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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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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

Bernard Fernandez

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

For that part of the sports world that takes notice of boxing, Shakur Stevenson announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making – well, maybe – in totally dominating and ultimately dethroning WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Shakur, the 24-year-old southpaw and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, N.J., seemingly hit Herring, 35, a combat-toughened but outgunned Marine Corps veteran, with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink en route to a 10th-round stoppage that wowed, among others, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist and ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley Jr., who had chided Stevenson, a sometimes risk-adverse defensive wizard, as a “boring” fighter in his most recent bout on the Worldwide Leader, a 12-round scorecard shutout of Namibia’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas.

After referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save the bleeding and battered Herring 1 minute, 30 seconds into round 10, Stevenson surprised Bradley by thanking him for providing the motivation he needed to ramp up his offensive output.

“Shakur tonight showed a ton of maturity,” Bradley said of the new-look, presumably more fan-friendly version of Stevenson that was on display. “The fact that he thanked me and said that I motivated him is a beautiful thing. That showed even more maturity, because that’s all that I want from these young fighters. I want them to grow.

“This is what I wanted to see from Shakur Stevenson. But I knew he had it in him, and he showed it tonight.”

Not that Bradley has completely bought into the notion of all that Stevenson could be, citing the lack of the only weapon – one-punch power – in his otherwise well-stuffed trick bag. Maybe that will come should Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) continue to enhance his man-strength, and maybe what you see now is all that fight fans can ever expect to get. In baseball terminology, Shakur Stevenson was more or less categorized by Bradley as a high-average singles hitter with enough gap power to accumulate a fair share of doubles that can get opponents out of there on accumulated damage. Who could complain if Stevenson, whose avowed goal is to become a superstar and fixture at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, continues to show flashes of such stylistic predecessors as Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

On this night and in the fight’s host city, however, Stevenson took a worse media-coverage battering from Eddie Rosario than he had administered to Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) with his fists. Rosario, a trade-deadline acquisition of the Atlanta Braves, slugged a three-run homer to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at nearby Truist Park, sending the Braves into their first World Series since 1999. For now, Rosario, who went 14-for-25 with three homers in winning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, is the toast of the town and the focus of reams of space in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section. But it wasn’t only Rosario who siphoned attention in the local paper away from Stevenson; the fight might have gotten a few lines in the print editions, but online it was completely ignored by the AJC, Rosario’s hot bat followed in the pecking order by stories about the NBA’s Hawks losing at Cleveland, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dropping a high-scoring contest at Virginia and a five-star high school defensive end prospect named Mykel Williams verbally committing to the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

While it had to be frustrating to Stevenson and Atlanta’s fight fans for the event to be ignored by AJC, there were other deserving participants on the card who were similarly overlooked by the press in Georgia’s largest city. Not that anyone in the Internet age still pastes newspaper clippings into scrapbooks, but 19-year-old middleweight prospect Xander Zayas might be at a similar embryonic stage of development once occupied by Stevenson a couple of years ago. He deserved at least some recognition in the paper for his fourth-round stoppage of Dan Karpency, as did two other undercard fighters with celebrity familial ties: middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, who scored a third-round TKO of James Westley II, and junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, son of four-time heavyweight champion and Atlanta-area resident Evander Holyfield – can it be nearly 30 years since “The Real Deal” shook off an early knockdown to stop Bert Cooper in seven rounds on Nov. 23, 1991, in Atlanta’s since-demolished Omni Coliseum? — who bombed out Charles Stanfield in two rounds.

But Atlanta is not the only metropolis that devotes fewer newspaper column inches, if any, to the sport that once made Evander Holyfield as important a local sports figure as any Falcon, Brave or Hawk. It will be up to Stevenson to break through, if he can, to a level where his every ring appearance becomes a must-see because boxing’s viability is and has always been largely tied to the popularity of its larger-than-life figures.

“I wanted a fun fight – show my skills, my boxing, my power,” Stevenson said of the modifications he and trainer/grandfather Wali Moses made from the relative dreariness of the wide points nod over Nakathila to the pulse-quickening pummeling of Herring, who apologized to the Marine Corps in general for his defeat, not that any such admission was necessary. Herring seemed to be contemplating retirement, but there has never been any occasion when he failed to conduct himself honorably inside the ropes.

The question now is, will Stevenson continue to hew to demonstrate the aggressiveness he exhibited against Herring? His comments following the Nakathila bout suggest that it might not always be so. His style is evolving, but what works better on one night might not be advisable on another.

“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said after his paint-by-numbers dismissal of Nakathila. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better. I was being real careful because he has power. He was real scary. I got the best defense in boxing. But I’ll be better in my next fight.”

Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, a 2021 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who also did commentary for Herring-Stevenson, said Shakur shouldn’t feel pressured to become something he is not in order to meet anyone else’s expectations.

“I think we got to kill some of these misnomers that have been around the sport for far too long, that fighters that go about their craft a certain kind of way, hit and don’t get hit, (means) there’s something not tough about them,” Ward said. “I heard that my whole career. Floyd Mayweather heard that his whole career. Just because a skillful fighter who can think and plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers doesn’t mean he can’t get down and dirty. It only means we’re going to get down and dirty when we have to.

“Fighters who have (high) IQs and skill, keep doing what you’re doing. Some people are going to like it and others won’t. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If a good fighter has a bad night, he can still win every round. If a guy who takes two to (land) one had a bad night, it’s a pretty ugly night. He’s probably going to get knocked out or take a lot of punishment.

“I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I just beat all those guys, all the guys they said were going to get me. I just kept winning. And winning covers a lot of problems and issues.”

A lot, for sure, not all. In addition to Whitaker, Mayweather and maybe Ward, there are elements of Stevenson’s makeup that call to mind the technical proficiency of two-time Cuban gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a former Top Rank fighter. Stevenson has been groomed by Top Rank for a prolonged and successful run at the elite level, but what so far has been a mutually beneficial working relationship could hinge in part to the fighter’s willingness to more regularly perform as he did against Herring than he did against Nakathila and a few other opponents that led to the perception that he was supremely talented, yes, but also a touch boring.

Prior to Rigondeaux’s release by Top Rank, company founder Bob Arum complained that his style leaned more to Masterpiece Theater than Rocky, which made Rigo a poor box-office and television attraction. Arum even said that when he brought the Cuban’s name up to HBO executives, “they throw up.”

There are many ways to win a prizefight, and now Shakur Stevenson has shown that he can win with chamber music or semi-heavy metal playing in the background. How far he advances in his march toward the truly elite status he is convinced is his destiny may be determined by the method he chooses to employ should a much-discussed showdown with Mexican blaster Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) take place in 2022. The hard truth is that a lot of fight fans not only like, but require splashes of blood-and-guts mixed in with their favorite sport’s artistic side.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Fast Results from Atlanta Where Shakur Stevenson Turned in a Masterful Performance

Arne K. Lang

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Former world featherweight title-holder Shakur Stevenson turned in his career-best performance tonight at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta while wresting the WBO 130-pound world title from the shoulders of Jamel Herring via a 10th-round TKO. At age 24, Stevenson was the younger man by 11 years and it was a case of youth being served.

As a pro, Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) has lost precious few rounds. The rap against him was that he is content to outclass an opponent, providing few fireworks. In this vein, the assumption was that tonight’s bout would be a tactical (i.e., tame) affair. But while there were no knockdowns and Shakur fought a measured fight, there was more snap in his punches than had been the norm and he finished the bout on a high note.

Early into the fight, Herring’s left eye began to swell. In round nine, Stevenson opened a nasty cut over Herring’s other eye. In round ten, with the cut bleeding profusely, Stevenson revved up his attack, forcing referee Mark Nelson to waive it off. The official time was 1:30.

After the fight, Stevenson called out his WBC counterpart Oscar Valdez. Herring, an ex-Marine and former U.S. Olympic team captain, falls to 23-3.

Other Bouts

Fast-rising 19-year-old middleweight Xander Zayas shellacked intrepid Dan Karpency whose father and chief cornerman pulled him out after four rounds. A future star, born in Puerto Rico, Zayas is now 11-0 (8). One of the three fighting brothers, Karpency (9-4-1) will return to his day job as a registered nurse at a maximum-security prison in Western Pennsylvania. He hadn’t previously been stopped

In the first bout airing on ESPN’s flagship station, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali, scored a third-round stoppage of scrappy but out-gunned James Westley II, a 36-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) knocked Westley down with a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two and knocked him to his knees with another short right hand early in the next stanza. Westley wasn’t badly hurt, but his corner saw fit to throw in the towel.

Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, one of 11 children fathered by the great Evander Holyfield, knocked Charles Stanford flat on his back with a harsh left-right combination in round two, advancing his record to 8-0 (6). The official time was 0:30. Stanford, a 35-year-old Cincinnati man with an MMA background, was 6-3 heading in.

Middleweight Troy Isley, a 23-year-old U.S. Olympian from Alexandria, VA, improved to 3-0 (2) with a first-round stoppage of 37-year-old Nicholi Navarro (2-2), a former Army Ranger from Denver. Isley rocked his overmatched opponent several times before putting him on the canvas with a combination, forcing the ref to intervene. The official time was 2:48.

In an upset, Erik Palmer saddled Atlanta’s Roddricus Livsey with his first defeat, winning a split decision. Palmer, from the Karpency family stable, was 12-14-5 heading in, versus 8-0-1 for Livsey. The scores were 58-56 twice and a curious 59-55 for the hometown fighter.

Haven Brady Jr, a 19-year-old featherweight from Albany, Georgia, improved to 4-0 (3) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Corpus Christi’s Roberto Negrete (3-1).  The scores favoring Brady were 40-36 across the board, but Negrete was no slouch.

Chicago welterweight Antoine Cobb made an impressive pro debut with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jerrion Campbell (2-2). It was all over in 58 seconds. Cobb, 25, is a protégé of former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin.

In the opening bout on the card, 21-year-old Brooklyn lightweight Harley Maderos, a 2021 USA national champion, improved to 2-0 (1) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Deljerro Revello (0-2). Maderos scored a knockdown in the opening frame and won all four rounds on all four cards but wasn’t particularly impressive.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty images.

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Results from Tampa: Harold Calderon Survives Bite to Remain Undefeated

David A. Avila

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Undefeated welterweight Harold Calderon remained unbeaten despite strange tactics by late replacement Luis Florez that forced a premature end of the fight due to a disqualification on Saturday.

Calderon (26-0, 17 KOs) endured a change of opponents, and then outrageous tactics by Colombia’s Florez (25-22) including biting that ended the fight at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.

“That m..f…just bit me,” said Calderon, a southpaw from Miami. “I’m sweet. I’m like sugar.”

For the first three rounds Florez seemed eager to trade blows with Calderon and chided the Florida fighter to attack. But once the lefty welterweight attacked the body, the Colombian fighter suddenly seemed not as eager.

Calderon took the fight inside and battered Florez on the inside. During one attack Florez motioned he was hit behind the head. That’s when the dirty tactics began including a bite on Calderon. After Calderon retaliated with a body shot, Florez took a knee and complained. The referee stopped the fight. It was later revealed that the referee disqualified Florez for biting.

Calderon said he’s anxious to fight any of the top 15 contenders if given an opportunity.

“I need somebody in the top 15,” he said.

Uzbekistan’s Otabek Kholmatov (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Colombia’s Juan Medina (12-9, 11 KOs) in the second round of their super bantamweight clash. Kholmatov, a southpaw, scored two knock downs in the first round. The tall Uzbeki fighter blew out Medina with more body blows to end the fight at 1:51 of the second round.

“I’ll be the champ,” Kholmatov said.

A super lightweight match saw Clarence Booth (21-4, 12 KOs) take time to figure out the awkward style of Alejandro Munera (6-4-4) and win by knockout at the seventh round.

Bantamweight contender Rosalinda Rodriguez (13-0, 3 KOs) fought last-minute replacement Elizabeth Tuani (1-4) and won by stoppage at 1:16 of the second round in a fight fought above 126 pounds. There was confusion because Tuani did not look hurt nor in danger of going down when the fight was stopped. Even Rodriguez looked perplexed.

“I was confused,” said Rodriguez. “She was putting up a fight.”

Other Bouts

Jean Guerra Vargas (6-0) survived a knockdown against Rueben Morales (0-2) to win a split decision. It seemed Vargas got lucky with the scoring. Morales was the dominant fighter for the first two rounds and lost gas. He was a last-day replacement.

Poland’s Adrian “Pretty Boy” Pinheiro (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Milton Nunez with a focused body attack in the first two rounds and scored two knockdowns with body shots. A couple of body sapping shots floored Nunez at 1:05 of the second round for the knockout in the heavyweight fight.

Bryan Lopez (3-0) knocked down wild swinging William Fauth (0-7) twice before scoring a knockout win at 1:56 of the second round of a super lightweight fight.

Hungarian heavyweight Istvan Bernath (8-0, 6 KOs) knocked out Mexico’s Guillermo Del Rio (3-4-1) with an overhand right at 2:30 of the first round.

A welterweight fight saw Bobby Henry start slowly and then floor Bryant Costello in the second round to turn things around and win by decision after four rounds.

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