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Battle Hymn – Part 8: Shadow and Light

Springs Toledo

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Part-8 be370When Aaron Wade left San Francisco in 1945, he left behind a son and a pregnant wife. “He didn’t want to be a family man,” Jenny said. “He didn’t want nothing.” Right around the time he took a dive against Sugar Ray Robinson in February 1950, Alan Roy Wade turned four and had yet to meet him. By then, Jenny had given up and filed for divorce. It was finalized that year.

Wade moved in with a girlfriend in Jersey City and got a job at the Department of Sanitation. There were half-hearted attempts to reach out to his sons and every so often an envelope with a $20 money order inside would arrive at his ex-wife’s address in San Francisco. It was made out in his girlfriend’s handwriting, which speaks well of her character. In the mid-fifties, she died in a car accident and Wade went into a tailspin; he reached for the bottle with both hands and drowned his sorrows, or watched them swim.

In 1960, he made his way to Peoria to meet Alan for the first time. His mother Willie Mae and Jenny seem to have arranged the family reunion and Wade did his part; he stuck a cork in the bottle and put on a suit to make a good first impression. “He greeted me like a father,” Alan recalled, “and he looked younger than his years.” Wade tried to maintain contact by telephone—he tried to be a better father—but could not sustain it. The binging was getting worse.

He was bottoming out. Somewhere in his drunken haze the ghost of Kid Farmer was coming on, and hell followed with him.

When Kid Farmer was born over a saloon in 1884, Peoria was still called “Still City” and produced more whiskey than any other city in the nation. The saloon was only a few doors down from where the Wades would live in 1922/1923. Like Wade, Farmer became a professional fighter who never quite abstained from booze. Like Wade, he excelled in the sport anyway. Farmer was the kind of local legend carried from the ring on the shoulders of cheering fans—he reportedly had over 600 fights and 283 knockouts before he took a running leap into a bottomless vat.

It was said that Farmer was avoided by name-fighters and drank out of discouragement. It was also said Farmer never got a title shot because he was a drunk. Either way or both, he would fight half-cocked just like Wade did. “Staggering is strength,” he’d quip. “The weak fall down.” Eventually, his career became as erratic as his field of vision; he’d be in a main event one night and a curtain-raiser the next. When his career finally collapsed, he did too. Anyone looking for him was bound to find him face-down in a gutter beside an empty bottle or in a flop on skid row. One night in 1945, he got the bum’s rush out of a saloon and stumbled into the street where he was killed by a car just yards from where he was born. He’s buried in an unmarked grave in St. Mary’s cemetery, according to local historian Chuck Burroughs, “surrounded by hundreds of bodies of decent folk, who, if they knew Farmer was in their midst, would get up and walk away.”

Wade was teetering on the edge of Kid Farmer’s vat.

In May 1962, Wade was laid out on the third floor of a condemned house in Jersey City. “Paralyzed drunk,” is how he described it. He heard someone’s voice above him. “C’mon get yourself up,” it said. Wade could not. “Not a muscle in my body would move,” he said. So he murmured a prayer: “Please, Lord, let me stand on my feet.”

“The good Lord heard me,” he said. “I was able to stand, wobbly a bit, but steady enough to walk.” He made a promise then and there to stop drinking, but had another attack on the way home and was taken to the hospital. “There they told me what I always knew,” Wade said. “I was an alcoholic.”

He was likely suffering from alcoholic myopathy, the symptoms of which include sudden weakness and collapse after a drinking bout. It is invited by long-term alcohol use, as is delirium tremens (DTs), neuropathy, liver disease, and death.

—Wade had nowhere to go except up.

“I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal Saviour,” he told anyone who would listen. “Ever since that day, He has blessed me.” Wade began examining a conscience dulled for decades. What he saw were numerous tragedies that were the direct results of his “waywardness.” He had a son with a teenage sweetheart in Peoria and left them both behind when he moved west, he got mixed up with shady characters in San Francisco, got shot, almost got indicted, abandoned his wife and children when he moved east, blew a title shot after a drunken tantrum at the New York State Athletic Commission, trashed his last comeback, and became a Bowery bum shunned by his family. Wade had many regrets, though he found comfort in the sublime feeling that he was forgiven. Moved with gratitude, he began studying for the Christian ministry.

Early in 1968, Deacon Wade returned to San Francisco after a twenty-three-year absence. “I guess it was the good Lord that told me to come back to San Francisco,” he said, “where I might be able to carry on His work among people who might have remembered me when I was fighting.” He also drew nearer to his sons, now young men. “We saw him every week,” Alan told me. “Every week.”

“What was he like?” I asked Alan. “He was even-tempered, a happy man, always smiling and laughing,” he said. When either he or his brother talked back to his mother, though, the smile fell off. “He’d straighten us up,” Alan said with a chuckle, and left it at that.

He saw his father praying often and at different times during the day—head bowed, eyes closed, lips moving.

In March, the long-retired fighter stopped by the offices of the San Francisco Examiner and found the boxing writer who covered so many of his West Coast wars.

Eddie Muller glanced up from his desk as a little man with enormous shoulders pulled up a chair. Wade wore glasses by then, but Muller remembered him. “Aaron Wade was a prize fighter. A good one too,” he would write after their reunion. “Good enough to whip Archie Moore right here in San Francisco.” Wade told Muller what he had been through since his glory days, he spoke of shadows and light and how he’d “been telling others at church missions and meetings that the good Lord can do for them what He did for me.” Muller was impressed when Wade didn’t ask for a hand-out. He was even more impressed when Wade told him he received no compensation besides the “good feeling” he got helping the less fortunate.

“Even if you only help one you’ve really accomplished something,” he said.

Muller decided to help one too. He decided to help Wade. “Wade didn’t ask for this help. I am,” Muller told the Examiner’s100,000 subscribers. “The fellow can use a job.”

It was an irony that Wade probably welcomed as a test of faith when the Gallo Wine Company, then located on the south side of San Francisco, offered him a job at its warehouse. Wade accepted it and worked there for the rest of his life. Every Friday, employees would be handed a couple bottles of wine with their paychecks, but by then Wade and Kid Farmer’s ghost had gone separate ways. He gave the bottles away.

He still liked to eat. Alan fondly recalled going with him to the North Beach section of San Francisco. Wade, looking sharp in a suit, would walk into an Italian club and hobnob with guys who knew the slam-bang fighter he once was. He and his sons, who sat cowed by his warning not to say “mafia,” ate porchetta, Prosciutto di Parma, and Pork Chop Milanese free of charge. It was a sign of respect.

On March 5, 1971, Wade, now 54, was married for the second time to a short, heavyset nurse’s aide named Sallie Cousar —and life was good.

 

 

 

 

 


Photo by Kurt Bank found in Shaping San Francisco (digital archive).

Kid Farmer’s story found in Come Out Fighting: True Fight Tales for Fight Fans by Chuck Burroughs (1977), pp. 51-68; San Francisco Examiner 3/1/68 and 4/20/74 (Eddie Muller).

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com .

 

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Erickson Lubin Wins, But Misplaced His Hammer

David A. Avila

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Erickson Lubin misplaced the hammer but found a way to victory over Terrell Gausha by unanimous decision in a slow-developing WBC super welterweight eliminator on Saturday.

Lubin (23-1, 16 KOs), a southpaw slugger, was unable to lower the boom on Gausha (21-2-1, 10 KOs) at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. But he did enough in a tactical battle that only activated into a real fight in the later rounds.

Back and forth the two super welterweights mostly feinted and fired blows at each other’s guard. Few managed to pierce for scoring blows and those that landed were mostly to the body.

“It was a chess match. I respected what he had, he was trying to counter what I had. My trainer was telling me to be cautious and not get hit with anything stupid,” said Lubin, whose trainer is the respected Kevin Cunningham.

Gausha, 33, was the more accurate puncher but fired less than Lubin. Though he seemingly scored more often with counter rights, the scarcity of his blows allowed Lubin to control the pace of the fight.

It wasn’t until the mid-rounds that Gausha stepped into a slightly quicker pace. In the 10th, a short right connected and wobbled Lubin who covered up.

“I knew I had hurt him, but he was able to recover,” said Gausha, 24, who tried to finish off the hurt fighter but was unable to land another scoring blow.

“I’m in shape and I was able to recuperate,” Lubin revealed.

It was still unclear who was winning the fight. In the 12th and final round Lubin stepped up the pace and connected with a crisp right hook that clearly snapped the head of Gausha. But he fought his way out of the dangerous corner.

After 12 rounds all three judges scored it for Lubin 115-113, 116-112, 118-110.

“Gausha is a tough competitor, he’s at the top for a reason,” said Lubin. “I feel I beat one of the top 154s and I’m going to keep doing that.”

Gausha was classy in defeat.

“I take my hat off to Erickson Lubin. He was the better man tonight,” said Gausha.

Lubin now awaits the winner between Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario who fight each other next week for the WBC, WBA and IBF super welterweight titles. Showtime will provide the title match on pay-per-view.

Featherweights

Former IBO featherweight titlist Tug Nyambayar (12-1, 9 KOs) floored Cobia Breedy (15-1) twice in the first two rounds but struggled the rest of the way to win by split decision. One judge scored it 115-113 for Breedy and two others for Mongolia’s Nyambayar 114-112 and 114-113.

Nyambayar knocked down Breedy with a counter right cross in the first round and then floored him with four rights and a left hook in the second. After that, Breedy was the busier fighter and no one was able to take control.

“Boxing is boxing. It was a tough fight,” said Nyambayar.

Welterweights

In a solid match Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) was able to find out exactly where he stands against real competition and stopped the unstoppable Juan Carlos Abreu (23-6-1, 21 KOs) in the sixth round by technical knockout in their welterweight showdown.

More than just a knockout win, Ennis discovered that he can indeed take a punch from an elite level puncher.

Nobody questioned whether Ennis had boxing skills or athleticism and power, but nobody knew if he could take a punch. They discovered it as Abreu was able to connect in the fourth and fifth rounds. The Dominican fighter pulled out his tricks and connected several times with sneaky rights and lefts. Ennis remained standing.

Abreu was looking to trade bombs with Ennis in the fifth and sixth round and paid the price in getting delivered to the canvas with a pretty right counter uppercut. He survived. But in the sixth a slew of punches along the ropes sent him down again. He beat the count again but during a fierce exchange he was floored a final time at 1:06 of the sixth round. It was the first time Abreu had ever been stopped.

“I feel I put on a wonderful show and got the knockout,” said Ennis. “I feel I showed the division I am here.”

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Fast Results from the MGM Bubble: Pedraza Outclasses Molina Plus Undercard

Arne K. Lang

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The featured bout on tonight’s card at the MGM Bubble was a match between 2008 Olympians. It was a competitive match on paper, but Jose Pedraza turned in one of the better performances of his career while turning away Javier Molina who just wasn’t in Pedraza’s league tonight. The fight went the full 10 with the judges voting for the Boricua by scores of 99-91 and 98-92 twice. A former two-division belt-holder who looked very comfortable in his second start at 140, Pedraza boosted his record to 28-3. Molina, who had won five straight coming in, falls to 22-3.

Pedraza was manhandled by Gervonta Davis in 2017, outclassed by Vasyl Lomachenko in 2018, and upset by Jose Zepeda last year, but showed tonight that he still has plenty of mileage left on his odometer. Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez each own two pieces of the 140-pound title, but Pedraza seems to have found a new gear at age 31 and is nipping at their heels. However, Pedraza also hankers to renew acquaintances with Zepeda and that will likely come first.

In the 10-round heavyweight co-feature, Efe Ajagba’s higher workrate carried him to a 10-round unanimous decision over Jonathan Rice. The scores were 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Ajagba, the Houston-based Nigerian making his first start under the Top Rank banner, advanced his record to 14-0 (11) but was underwhelming. Rice, the terror of Tijuana taxi drivers, fell to 13-6-1 and solidified his reputation as a useful gatekeeper.

Robeisy Ramirez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Cuba who now resides in the Miami area, improved to 5-1 with a unanimous 8-round decision over Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo (13-3-2). Both appeared on the inaugural MGM Bubble card with Caraballo, fighting for the first time in the U.S., suffering a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Shakur Stevenson. Tonight’s uneventful fight saw Ramirez on cruise control as he won by scores of 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

San Bernardino junior middleweight Leo Ruiz improved to 8-0 with a 6-round unanimous decision over Cancun’s Rodrigo Solis (4-5-1). Both fighters had a point deducted in round five; Ruiz, 21, for low blows and Solis for spitting out his mouthpiece. The scores were 58-54 and 59-53 twice.

In a fight that wasn’t on the original schedule, Houston super middleweight Christian Montano improved to 10-0 (7) with a 6-round unanimous decision over St. Louis’ Ryan Adams (7-4-1). A three-time national amateur champion, Montano, who is of Columbian descent, had knocked out seven of his previous opponents in the opening round. He looked poorly conditioned tonight but yet won every round on two of the scorecards.

Lightweight Bryan Lua, who hails from the town of Madera in central California’s agricultural belt, returned to the ring after a 27-month absence and scored a one-punch knockout over Chile’s Luis Norambuena. A left hook did the damage, bringing the bout to a sudden conclusion at the 2:27 mark of round two. Lua, (6-0, 3 KOs) won two of three over Ryan Garcia as an amateur. It was a quick turnaround for Norambuena (4-7-1) who lost a 4-round decision in this ring last week.

The first two bouts on the card showcased the newest members of Top Rank’s “Kiddie Corps.” Kasir Goldston and Jahi Tucker, 17-year-old welterweights, launched their pro careers on a winning note.

Goldston, a southpaw from Albany, NY, opened the show with a 4-round unanimous decision over Wisconsin’s Isaiah Varnell (3-3). The scores were 40-36 and 39-37 twice.

Tucker, who trains in the same Long Island town that spawned Buddy McGirt, put away Alabama’s Deandre Anderson (1-2) in the opening round. Anderson came out winging, but the precocious Tucker picked him apart. Referee Robert Hoyle stepped in and stopping the mismatch at the 2:56 mark. As an amateur, Tucker was ranked #1 at 138 pounds while still a sophomore in high school.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 105: Angry Welterweights and More

David A. Avila

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Those welterweights don’t play.

One welterweight just got out of jail and wants to take out his angry frustrations in the boxing ring.

“One of us is getting knocked out. If it gets to where I’m behind on points, I’m just going to come forward and try to take him out, even if I end up getting knocked out,” said Juan Carlos Abreu. ““If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want.”

Standing in front of Abreu (23-5-1) will be one of the top welterweights in America, Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs). This is could be Ennis’ first true test against an experienced foe on Saturday Sept. 19, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Ennis, 23, has been breezing easily since first jumping in the prize ring in April 2016. So far, the competition has been unable to cope with the athleticism he possesses. Will Abreu be the first to pose a problem?

“Whatever he brings, we are going to be ready. I’m going to go out there, do my thing, be smart, have my fun, and get that stoppage at the end of the night,” said Ennis, whose last opponent Bakhtiyar Eyubov was eliminated in four rounds in January. “You can’t just go in there and go for the knockout. That’s how you get tired and lose your cool or even get hit with punches that you shouldn’t be getting hit with.”

Abreu hopes he loses his cool.

“If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want. I really want one of us to get knocked out,” says Abreu of the Dominican Republic who was purportedly jailed for street fighting.

This welterweight matchup is the precursor to the WBC super welterweight eliminator between Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) and Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs).

Gausha and Lubin both have lost once in their pro careers and need a win to get another crack at a world title.

Gausha lost a decision to Erislandy Lara three years ago. Lubin was stopped in one round by Jermell Charlo three years ago. Both realize the nature of the beast.

“I think Gausha has some problems with southpaws, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my game plan and coming out victorious Saturday night,” said Lubin, 24, a southpaw called “the Hammer” for a reason.

Gausha is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but trains in Southern California and has fought four elite southpaws in his career. He believes one more is not a problem.

“This will be my fourth southpaw in a row. So, I’m more comfortable and familiar this time around,” said Gausha, 33, a former US Olympian who trains with Manny Robles Jr. “The guys before me, they all fought each other. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. They all fought each other. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And you can see that the fights I take, even after a long layoff, they are tough fights.”

Top Rank

Also, on Saturday Sept. 19, heavyweights and super lightweights lead a Top Rank card featuring some interesting bouts that will be shown on ESPN+.

Newly acquired Efe Ajagba (13-0,11 KOs) meets Jonnie Rice (13-5-1) in a 10-round heavyweight clash. It’s Nigeria’s Ajagba’s second fight this year. Though still a little raw he shows immense potential and great natural strength.

Rice fights out of Bones Adams’ Gym in Las Vegas and has some power. He built up his record on heavyweights in Tijuana boxing rings but has some pop. He’s a sizeable heavyweight and good measuring stick for Ajagba.

The main event is a doozy.

Puerto Rico’s Jose “The Sniper” Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) meets Southern California’s Javier Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas.

This should be good.

Pedraza, 31, is a former WBO lightweight world titlist who lost in his first defense to Vasyl Lomachenko. Nothing bad about that. He defeated Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran for the belt and has shown a penchant for showing up big when you least expect it.

Molina, 30, is a 2008 US Olympian and a member of the fighting Molina family. His brother Oscar was a member of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic team. His other brother Carlos fought for the world title against Amir Khan. Though Javier Molina has never shown great power, he can truly fight.  His last win came against Amir Imam this past February.

Pending Lightweight Clash

Speaking of the lightweight division, is anyone else as excited as me about the looming showdown between the remarkable Vasyl Lomachenko and impressive Teofimo Lopez coming in less than a month?

Lomachenko, 32, the Ukrainian stylist known as “Hi Tech,” has that incredible footwork and ability to control distance. He’s a master of frustrating opponents and imposing his style of darting in and out of danger. But as good as he is, he can’t sell tickets. Only hardcore fans appreciate his peerless boxing skills.

Lopez, 23, hails from Brooklyn and has that ex-factor you can’t teach. He’s pizzazz and panache with a punch. That combination of flair and power excites fans and seemingly makes him a natural gate attraction. But in spite of his electric abilities, he’s facing a master boxer. Is he ready?

Top Rank is known for having a team of matchmakers headed by boxing wizard Bruce Trampler. It makes me wonder why they are pitting these two against each other?

The probable answer: neither sells out an arena alone. May the best man win.

A friend of mine from East L.A., who formerly boxed and comes from a boxing family, shared his knowledge and opinion on the matchup. He has an interesting take.

“His footwork is incredible,” said George Rodriguez about Lomachenko. “Don’t get me wrong, Teofimo is an incredible talent, but Lomachenko has that footwork.”

Any way you look at it, the winner of this clash clearly bumps up his own image.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) versus Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas on October 17. Mark down that date. It will be televised on ESPN.

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