Two-time heavyweight champ and former 49er top a rare boxing benefit.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
They don’t make too many underdogs like this: Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Dana Stubblefield is a world champion weighing more than 300 pounds. But Stubblefield, an All-Pro defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers during a dominant run that peaked with the ’95 Title, is just that, given he’s facing two-time heavyweight world champion Riddick Bowe. And theirs is just one of the uniquely intriguing – and unlikely – match-ups at Saturday’s Celebrity Boxing for Charity at the Monterey Hyatt Regency.
Case in point: It seems it would make more sense for local celeb-chef Rich Pepe (Little Napoli, Péppoli) to focus on throwing pizzas rather than punches, to stick with pounding calamari in Carmel rather than a pro fighter who grew up on a Salinas Avenue called “Killer Street.”
But the 57-year-old Pepe, after training with Salinas’ Garcia Boxing for three months now, has a date to dance with Jesus “Chuy” Rodriguez (19-3), an eyelid-quick 29-year-old whose next fight is May 1 in Las Vegas against former undisputed welterweight champion of the world Zab Judah.
“Hopefully Pepe doesn’t hurt him too much,” says Kathy Garcia, of Garcia Boxing, whose stable of fighters (trained by husband Max) includes top local talents like Rodriguez, “so Chuy can fight on the first.”
Pepe’s wife might be hoping something different, like, say, that Rodriguez doesn’t leave hubby’s face looking like the Bolognese di Bari at Little Napoli.
But Pepe has his own hopes for the evening, which starts with a 6pm champagne toast, moves into ringside dinner in the ballroom before the fight card – with Stubblefield-Bowe at the top – starts unfolding.
“I’M WILLING TO GET MY ASS KICKED.”
“I want to give him some inspiration for his next pro fight,” Pepe says. “But really I’m looking forward to upping awareness to some of issues we have on the Peninsula, children who have fallen on hard times, to help support The Kinship Center, a really worthwhile group that a lot of people on the Peninsula don’t know about.”
Then Pepe paraphrases: “I’m willing to step in the ring and get my ass kicked to bring attention to this cause.”
He’ll get plenty of help in his efforts to support the Salinas-based center, whose mission is to create, preserve and support foster and adoptive families for kids that need them the most: Event masterminds Melissa and Sam Garcia (Max and Kathy’s kids) have stacked the night with a number of personalities and pugilists with impressive pedigrees. (The funds raised, which Kathy says eclipsed $13,000 in last year’s inaugural edition, will be earmarked for the center’s Family Ties program.)
Bowe, who attended last year as a guest, earned his first heavyweight belt by upsetting then champ Evander Holyfield and, after Holyfield avenged his loss by dealing Bowe (43-1) the only defeat of his decorated career, reclaimed it in their third bout with an eighth round TKO. Stubblefield was an quicksilver elephant seal in cleats who won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1993 and, with tackle Bryant Young, formed the most dominant interior defensive line in the NFL during the 1990s.
Before the big boys start exchanging uppercuts, other local celebrities will try to survive three one-minute rounds. Bouyant radio personality Fredo Marquez from Jammin’ 97.9 will touch gloves with hometown hero Jose Celaya (31-4). Marquez says he’ll take some lessons he learned from participating last year into the ring.
“Every guy in the world thinks they can box, that they can punch somebody out,” he says. “[I learned] I can’t punch anyone out. I have a whole new respect for boxers. It’s tough, really tough – and we’re in there for only three minutes.”
Marquez identifies another trend from last year: “Your family cheers for the other guy because they want to see your ass kicked.”
Undefeated Eloy Perez (13-0) will swap swings with Wolf Fitness’ John Wolf and avid Garcia Boxing supporter Patty Vallejo will go three rounds with up-and-coming Kaliesha West (10-1).
The evening will include no judging controversies – pros exhausting rookies with defense and endurance, while allowing for an occasional open shot and plenty of showmanship, is more the mood of the night. But one decision has already come back unanimous.
“I love children, just seeing their faces at the – they love it,” Vallejo says, reiterating themes audible in each participant’s anticipation of Saturday night. “They enjoy going to the event so much. It reminds you of the cause, and that, unfortunately, there are not a lot of people who raise money for foster care.”