I once spent time in a cramped dressing room with a 400-pound boxer.
In 2003, you see, I drove to Lincoln City, Ore., to watch Tonya Harding in a “boxing” match. You can read about that here. But the most memorable part of the evening involved Butterbean, boxing’s heralded King of the Four Rounders.
The boxing card was at the Chinook Winds Casino, and Chinook Winds’ idea of a media work room was to stuff the reporters into a meeting room across the hall from the ballroom that served as the makeshift boxing arena. After the Harding fight, the reporters repaired to their “work room,” only to find that it also was being used as Butterbean’s dressing room.
He was famous by that time, a boxing novelty act adored by the public for his everyman persona. Well, if every man was bald and weighed 400 pounds or so.
So, while we were busy working on stories about the local novelty that was Harding, Butterbean was busy preparing for his fight with a little shadow boxing. Trying to wax lyrically on deadline to a soundtrack of PFFFT-UGH-PFFFT-SHHHPP-PFFFT isn’t the easiest task in the world, but, hey, we’re trained professionals.
Anyway, Butterbean is warming up, and making small talk with reporters, and sitting down at our table to autograph a stack of 8-by-10 glossy photos, and he comes across as just about the most personable and engaging world-famous 400-pounder who beats people up that I’ve ever shared a dressing room with.
Moments later, Butterbean walks across the hall to the arena to be greeted by copious cheers. We can hear the introductions and the bell and the sounds of the fight:
“AND THE WINNER, AT 54 SECONDS OF THE FIRST ROUND . . . BUTTERBEAN!”
And then he came back, engaging as ever and none the worse for wear.
I was reminded of all that a couple weeks ago, when Sports Illustrated included a feature about Butterbean in its “Where Are They Now?” issue. He’s back in Alabama, returning to the roots that sprouted one of the most unlikely boxing careers in history, and he sounds just as likable as he was 10 years ago.