Friday, March 9, 2007

Weighty decision on tonight’s card

By Bud Barth

WORCESTER— Eric “Butterbean” Esch says he’s not going to be doing this forever — maybe another year, most of which will be spent in martial arts and cage fights — which means that his scheduled four-rounder against Joe Siciliano tonight at the Palladium could be one of the legendary brawler’s last boxing appearances.

Esch and Siciliano, the fighting Leominster drug detective, headline a 10-bout card that starts at 7 p.m. at the downtown nightclub, 261 Main St. Doors open at 6:30. Some tickets remain ($30 general admission, $50 ringside), and will be available at the door.

These two super heavyweights — Butterbean weighed in last night at a record 417 pounds, while Siciliano tipped the scales at 313-1/2, making for what is believed to be a world-record total of 730-1/2 pounds — are an intriguing match. Or should that be mismatch?

The 40-year-old Butterbean, of course, is a veteran of all modes of hand-to-hand combat, with an amazing ring record of 76-7-4 and 57 knockouts. He’s being paid $20,000 for his first Massachusetts appearance, which he’s making mostly because of his long friendship with promoter Jimbo Isperduli of Paxton.

The scowling villain with the shaved head (it’s just an act, he’s actually a real gentleman) once went 10 rounds with former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, though Holmes was washed up at the time. Still, Butterbean was credited with a 10th-round knockdown before losing a unanimous decision.

Esch also lost three straight fights in the span of three months in 2005, although the fact that one of them was in China and another in Australia might have had something to do with it. So he’s not invulnerable.

The 49-year-old Siciliano, on the other hand, is a courageous part-time pro with just seven bouts (4-3-0, 2 KOs) to his credit. He’s making $4,000, which might not be nearly enough if he takes the beating the experts predict. His only big-time bout was against “Hurricane” Peter McNeeley in 2000, and he was TKO’d in the first round. Butterbean disposed of McNeeley in the first round a year earlier.

Siciliano has a huge following in the Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner area, and personally sold 1,000 tickets for the fight.

“It’s going to be a tough fight,” Siciliano said in the understatement of the year. “Not only is he strong and powerful, he’s in great shape. I have all the respect in the world for the guy.”

Butterbean is counting on the hometown crowd to energize Siciliano to the point where he does something stupid, like trade punches with him. Siciliano said he knows that would be suicide, so he’s been training to box and move for four rounds.

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

As for his career, Butterbean said he never dreamed it would blossom to the point where he’ll be able to retire soon to run his restaurant, Mr. Bean’s, back home in Jasper, Ala. He’ll also do some announcing and personal appearances, but said his fighting career has “probably another year” left. He’s as busy as ever, though, fighting a lucrative cage match next month in Japan.

“It’s not an easy game,” he said. “There’s a lot to do. Nobody could ever expect it to take off like it did. I’m the only professional name boxer that’s ever made the changeover to mixed martial arts — ever. Right now I’m 10th in the world in MMA.”

Right behind the main event in interest will be the pro debut of “Babybean” — Butterbean’s 21-year-old son, 289-pound Brandon Esch — in a four-rounder against Matt Eckerly (1-3-0, 1 KO) of Midland, Mich.

Asked why he decided to start boxing, Babybean said: “It just seemed right. Everybody kept asking me why I wasn’t doing it, so I figured it was about time to give it a shot. I think I’m ready. We’ll see (tonight).”

Will he pick up the baton after his dad retires and follow in his famous footsteps?

“We’re going to have fun and see where it goes,” he said.

The rest of the pro card, all four-rounders, has middleweight Joe “Sugar” Rea (5-0-1, 4) of Quincy, a native of Northern Ireland, taking on John Scalzi (14-37, 2) of Altoona, Pa.; light heavyweight Chris Traietti (5-0-0, 3) of Quincy against Israel Figueroa (6-18-4, 1) of Hartford; middleweight Chuck Shearns of Auburn in his pro debut against Patrick Bozeman (0-2) of Philadelphia; super middleweight Andre Nevsky of Worcester, a native of Russia, in his pro debut against Montez Wilson (0-8) of Camden, N.J.; and welterweight Luis Viramontes (1-0) of Worcester versus Olade Thomas (0-1) of Providence.

Also on tap are three exhibitions, two of them featuring Worcester City Councilors Rick Rushton and Joff Smith, plus Kevin Carlo, Wayne Harnois, Keith Bianchini and Chris Richardson.


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