Thursday, March 8, 2007

Butterbean gets chilly reception

By Bud Barth

WORCESTER— Flanked by almost 700 pounds of boxing beef, promoter Jimbo Isperduli stood at the microphone and proudly proclaimed that it will be “the heaviest fight in the history of the world.”

That takes in some territory for sure, but it’s hard to dispute the claim that when 385-pound Eric “Butterbean” Esch (76-7-4, 57 knockouts) and 310-pound Leominster drug detective Joe Siciliano (4-3-0, 2 KOs) climb into the ring tomorrow night at the Palladium for their four-round main event, they’ll be stepping into boxing history.

The heaviest combined weight for any of Butterbean’s previous fights was 676 pounds, and he weighed only 365 for that one. He’s expected to be around 385 when he weighs in at 6 tonight outside The Restaurant at Union Station. The public is invited.

Because most scales have a limit of 350 pounds, Isperduli planned to use two scales and have Butterbean put one leg on each, then add up the totals. But Butterbean balked at that idea as being over-sensational. So, Isperduli is trying to track down a scale with a 400-pound range.

The biting cold outside probably limited the crowd for last night’s Union Station press conference, which was attended by Butterbean and his 21-year-old son, 280-pound Brandon Esch, who will make his pro debut on the card. There were perhaps 50 curiosity-seekers on hand looking to catch a glimpse of the legendary Butterbean and this man who dares challenge the “King of the Four-Rounders.”

“He (Siciliano) comes to fight, from what I’ve been told,” Butterbean said. “That’s what makes an exciting fight — when two guys come to fight.”

Siciliano, 49, said he’s been training hard and is planning to box Butterbean, not trade punches with him. That plan might be tested, though, when Butterbean lands his first big punch.

“If I get into a slugging match, I’m going to be in trouble,” said Siciliano, who is earning $4,000. “He’s a lot more powerful. I have to try to box him. You can’t get into a slugging match with him. He’s just too big and strong.”

Butterbean, 40, who lives in Jasper, Ala., marveled at the interior beauty of Union Station, but didn’t have much nice to say about the cold.

“I left 70-degree weather and got off (the plane) and it was 7,” he said in his Southern drawl. “But the people here have really warmed it up, so it’s made it worth the trip.”

As for coming into Siciliano’s backyard, Butterbean said: “I’ve fought a lot of people in their hometown. Actually, it plays to my advantage because a lot of guys are intimidated by my punching power (and stay away). But in their hometown, they’re a little braver. It works to my favor.”

Butterbean, who got his start in Toughman contests, now makes the bulk of his living — not counting the $20,000 he’s getting here — by fighting cage matches, also known as Pride fighting, a brutal sport that combines boxing (with flimsy 4-ounce gloves), mixed martial arts, karate and judo. Basically, almost anything goes. He’s also ranked 10th in the world in mixed martial arts.

Now boxing only a couple of times a year, Butterbean said he plans to continue this kind of life for only another year, although it’s hard to imagine what’s kept him going this long.

“I have fun, I have a good time doing it,” he said. “Where else can you fight, not go to jail, and get paid? What a job!”


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