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Born on this day: Eric “Butterbean” Esch

Butterbean, a novelty act, shared the ring with the great Larry Holmes. Photo by THE RING
03
Aug

Boxing’s many weight divisions have made it possible for men and women of all sizes to pursue a career in prizefighting.

The subject of today’s BOTD article is proof of that.

Eric “Butterbean” Esch (born August 3, 1966) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but spent his childhood in Michigan and Alabama, being routinely bullied for being overweight.

He entered a Tough Man Contest in the early 1990s, compiling a great record in that circuit (bigger gloves, shorter and fewer rounds than in a pro bout) and becoming a five-time champion in a heavyweight class that required fighters to weight at least 400 pounds to enter the competition. Feasting on chicken and butterbeans, Esch achieved that goal and earned a new moniker that went quite well with his large, round and soft physique.

Esch made his professional debut in 1994, and soon enough it became clear that the customary four-round distance for novices in the pro ranks was going to be his limit, and the club-level fighters that he fought during his early days would continue being fed to him as he built his reputation as a premature annihilator, scoring quick stoppages with his all-out style and his impressive mobility for a man his size.

Subsequently dubbed the “King of the 4 Rounders,” Esch went on to enjoy a lofty position on televised cards in some major boxing events, always facing sub-par opposition with the notable exception of former Mike Tyson foe Peter McNeeley, the very personification of the “great white hype” that would later inspire a movie – and an infamous pizza commercial. A non-descript “Four Round Heavyweight Champion” belt was tailor-made for him by a third-rate sanctioning body.

His greatest moment in the ring came in July 2002, when he faced former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in a ten-rounder, the one and only boxing match scheduled for more than four rounds in Esch’s career.  Holmes won by unanimous decision, but Esch was credited with a controversial knockdown in the final round that was truly a slip, in a moment that still lives on in the memory of every underdog in the world as proof that the odd-looking fellas that no one bets on will always have a chance, no matter the odds.

Starting in 2003, he also fought as a kickboxer and mixed martial artist. He is now a reserve deputy sheriff in his hometown of Jasper, Alabama, and starred in a reality television documentary on his job in law enforcement. He has also made incursions in gastronomy and other business ventures.

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