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WOODSY’S ROAD TO AC Travelogue, Part 2

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Bernard Hopkins has throughly entertained me, getting into a nasty rumble with Karo Murat. You half expected on Saturday night for Murat to whip out a foreign object at the Boardwalk Hall AC, and go into full heel mode against B-Hop. In this second part of my Atlantic City travelogue–here is Part 1 if you missed it–I share my experiences post-fight, which includes a visit to a fabled AC watering hole, where I was welcomed with more warmth and generosity than I’d ever previously experienced.

1:22 AM I did a little tidying up in the press room, and chatted with my man Carlos Suarez, of Boricua Boxing, and also Showtime shooter Tom Casino. His grind isn’t near done; he’ll be culling images he’s shot of the Hopkins-Murat (as seen in above Hogan photo), Quillin-Rosado and Wilder-Firtha fights, into a compelling gallery, which Showtime will put out in the early AM. This is a 24/7 business, we agree, and you’ve got to give the people ie the readers and the bosses… what they want in this day and age. Is what it is…

Carlos says he won’t be long, but after 25 minutes, I tell him I’d like to jet. He laughs and basically admits he’ll be there for a spell more. (At 4:30 AM, I get a Tweet from him, admitting that he’s glad he didn’t ask me to wait, as he’s still in the press room, working on photos and videos for his websites.) So me and Mitch Abramson head to my Zipcar, parked inside the building in an immense hangar, and head to The Irish Pub. That’s where Zach Levin, a common friend, and sometimes contributor to TSS, is hanging, with a crew. That crew includes Benn Schulberg, a writer whose father Budd was fabled for his contributions to the silver screen (he wrote the 1957 Academy Award-winner “On the Waterfront” script) and the fight game (he wrote a bunch of superior books on the pug scene). His name will be familiar to disciples of the late George Kimball, the former Boston Herald and then TheSweetScience.com columnist. Kimball was pals with heavy hitters, like Schulberg, and investigative ace Jack Newfield, and Pete Hamill, and would occasionally delight readers with anecdotes from the days when some of these lions prowled and pounced with severe vigor and top-tier wordsmithery.

1:43 AC is a bit of a trip. There is a bit of a lawless vibe to it, an aura that makes you wonder what the ratio of good guys to bad guys is, especially after midnight. We see a gal leaning against a pole, smoking a cigarette. Is she advertising something? Herself? Or waiting for a bus or something? We turn right onto Saint James Place, drive down a lonely road, and see a couple rooming houses. Mitch jokes that he will be residing in one of these establishments in about 30 years. We don’t see another soul, but we do see the sign for the Pub. We find parking, always a marvel to NYC people used to crawling around, looking for open real estate. Parking lots, how ’bout that!

Inside, the mood is super relaxed. Zach greets us, and it’s clear he’s in love with the Pub. The memorabilia on the wall is a trip, and the proprietor, he tells us is a doll, and a character to boot. Cathy Burke is her name, and she owns the joint with her hubby Richard. I meet Cathy after a couple minutes, and she takes a seat at the table, along with Zach, Mitch, Benn, another guy name Mike, and Krystyna Rodriguez. We shoot the breeze, and I grab a wing that is in a basket, after Zach tells me and Mitch to help ourselves. Stories begin to be swapped. Cathy says that Joe DiMaggio spent a lot of time here, in the 80s, as the Pub is beneath hotel rooms which are available during warm weather months.

1:56 Burke, it is clear, is a throwback sort in a good way. She endears herself to me forever when she points at me and Mitch and Zach and excitedly, delightedly refers to us as the new guard, in the tradition of the Schulbergs and Kimballs and Bert Sugars and such, who were regulars at The Irish Pub. I do an aw shucks, and mean it, but she says no, You guys are the next wave of talent. Mitch and I whisper that we’ve never had such a fabulous assault of affirmation in our lives.

2:01 I look to my left and see a guy I know. Don’t know his name, he’s dark skinned, in his late 50s maybe, sturdy. Boxing guy, gotta be, I think to myself. Turns out the dude is a Heartbreaker, as in, one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. That’s drummer Steve Ferrone, and he’s leaving the pub with two pals. He’s a mongo fight fan, someone tells me. I can’t let that pass, I hustle out the door, and catch Ferrone on the street, headed to his car.

2:04 The drummer tells me he’s a mega fight fan; he is 63, lives in Cali, and works out at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He grew up in Brighton, England, and has been doing the boxing workout for three years. Ferrone and two pals came to AC to watch the Hopkins-Murat/Golden Boy card. “Hopkins is enthusiastic and powerful, and loves what he does, clearly” Ferrone said. “He’s not out there fighting some hack, he’s fighting good fighters.” He was in NYC doing some recording work, and finished early, and snuck over to AC. I try and lure him and the Heartbreakers to play Barclays Center, near my house and then thank him and his pals, for indulging me in the chat. One of Ferrone’s pals is Massachusetts guy, Mike, and he roars when I do my profane Norman Stone imitation. Another night’s highlight….

Back inside, Cathy says that the salt of the earth manner of Schulberg and Kimball and company was something she always treasured. It is crystal clear that this is a lady for whom honor and loyalty and decency are utmost imperatives. She recalls that author Richard Ben Cramer came in, looking for info on Joe DiMaggio, who he heard stayed at the Pub. “I’ve talked to a lot of his friends,” the writer told Burke. “Mr. Cramer, all due respect, but those people, if they talked to you on the record, they weren’t his friends,” she replied. No, she said politely, when Cramer asked for some material on Joe D for his book, “Joe DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life.”

“And I think Cramer was a great writer,” she adds, making clear her principles don’t sit in an acid bath of malice.

2:11 Burke asks me what I want to drink. “Just a ginger ale,” I said. Her eyes indicate she’s mildly mystified by the request. “I retired, in ’95,” I say. “Ohhh, that’s great,” she says. Kimball too put a cork in the jug, we recall. “When the guys used to come in, and order, I’d get George ice cream. Peach ice cream,” she said of the author, who died on July 6, 2011, not long after writing me an email telling me to wait for a new story, as he wasn’t yet ready to hang up the gloves. “Don’t give up on me,” he wrote. We all remark that peach ice cream isn’t easy to find, but, Cathy says, she had a guy.

3:17 Zach apologizes to me, asks for my forgiveness, wonders if I will still be his friend? Great God, what did he do? The egregious offense turns out to be…I ordered a slice of apple pie, and it was sitting waiting for me while I chatted with Cathy, after she twisted my arm, and wouldn’t allow me to pay for two The Irish Pub t-shirts. “I ate your pie,” Zach tells me. I forgive, forget, and order another slice.

4:15 Bout time to roll out. I’d love to stay, the joint is open 24 hours, but with this delicate constitution, I need to get some sleep, or I will get a cold. I scoop up Mitch, say goodbye to the gang, give Cathy a hug and promise to be back, as I have NEVER been treated with more warmth in an eatery as I have on this night…and scoop up Mitch and drive off.

I bring him to Ballys, and then drive seven miles to my bargain motel, a Best Western. I saved more than $100, and I then sent $100 to the family of fallen fighter Frankie Leal, so I’m happy with my choice of frugality. (I don’t say this to brag, or prove what a mensch I am. No, I ask that you follow me, and the other folks who have sent money to help Frankie’s wife and son make ends meet in the future, and donate.)

4:44 This is ridiculous, and fabulous. I have the radio on “scan” and it picks up a station playing Christmas tunes. Too early for that? Nonsense I say. Give the people what they want. I hum along to “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

5:05 I drive around a gal holding up a puking man in the Best Western lot, and then give the puke puddle a wide berth as I walk to the desk, to get a room key. The room is quite clean, and I don’t feel the need to inspect for bed bugs. Being a ludicrous type, I open up my laptop, and post Bernard Fernandez’ story on the Hopkins and Quillin fights to TSS.

5:17 Teeth are brushed, bladder is emptied, I crawl into bed. Don’t fall asleep right away, as some leftover adrenaline keeps my brain buzzing. But then I drift off, thinking of what a marvel Hopkins in, and the lovely compliments and apple pie at The Irish Pub. It’s like Ferrone said about Hopkins; I too enjoy the hell out of what I do. I drift off, humming “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

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Mayhem in Worcester

Ted Sares

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A number of bizarre events unfolded during a boxing show at the Palladium in Worcester, MA, on March 9, 2007. This was foreseeable. The main event was a freak fight that pit Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the “King of the Four Rounders,” against Joe Siciliano, a 49-year-old Leominster, MA, narcotics detective. Siciliano, who had a 4-3 record, came in at a grotesque 313 pounds, but “The Bean,” then 40 years old and sporting a 76-7 record, weighed a humungous 417. On paper it was a terrible mismatch, and a potentially dangerous mismatch at that.

The corpulent Siciliano (pictured) didn’t lack for guts. “The people want to see a fight, and I’m not going in there and dance around and make it boring,” he said. “People come to see Butterbean because he loves to brawl. Well, he’s going to get one. Whether the fight lasts 30 seconds or four rounds, it’s going to be action-packed. You’re not going to see any love taps. You’re going to see power punches. I’m not going to give up easy. I’m psyching myself up for this.”

“This is definitely a big step up for me,” said the 49-year-old, “but I feel real good. I’m fresh, and I’ve been training a lot. I’ve been given the chance to fight this guy, and I’m feeling very confident.”

We’re hoping for a four-round decision,” added Jimbo Isperduli, Siciliano’s trainer/manager and the fight’s promoter. Translation: If Joe lasts four rounds, it would be deemed a monster upset.

Earlier in the show, Butterbean’s son Brandon Esch (aka Babybean) got poleaxed by Matthew Eckerly. The 266-pound kid remained on the canvas unconscious for several scary minutes. It was Brandon’s professional debut and would be his last boxing fight. And the guy who beat him was no world beater. Eckerly was 1-3 coming in and would proceed to lose his next and final seven fights, all by KO.

After watching his son, Butterbean was subdued and likely very anxious.

babybean

Brandon Esch (Babybean)

The Fight

In the first round, Joe was knocked down and there was a good deal of running, hugging and holding. At one point, Joe spit out his mouthpiece ala Chico Corrales to buy some time and extend the fight. When the round ended, he raised his hands in some sort of celebration. He had done what Peter “Hurricane” McNeely and many others couldn’t do; he had survived the first round. Esch had crushed many of his opponents in the first stanza, ending the bout as soon as one of his power shots hit home.

Unfortunately for Joe, he had nothing left to hold off his stalking and grotesque opponent. Round Two was Bean Time and Joe’s chances had now become zero to none. The end was in sight. Bean mercifully resorted mostly to body shots so as not to do any needless damage to the terribly mismatched detective. After several knockdowns in which Joe seemed to bounce off the canvas, two towels were thrown in to stop the massacre. But Joe had pocketed $4,000 and gained some serious bragging rights.

Despite Butterbean’s cult following, throngs of Siciliano fans booed. Now there’s high camp and there’s cornball, but this was something else. Siciliano had a huge following in the Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner area and had personally sold 1,000 tickets for the fight.

Butterbean was winding down his career and this would be his last boxing win. His final record was 77-10-4. Joe finished at 5-4.

As he pursued other viable options, Butterbean’s  legacy as one of the greatest four-round boxers of all time remained intact.

Ted Sares enjoys researching and writing about boxing. He can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Remembering Oscar ‘Shotgun’ Albarado (1948-2021)

Arne K. Lang

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Former world junior middleweight champion Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado passed away on Feb. 17 at age 72 in a nursing home in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas. Albarado’s death didn’t go unnoticed in the town that he put on the sporting map, but news out of Uvalde appears to travel to the outside world by Pony Express. There’s been no notice of it in the boxing press; even the authoritative boxrec has yet to acknowledge his passing. This isn’t uncommon. A boxer has a high probability of dying in obscurity, even if he had a large fan base during his heyday.

The folks in Uvalde had a big shindig to honor Albarado after he won the title; a barbecue at the fairgrounds. “All Texas and especially the city of Uvalde share pride in your accomplishments,” read a proclamation from the Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe.

The date was June 20, 1974. Sixteen days earlier, Albarado had wrested the 154-pound title from Koichi Wajima in Tokyo. Down two points on two of the scorecards through the 14 completed rounds, Albarado took the bout out of the judges hands, knocking Wajima down three times and out in the final stanza.

It was a long road to Tokyo. An eight-year pro, Oscar had at least 55 pro fights under his belt when he was granted a crack at the title. As he was scaling the ladder with occasional missteps, he became a fan favorite at the Olympic Auditorium, the shrine of Mexican-American boxing in L.A. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Albarado’s parents were migrant farm workers. They spent a portion of each year picking sugar beets in Minnesota. The kids went along with them. Albarado was purportedly six years old when he first worked in the fields.

He was 17 years old when he had his first documented fight, a 4-rounder in San Antonio, but there are some reports that say he was fighting in Mexico when he was as young as 15.

Albarado became a local attraction in South Texas and then spread his wings, moving to Los Angeles where there was better sparring and boxers of Mexican extraction were a more highly-valued commodity. He was backed by LA fight functionary Harry Kabakoff, a wheeler-dealer who knew all the right people. A colorful character, Kabakoff, born Melville Himmelfarb (don’t ask) had struck it big with bantamweight Jesus “Little Poison” Pimentel, a boxer he discovered while living in Mexicali.

Billed as the Uvalde Shotgun and eventually as just Shotgun Albarado, Oscar had his first fight at the Olympic on Jan. 9, 1969, and four more fights there in the next three months. He lost the last of the five and with it his undefeated record to Hedgemon Lewis who out-pointed him in a 10-round fight. There was no shame in losing to Hedgemon, an Eddie Futch fighter who went on to become a world title-holder.

Albarado was back at the Olympic before the year was out. All told, he had 17 fights at the fabled South Grand Street arena, going 13-3-1. His other losses came at the hands of Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez (L UD 10) and Dino Del Cid.

Del Cid, dressed with a 29-8-2 record, was a Puerto Rican from the streets of New York or a Filipino, depending on which LA newspaper one chose to read. Apprised that Albarado was a slow starter, he came out slugging. A punch behind the ear knocked Albarado woozy and the ref stepped in and stopped it. It was all over in 81 seconds.

Oscar demanded a rematch and was accommodated. Six weeks later, he avenged the setback in grand style, decking Del Cid three times in the opening stanza and knocking him down for the count in the following round with his “shotgun,” his signature left hook.

As the house fighter, Albarado got the benefit of the doubt when he fought Thurman Durden in January of 1973. The decision that went his way struck many as a bit of a gift. But the same thing had happened to him in an earlier fight when he opposed fast-rising welterweight contender Armando Muniz.

As popular as Alvarado was at the Olympic, his pull paled beside that of young Muniz. Born in Mexico but a resident of Los Angeles from the age of six, Muniz attended UCLA on a wrestling scholarship before finishing his studies at a commuter school and had represented the United States in the 1968 Olympics while serving in the Army.

Muniz vs. Alvarado was a doozy. We know that without seeing the fight as we have the empirical evidence in the form of the description of the scene at the final bell; appreciative fans showered the ring with coins. The verdict, a draw, met with the approval of the folks in the cheap seats, but ringside reporters were of the opinion that “Shotgun” was wronged. The LA Times correspondent had it 7-2-1 for the Texan.

Oscar had two more fights after avenging his loss to Del Cid before heading off to Tokyo to meet the heavily-favored Wajima who was making the seventh defense of his 154-pound title. Two more trips to Tokyo would follow in quick succession.

Albarado made the first defense of his newly-acquired belt against Ryu Sorimachi. He stopped him in the seventh round, putting him down three times before the match was halted. Three-and-a-half months later, he gave the belt back to Wajima, losing a close but unanimous decision in their rematch.

Oscar quit the sport at this juncture, returning to Uvalde. He was in good shape financially. He had used his earnings from his Olympic Auditorium fights to open a gas station. With the Tokyo money, he expanded his holdings by purchasing a laundromat.

This would be a nice place to wrap up this story. Former Austin American-Statesman sportswriter Jack Cowan, a Uvalde native, recalled that when Oscar opened his service station, he gave his new customers an autographed photo of himself in a boxing pose inscribed with the words “Oscar Albarado: The Next World Champion.” He would make that dream become a reality, defying the odds, while breaking the cycle of poverty in his family. Boxing was the steppingstone to a better life for him and his children.

But ending the story right here would be disingenuous. This is boxing, after all, and when the life story of a prominent boxer comes fully into a focus, a feel-good story usually takes a wrong turn.

Oscar got the itch to fight again. Sixty-seven months after walking away from boxing, he resumed his career with predictable results. He was only 34 when he returned to the ring, but he was a shell of his former self, an old 34.

Albarado was knocked out in five of his last seven fights before leaving the sport for good with a record of 57-13-1 (43 KOs). He made his final appearance in Denmark, the adopted home of double-tough Ayub Kalule who whacked him out in the second round.

Albarado’s obituary in the Uvalde paper was uncharacteristically blunt. “He suffered from pugilistic dementia,” it said, “caused by repeated concussive and sub-concussive blows.”

There was no sugar-coating there, no Parkinson’s to obfuscate the truth.

If he had known the fate that awaited him, would he have still chosen the life of a prizefighter? That’s not for us to say, but author Tris Dixon, while researching his new book, interviewed a bunch of neurologically damaged fighters and almost to a man they said they would do it all over again.

Albarado had four children, three sons and a daughter. When he was elected to the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, he was too decrepit to travel, but all four of his children — Oscar Jr, Emmanuel, Jacob, and Angela — made the trip to North Hollywood to accept the award on his behalf.

The kids were proud of their old man, a feeling that did not dissipate as he became incapacitated. If boxing was helpful in tightening the bond, then it’s a fair guess the Uvalde Shotgun had no regrets.

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Brandon Figueroa KOs Nery and Danny Roman Wins Too

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Brandon Figueroa took the air out of Mexico’s Luis Nery to win by knockout and unify the WBA and WBC super bantamweight titles on Saturday. It was a belly buster that did the job.

Texan Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs) set out to prove that Tijuana’s two-division world champion Nery (31-1, 24 KOs) could not endure a toe-to-toe battle with the bigger guys and he proved it before several thousand fans at the Dignity Health Sports Park.

It was a back-and-forth battle that saw Nery attack the body and head while Figueroa focused on winging big blows from a distance and in close. Many of the rounds were extremely close to score.

When Nery was able to battle from a distance and dive inside, he seemed the much more athletic between the two champions. But Figueroa just seemed stronger and unfazed by any of the Mexican fighter’s blows.

Though Figueroa absorbed a lot of punishment, he never seemed in trouble. When Nery connected with a several combinations in the fifth round by landing five-punch and three-punch combinations, it looked like he was taking control.

He did not.

Figueroa opened the sixth round with two left hook blasts that reminded Nery that the taller Texan had a punch. When Nery tried to rally with his own blasts, Figueroa slipped under back-to-back left hooks. It seemed to change the tide.

“I knew he was getting tired,” said Figueroa. “He was trying to box me.”

In the seventh round Figueroa was able to connect with a left hook and followed up with a lead right. Nery countered with a three-punch combination that was met with Figueroa countering with a three-punch combination to the head and body. Then both fighters exchanged inside and Figueroa connected with a right to the chest and a left uppercut to the solar plexus and down went Nery.

Nery could not beat referee Tom Taylor’s count and was counted out at 2:18 of the seventh round.

Figueroa is now the WBC and WBA super bantamweight unified champion.

“It feels amazing,” said Figueroa. “I know everyone doubted me.”

Roman Wins Super Bantam Eliminator

Los Angeles-based Danny Roman (29-3-1, 10 KOs) battered Mexico’s Ricardo Espinoza (25-4, 21 KOs) to win convincingly by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a super bantamweight fight.

After a slow start Roman began to out-maneuver the heavy-punching Espinoza and found openings for left uppercuts. Boy did he find openings.

“I concentrated on finding my distance,” said Roman.

Roman snapped Espinoza’s head back so many times it seemed that the Mexican fighter would not be able to last the full 10 rounds. But like most Mexican fighters he would not quit.

Espinoza tried every move in his catalogue but nothing worked against the superb technique used by Roman, who formerly held the IBF and WBA super bantamweight world titles. It was a perfect example of technical prowess defeating raw power.

The uppercut was the chosen weapon of choice and Roman exhibited how to throw it from various positions and angles. It landed perfectly every time as if targeted by a laser. Espinoza never could avoid the uppercut.

During the last three rounds Espinoza’s face was bloody and battered while Roman looked as if he were merely sparring. The end seemed near but the fighter from Tijuana battled until the final bell.

“I thought he was going to go down,” said Roman. “But he had a big heart.”

All three judges scored it for Roman at 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

“It’s a step closer to getting back my titles,” said Roman who lost the titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev a year ago by split decision. “I’m here to fight the best.”

Martinez Beats Burgos

Sacramento’s Xavier Martinez (16-0, 11 KOs) discovered that Tijuana’s Juan Carlos Burgos (34-5-2, 21 KOs) still has plenty of fight remaining and showed it with a gutsy 10 rounds of back-and-forth battering. Still, Martinez won by unanimous decision though every round was competitive.

Boy was it competitive.

Martinez, 23, had a 10-year advantage in youth but was unable to convince Burgos. Every round saw savage combinations connect by each fighter, but the judges all felt that the Sacramento fighter was superior. All three scored it 99-91 for Martinez. The crowd booed the decision.

“I was landing the cleaner shots,” said Martinez. “He’s a tough competitor.”

Other Results

A super lightweight match saw Jose Valenzuela (8-0) knock out Nelson Hampton (7-4) in the first round.

Gabriela Fundora (1-0) won her pro debut by unanimous decision over Jazmin Valverde (2-2) in a four round flyweight match. Fundora is the sister of super welterweight contender Sebastian Fundora.

A lightweight bout was won by Justin Cardona (5-0) by first round knockout of James De Herrera (4-7).

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