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Butterbean will fight Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Arena.
Butterbean will fight Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Arena.

A sad night for the Sweet Science in Milwaukee

During the first half of the 20th century, there was no more popular sport in Milwaukee than professional boxing. In fact, this city has a rich legacy of great fighters -- Bob Moha, Gus Christie, Richie and Pinkey Mitchell, Joey Sangor, to name the best -- and great fights -- Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson fought here -- that is about to be stomped by the so-called revival of the sport Saturday night at the US Cellular Arena after a dormant spell of 13 years.

Headlining what is being advertised as the "Brew City Brawl" are superblobs Eric "Butterbean" Esch and Harry Funmaker, of Fond du Lac. Going by their size, both are champions with a knife and fork; but in the ring it's a vastly different tale.

Butterbean, 400 pounds of vanilla pudding, is a veteran of the Toughman circuit who has lately also dabbled in Mixed Martial Arts fighting. He had a brief run in boxing in the 1990s when promoter Bob Arum (famous for once telling reporters, "Yesterday I was lying, today I'm telling you the truth") anointed him the "King of the Four-Rounders" and sent him out to battle against a vast array of forgettable palookas, some of whom later were discovered to not be who they said they were and/or were judged to have executed artless belly flops designed to enhance the PR myth that Butterbean was one bad dude in the ring.

The first time he lost, by knockout to a journeyman named Mitch Rose in 1995 at Madison Square Garden, Rose said afterwards that he had turned down a $5,000 bribe to join the motley crew of Butterbean's vanquished opponents.

Several months before his death in 2004, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Jack Newfield, who loved boxing, wrote a story about an FBI probe into fixed fights in which he said, anent Butterbean:

"The reputable BoxRec archive Web site names several fights in which Butterbean's opponent appeared to take a dive, including his matches with Marcus Rhode, Bill Johnson and Bill Duncan.

"Oklahoma suspended Duncan for faking his performance after he went down in two rounds. James Calvin Baker has admitted faking his 18-second knockout loss to Butterbean in 1996. BoxRec also says several of Butterbean's ‘opponents' appeared under false names. Darryl Becker (0-7) lost to Butterbean under the alias of Jack Ramsey. James Holly, who had a record of 3-41, fought a ‘no-contest' with Butterbean under the alias of James Robinson.

"(Bob) Arum often warded Butterbean prized, high-profile showcases on pay-per-view shows that gave him the status of a cult hero among unsophisticated fans. Artificial build-ups of ‘white hypes' are a carnival staple of modern boxing."

Now, the carnival comes to Milwaukee, with boxing fans urged to "be a part of history in the making" by coming out to watch the Bean, in the final "fight" of his career, mix it up against poor Funmaker, whose 17 losses in 34 recorded bouts already include two to Butterbean and one to the equally absurd Peter McNeeley (the manufactured contender who promised to ensnare Mike Tyson in a "cocoon of horror" in their 1995 fight, and then lasted 95 seconds). According to BoxRec, Funmaker hasn't fought in four years. On top of which, Harry, whose last recorded weight was 262 pounds, is 46 years old.

This isn't boxing history, but rather a big, wet, brown debasement of it and the achievements of the fighters and promoters who once made Milwaukee a big-league boxing town.

Wisconsin used to have a boxing commission that regulated the sport here. In its early days, it was considered the best in the whole country when it came to seeing that boxing was conducted on a totally above-board and legitimate basis. Back in 1918, it even had the cajones to tell the famous Jack Dempsey to take a hike when the Manassa Mauler wanted to come here and bowl over some no-hoper nobody had ever heard of before.

The commission was put out of commission back in 1980, and since then boxing has been under the purview of the State Dept. of Regulation and Licensing, which demonstrated its expertise in the matter in 1990 and made Wisconsin a national laughingstock when the DRL famously permitted half-blind, cocaine-addicted Aaron Pryor to fight in Madison because to do otherwise would constitute discrimination against the handicapped. (Pryor "knocked out" his opponent, who turned out to be one of his best friends.)

As a boxing fan and writer about the sport for 47 years, come Saturday night I will do my part for the Sweet Science by doing anything but attending the circus at the US Cellular Arena.

 

Talkbacks

iabston | Oct. 2, 2009 at 2:15 p.m. (report)

34665 The hosts of this event should be applauded. Giving Milwaukeeans a chance to see boxing again. Relive some memories from their childhood when fathers used to take sons to see a bout. No, its not Hollyfield VS Tyson but its $10 family entertainment. Good work fellas!

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AverageGuy | Oct. 1, 2009 at 2:25 p.m. (report)

Belly on up to MMA then. Boxing is on life support and any attempt to revive interest should be applauded. If OMC is such a supporter where are the sponsored bouts with local fighters to drum up support?

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booboo16 | Oct. 1, 2009 at 2:23 p.m. (report)

Boxing is no longer a relevant sport in America...and for that matter around the world. Things have moved passed it...viewers have changed. For better or worse, the whole pack of MMA leagues (or whatever they are called) have ascended to the thrown that boxing once held. Maybe the hardcore fan still thinks that boxing is relevant, but it's not a main stream sport anymore.

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bozack33 | Oct. 1, 2009 at 2:01 p.m. (report)

And to believe this is what Dave Begal prefers over MAA/UFC.......................*sigh*.....................

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WestSideWillie | Oct. 1, 2009 at 1:17 p.m. (report)

34664 The Boxing and Wrestling Commission used to get 10% of the gate as part of their license and regulatory aspects. Wrestling? Yep, even Wrestling. (Maybe Gov Doyle will bring back the Wrestling Tax). Boxing promoters got tired of the extortion and quit bringing cards to Wisconsin.

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