Saturday, June 10, 2023  |


A journeyman who enjoys the journey

Fighters Network

Deep on the Harry Yorgey-Ronald Hearns undercard on March 28, heavyweight prospect Bowie Tupou stopped Marcus Rhode in the first round. It was the fifth loss in a row for Rhode and the 38th of his career. He’s been stopped 33 times.

Rhode is a professional journeyman.

Everybody in the fight game knows Rhode. He’s done what he does against virtually every notable heavyweight of the last decade, and some un-notable ones, too; there are too many to list here. Suffice to say if a heavyweight has broken the Top 30 or so, Rhode has spent time looking up at him.

To many fans, Rhode and guys like him represent the worst kind of fighters — guys who enter the ring, fall down on cue and move on to the next payday. The honest ones will more or less concede that characterization, but point out that they win sometimes, too.

Rhode, for example, has 34 wins on his record, 29 of them by knockout. He knows his role is to build the records of other fighters, but that doesn’t mean he lies down for them without a fight.

“I’m a top-tier journeyman; every guy I’ve ever fought has been hit,” he told me recently. “I make them fight. I make them work for it. I try to clip every one of these guys. But (the promoters) aren’t calling me because they want to get their guy knocked out after they’ve invested all this money in him.”

When he’s not kissing canvas in prize rings all over the world, Rhode sells radio advertising in Russellville, Ark. He has five kids and bills to pay, like all of us. And he doesn’t apologize for anything.

“I don’t regret any of it,” he said. “I’ve seen the world and been treated like royalty, as an American fighter. I’ve made money and friends. I have no regrets.”

Rhode gets this point across to fans who fail to see the economic value to what he does. A good-natured sort, he delights in telling a story that illustrates this point.

“I was at a bar in Missouri and this guy said: ‘I am going to call you 98.’ The whole night he called me 98. I couldn’t figure out why so I finally asked him. He said, ‘I call you 98 because you only lasted 98 seconds with Tommy Morrison.’ And he started laughing.

“So I told him I was going to call him 365. He asked why, and I said because that is how many days you are going to have to work to make as much money as I did in those 98 seconds.”

In the past of every professional journeyman there was a point when he gave up his dream of being a world champion, accepted the reality before him and made the most of it.

For Rhode, that point came 13 years ago. He’d won his first 12 fights, then was offered a match against the much more experienced Ahmed Abdin, who was a prospect at the time.

“They came to me and told me they really didn’t think it would be competitive, but the pay was good and I took it,” he said.

Abdin stopped him in the fourth round, and a career was born. Today he takes fights on a couple days notice, maybe a week if he’s lucky. Sometimes he trains, sometimes he doesn’t.

Like all of us do, Rhode wonders whether things might have turned out differently for him had he worked harder, held onto the dream longer. But he remains realistic.

“There are a lot of guys I could beat if the situation was different, and there are guys I could never beat no matter what kind of shape I’m in,” he said.

As the losses pile up, some have tried to run Rhode and others like him out of the sport. They cite safety concerns and the unseemly impression that’s created by sub-.500 records. To Rhode, it’s nonsense.

“They want to get rid of all the guys with bad records. Why? They don’t kick the Detroit Lions out of football. Without us there would be no champs,” he said.

Longtime Midwest fight figure Stacy Goodson agrees.

“If Marcus and guys like him didn’t exist, it would be the end of our sport in this country,” he said.

“They want to exterminate guys like Marcus so they can have two 22-0 guys fight one another, but how long can that last? This is the food chain of boxing. It’s part of the sport. Marcus is important and so are the other fighters like him.”

Manager Steve Munisteri, who handles Travis Walker and has managed a slew of other heavyweights, knows journeymen like Rhode provide a service beyond padding records.

“You just can’t have your guy fights stiffs all the time and not expect them to fall apart when they get in there with top guys,” he said. “(Good journeymen) teach them how to fight, what to do when they’re going back and forth in a hard fight. That experience helps you when you’re matched against top guys.”

Whatever happens, Rhode will do what he does until the phone stops ringing.

“Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, and I’m going to knock one of these guys out,” he said. “But I’m not going to lose my brains doing it.”

Some miscellaneous thoughts from last week:

Golden Boy has put on some terrible undercards, but the pay-per-view show from Austin, Texas was solid from top to bottom. One of the smartest moves? Putting all these brave punchers in one of the smallest rings I’ve ever seen. I’ve been in bathroom stalls that were larger. And not just the handicapped ones. ÔǪ

This will sound like an insult, but it isn’t: with his speed, power, self-belief and deliberate disregard for defense, Edwin Valero reminds me a bit of prime Naseem Hamed. ÔǪ

Cheers to Jesus Chavez, who quit after the seventh round of his war with Michael Katsidis, but had the class not to blame it on a cut that came from a head butt earlier in the fight. 

Carlos Hernandez has never been and will never be a great fighter, but his performance in a losing effort against Vicente Escobedo will be remembered by everyone who saw it. Good for him. 

Blow-by-blow guys: We’re already watching the fight; you can stop selling it, for cripes’ sake. I’m looking at you, Gus JohnsonÔǪ

You’ve got to hand it to Showtime’s Karyn Bryant for her hard-hitting prefight interviews. Poor Timothy Bradley had to negotiate this before beating Kendall Holt: “Is this your biggest fight?” and, “Is he your toughest opponent?”

Whew! I smell an Emmy. I can hardly wait for the next big Showtime card. Maybe we’ll find out what Carl Froch’s favorite color is. ÔǪ

Vitali Tsypko is not a bad fighter, but everything else being equal, you can’t expect the son of a vascular surgeon to beat a Mexican who used to work in a Jack in the Box. It’s not a fair fight. ÔǪ

I’m already sick of BJ Flores and his state trooper crew cut. Could he be any more bland? ÔǪ

Mark Davis remind anyone else of a young Meldrick Taylor? 

Randall Bailey hit Frankie Figueroa so hard I was surprised Figueroa’s tattoos didn’t fall off. ÔǪ

Bailey remains one of the purest punchers in the game. So how come he hasn’t had more success? Here’s a hint: If he ever accidentally hit himself on the chin, he’d be in a coma for a week. ÔǪ

Speaking of punchers, who else misses Julian Letterlough? 

I give Robert Guerrero’s new boxing and fitness club in California about a year before it’s turned into a massage parlor or muffler shop. Why? If history is any indication, the first time a shingle falls off the roof or a pipe backs up, Guerrero will sell the place rather than seei if he can get someone to fix it.

Bill Dettloff can be contacted at [email protected]