 in the US. How this converts for Buttterbean, who is a partner in the promotion, nobody knows but it seems a safe bet that he will climb into his mobile home for the drive back to Jasper, Alabama with a grasp on some cash. That, along with an oddly entertaining ability to knock a man cold, has long been the root of his success.

The Bean is a former assembler of house trailers who one night decided to try his hand at getting paid for what he liked to do best – which was getting in fights. Problem was there are limits, even in a Toughman contest.

In that case the limit was 400 pounds and the Bean was no string bean. So to drop enough tonnage to qualify he went on a chicken and butterbean diet that got him a nickname and to the magic number. The rest is history and so were most of his opponents.

He became a five-time Toughman world champion before turning pro in 1994 as what many felt was a circus act. With promoter Bob Arum behind him and his 416-pounds of muscle and suet stuffed inside a pair of supersized trunks that resembled a satin American flag, The Bean looked like The Michelin Man but fought like an angry man. Most importantly, he sold to a society looking to be entertained.

Most guys can’t make a living fighting four round boxing matches. It’s a job that nets you $500 if you’re lucky and that’s before the tax man shows up. But the Bean made millions despite only fighting beyond four rounds three times, finishing with a 77-8-4 record and, most importantly, 58 knockouts. He made money because he had a good shtick and carried a big stick.

The Bean may have been a joke to boxing purists but it was no joke if he landed a gloved fist in your face, which was his only ambition in life it seemed. Although the well-respected trainer named Murray Sutherland tried everything he could think of to make him some sort of boxer, The Bean would get on his toes for a few seconds once the bell sounded and think, “What’s the point?’’ Then he’d throw down and usually someone would go down.

“I could throw big punches, knock someone out, get paid and not go to jail,’’ Bean said. “I used to get in fights in school and I’m from Alabama. They still paddle you there. So I got paddled to fight and thought it was worth it. Getting paid was a whole lot better.

“I’m a small-town kid from Alabama. My life is a fairy tale story. To experience what I experienced? I fought on some of the biggest pay-per-view cards in boxing. I’m the only four-round fighter to ever headline a pay-per-view show.

“I traveled around the world fighting. The first museum I ever went to in my life was the Louvre in Paris. The first pro football game I ever went to was the Super Bowl and I was in the owner’s box. First time I went to a Lakers game was at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and I sat next to Spike Lee. God blessed me.’’

He blessed him with the gift of unconsciousness and locked it inside his fists and with the gift of salesmanship, with which he now intends to KO Dana White.

“They know we’re there,’’ Bean said of his connection with Moosin’s MMA operation. “I’ve known Dana a long time. I like him but we’re probably making him nervous.

“When I first got into boxing people thought it was funny until I knocked out Louis Monaco. I don’t think Dana thinks what we’re doing is funny. He’s too smart for that.’’

Bean’s boxing days began to wane three years ago but his urge to fight never ebbed. He has fought as a sumo wrestler, had seven fights as a kick boxer and recently moved into mixed martial arts, although at 43 it’s primarily with what he claims is a seldom used new weapon this time.

“I find the promoting side is more challenging than the ring fighting,’’ Bean said. “I’m using my brain, which I haven’t used in a while.’’

Actually he used it to create an act that paid him handsomely. He was smart enough to accept the odd life he created as the King of the Four Rounders, beating just enough journeymen like Monaco and Peter McNeeley to make him acceptable but not growing blind to what he was not.

Although he went the distance with Larry Holmes in a 10-round fight and even dropped the Hall of Fame former heavyweight champion in the final round, to be fair Holmes was 53 at the time and simply trying to pick up a few extra bucks. Then again, so was The Bean.

In fact, the one guy he was willing to venture into the ring with for big money was the one who got away. After he knocked out McNeeley in one round four years after McNeeley fought Mike Tyson, The Bean issued repeated challenges in Tyson’s direction. Though it would have been considered a freak show it would have sold too, which to guys like White and The Bean is the point.

“I don’t think Mike was afraid of me but the people around him were,’’ Butterbean said. “Mike’s skills as a boxer surpassed mine but they kept wondering ‘What if he hits him on the chin?’ They didn’t want to take that risk. I was no boxer but I could hit…HARD.’’

He could also earn hard dollars and unlike Tyson he knew how to keep them. Long-time boxing PR man Bill Caplan, who worked many of Butterbean’s shows for Arum, said while he may have only made several million to Tyson’s $600 million, “He’s got the first million…and the second million.’’

“I didn’t make the money Mike made but it’s not what you make that’s important,’’ he said. “It’s what you keep. I wouldn’t have bought a $150,000 car, forgot where I parked it and gone and bought another one. He’d spend $150,000 on a watch! I got a Casio…but it’s a nice Casio. And it’s paid for.’’

The Bean is not unwilling to pay the price of putting his considerable body at risk in his new venture either. In fact, he was scheduled to engage in an MMA showdown with former Boston Bruins’ hockey hard guy Lyndon Byers, who now works at a Boston radio station, on the Sylvia-Pudzianowski card but the Massachusetts Athletic Commission scratched the scrap. Not because they thought Bean might get hurt but because they were sure Byers would.

That left The Bean in street clothes, counting the house at the DCU Center in Worcester Friday night and hoping Pudzianowski and an international field of MMA fighters will do what he always did.

“I was the best entertainer boxing ever had besides Ali,’’ Butterbean said. “Ali could fight really well. I could knock people out really well. That’s what people want. They want to see great fights.’’

The Bean has already lost one with White, who scooped former middleweight and super middleweight champion and heavyweight contender James Toney away from him at the last minute. Toney was to have been in the original main event on Bean’s show but he and White engaged in some verbal sparring that led Toney to fly to Las Vegas to confront him.

By the time he left, he had signed with the UFC and will come to Boston in August to headline the first UFC card in that city. To the Bean, them’s fighting words but not surprising actions.

“Dana’s made some genius moves with UFC,’’ Bean conceded. “I had a verbal commitment from James but Dana threw money in his face and he said “I got to have that money.’ I understand it.

“I know all the fighters. I know what they’re thinking. But UFC will just abuse him. Houston Alexander was our opponent for James. As a novice in MMA that was a good fight for him and for the fans. Until he learns more of the ground game and the wrestling side of it, James needs more stand up guys as opponents. Not a great ground guy like UFC is doing to him. UFC isn’t looking out for him. We seek good fights, not slaughterfests.’’

What the Bean is really seeking is a chance to get into it with White. Not in the Octagon but in the ticket office and the accounting office. Though that may sound like a joke, it would be wise not to laugh too hard or too long.

“Media is the key to a fighter being popular today,’’ Bean said. “You can’t just go fight and say forget the rest of it. It’s really a mind game.’’

As Butterbean said this week, that’s what he’s going to use to fight Dana White’s UFC. He’s going to use his mind…although if White wants to use his fists Bean’s ready for that, too.

“No problem if he wants to challenge me,’’ Bean said of White, who has had a propensity to throw out such challenges. “Just write the check.’’

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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UFC_Edgar_and_Maynard_Dec._2010
Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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PacquiaoClottey_Booth_6

As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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