by Derek Callahan
An Alabama native who has been through hundreds of fights in a boxing career that will probably never be duplicated, Eric Esch, the one-name known “Butterbean” (the only commonality he shares with Madonna) breaks all the stereotypes. A Southern man who had his amateur career in Toughman contests, and relies almost solely on his enormous punch, there will probably never be another like him. Now 36, the almost 400 pound fighter, a boxer, kickboxer and MMA participant, gained unheard of popularity with his easy going personality, and his knack for the knockout.
BoxingInsider.com: How did you first come to boxing?
Butterbean: I started in Toughman contests, I won 18 different championships and then I turned pro after that.
BoxingInsider.com: Did you feel prepared for the pros going right from Toughman?
Butterbean: You start out slow, one thing I’ve always went on is, I’ve got a big punch. If you hit hard that really helps a lot. In any sport of that nature.
BoxingInsider.com: How come you never made a run at the heavyweight rankings, or going for a belt?
Butterbean: I did win an IBA title, and the WBF title in England. A lot of the guys wouldn’t fight me because I was a big puncher I’m a threat. I fought Holmes. I fought a guy early in my career named Louis Monaco. I knocked Monaco out within the first round, I knocked him out pretty impressively. Kevin McBride was in the rankings, going for a title, this and that. He fought Monaco and Monaco knocked him out and after that a lot of people didn’t want to fight me because they new how fast I knocked Monaco out. It wasn’t a typical knockout, I knocked him out, out. Monaco knocked out Buster Douglas—it was after the bell rung, it was a legitimate, clean punch though.
BoxingInsider.com: so you started to pick up steam and the mid-level guys wouldn’t fight you, and still a big fight was out of reach?
Butterbean: I had a couple other fights, I fought Billy Eaton, I got a draw with him which was a bum deal so we had a rematch and during the rematch, I detached a bicep and still knocked him out. If I’m not wrong, he knocked out Joe Hip and I gave Joe Hipp a beating. A lot of them…’We don’t have a lot to gain from fighting him because he’s an up and comer but we got a lot to lose and he can hit hard.’ I’m fighting four rounds, making the kind of money most of them are fighting 10 or 12 rounds for. The title, you can’t eat it. You can’t eat the title.
I’m serious! You really can’t eat it and what does it prove? Okay, this guy beat McBride, gets beat by Monaco, I knock Monaco out but McBride gets to fight for the title. The politics in boxing, there’s a lot there. If I was a promoter, and I’m promoting my fighter, I wouldn’t want him to fight me because I can take a great punch, I’ve never been down by a punch, and I hit real hard. I wouldn’t want my fighter fighting me.
BoxingInsider.com: So for the rankings, there’s politics, you’re in there with four rounders, making a good living, why bother?
Butterbean: I’m the highest paid four rounder in the history of boxing right now.
BoxingInsider.com: Did you set out to become so recognizable? How did the whole Butterbean persona come about?
Butterbean: You can’t set out to do something like that, it don’t happen that way, I’m just very fortunate it happened.
BoxingInsider.com: When did it pick up that you said, ‘hey, there could be something here?’
Butterbean: It took off pretty quick, my second pro fight was on national TV—it don’t happen like that, normally you get 15, 20 fights and then you get a TV fight unless you’re very fortunate to win a gold medal or something like that. Or unless you’re an absolute remarkable thing that God threw on the earth to really just do boxing like Mike Tyson. Tyson, his second pro fight wasn’t on TV. He probably had five or six, seven fights before he got on TV. Me, my second pro fight was televised, it was on a Tommy Hearns undercard. Then a couple more fights and I’m on TV again, and every fight since then was televised. It just don’t happen like that. I’ve probably had more televised fights than any world champion out there.
BoxingInsider.com: What is it about you that’s garnered all his attention?
Butterbean: I’m exciting to watch, when people watch me fight, it’s gonna be a fight. It’s gonna be fun to watch.
BoxingInsider.com: It’s pretty incredible the way it’s panned out.
Butterbean: Several lucky things have happened. (laughs) I knocked out a referee in one of my fights, and me and Jay Leno become friends. I’ve been on the Tonight show seven times, that just don’t happen. In fact, that really helped.
BoxingInsider.com: Tyson knocked out a ref as well in one of his bouts. You and him share a common opponent in Peter McNeeley.
Butterbean: McNeeley, his corner threw in the towel, but I knocked him out faster than he got his towel threw in with Tyson.
BoxingInsider.com: What was your original goal in boxing?
Butterbean: I wanted to fight Tyson…I would still love to fight him. In K-1, my name was one that was thrown at Tyson’s people to fight him in the K-1.
BoxingInsider.com: Two sluggers, about the same age and conditioning, I’d probably pay to see it.
Butterbean: I can take a punch, since he got out of jail his chin’s not the same.
BoxingInsider.com: Some have said that he has four good rounds to fight then he gasses, and you’re known for four rounders so you’d be getting the all out version.
Butterbean: I’ll fight him whatever he wants to fight, Tyson, unlike Holmes, is gonna come to fight, he’s not gonna try to jab and stay away. Anybody who argues about Holmes’ jab is an idiot. Holmes still has probably the best jab in boxing. Homes just used his jab and tried to stay away. It’s probably the worst fight I could have picked but it was a good payday, and a good chance if I do catch him, he’s in trouble and they knew that going into the fight.
BoxingInsider.com: You also got to fight one of the best heavyweights ever.
Butterbean: One of the top 5, without a doubt. He was bragging about how he was gonna stop me within three or four rounds, and in the fifth, sixth round I’m goin’ ‘all right, come on old man I’m still here.’
BoxingInsider.com: He keeps talking about a comeback, and he wants George Foreman, but would you want a rematch?
Butterbean: I’d fight him again, it would be less than a six round fight—we’ll schedule it for however many he wants but I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got right off the bat. In a 10 round, in the back of your mind is, ‘You gotta save a little bit.’ I wouldn’t save nothing, I’d go for broke. Without catching him and knocking him out, he’s gonna win, It’d be that simple next time.
BoxingInsider.com: Talking K-1, you said the transition has been smooth.
Butterbean: I’m learning. Over there they don’t really pick them to see whose got more experience or what not, they just throw ‘em in there against anybody. I have fought some of the top K-1 fighters already.
BoxingInsider.com: It was almost surprising to see you in with those guys so soon.
Butterbean: Bernardo was my second fight over there and I didn’t know how to kick, block, or check. And he knew that. Mike and me have become friends since then. He told me that he throws kicks 40%-60% of the time and that I should know how to check. I just kept coming at him. That’s why I became a fan favorite.
BoxingInsider.com: The Japanese appreciate that when someone comes to fight
Butterbean: That’s all that matters to them.
BoxingInsider.com: Regarding your plans for 2005, are you planning to do anything special?
Butterbean: I have a lot of fights lined up –anyone who wants to fight.
BoxingInsider.com: It makes sense and it should be.
Butterbean: If I have a K-1 fight come up. Then I will go with K-1. I am getting a lot better at it and I’m coming along. The Sapp fight was real close. I don’t think Sapp is fighting any more.
BoxingInsider.com: Yes, he started his movie career.
Butterbean: Armada – are you familiar with him, he’s tough. He’s more of a boxer than a kicker, I beat him pretty good, but they gave the decision to him. It was his hometown, his home country. After the fight he ended up in the hospital and I was fine.
BoxingInsider.com: He won the battle, and you won the war.
Butterbean: Exactly. After that fight I was called two weeks later to come back and fight Sapp. I said sure and went straight to Michigan to train. They found out that Armado went to the hospital and canceled the next week. They looked at the damage I installed on Armado.
BoxingInsider.com: Regarding Larry Holmes, it seemed like a random fight.
Butterbean: The promoter called me and wanted to put on a fight that would sell. They did Okay on Pay-Per View. It wasn’t a phenomenal Pay-Per View, but they did okay. A lot of people came it was pretty sold out. That’s how it all happened.
BoxingInsider.com: Is there anything in 2005 that you would like to fix about your career that you are unhappy with?
Butterbean: It’s all going fine. I am still making good money and I am having fun at it. A lot of other fighters can’t have a conversation; they can’t talk too well. You’ve dealt with them I’m sure. I have had over 100 fights as a pro. I had almost 75 as Toughman. I have been fighting a lot. My body has not absorbed a lot of damage. I had a couple of surgeries on my arms. Other than that everything has been good.