By Ted Sares
Without the journeymen, there likely would be no boxing. They provide the foundation and grounding for the sport we love so much. Being a journyman is not a bad thing. Unlike some fighters who are matched to lose with the certainty of the sun setting......fighters like Andre Crowder, Danny Wofford (who has lost over 100 fights), Frankie Hines (lost 120), and Marcus Rhode, the journeymen are solid and competent fighters capable of an occasional surprise though they rarely rise to the top. Some, like Ross Puritty, Quinn Navarre, or Everett Martin are the tough gate keepers through which others must pass to reach the next level. Others, like Kenny Craven, Terry Crawley or Louis Monaco, fight six rounder's or less to fill out a promoter's card much like a chef puts garnish on a plate to give it a sense of false fullness. Hell, Kenny fought Eric Esch 4 times going 2 and 2! And some, like Garing Lane, Harold Sconiers or Jeremy Bates, get an occasional main event opportunity of their own. Often journeymen are all three..............but some, like Evander Hollyfield, Saad Muhammad before him, and perhaps Joe Mesi tragically and needlessly drop to this status because they fail to heed the warnings.
During the past several days, there was a piece involving a journeyman named Irish Mike Culbert's and his "last" professional fight. I think it received four comments...two of which were from me. I was struck by the stark contrast that, say a thread on Wladimir Klitschko or Shannon Briggs might receive. The thread on Irish Mike slowly moved into the archives with no more attention. But wait. He had his share of successful 6 and 8 and even 10 rounder's. Surely he had earned a better send off.
For those who didn't know it, Irish Mike, a super middleweight was born in Belfast (N. Ireland) almost 40 years ago and "closed out" an 18-year pro boxing career last week with a split decision win against another journeyman named Khalif “Panther” Shabazz in the 8-round main event at Memorial Hall in Plymouth, MA. That's right, journeymen fight 8-round main events. The "Panther" had been in with the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Julian Jackson and Tony Thorton, albeit unsuccessfully. With his win, Culbert finished with a fine 30-W, 4-L, 1-D record in a career that started in 1988 at the Boston Gardens when he TKO 'd one Santiago Hermida. He also closes with an unbeaten streak of 10 since losing in 1996 to the great Roberto Duran in six....the only time Mike was ever stopped (in a fight he took on just two weeks notice).
During his long career, which admittedly was fought against mediocre opponents with mostly losing records, he won the Massachusetts State titles in back-to-back fights, the super middleweight by 10-round decision against Carlos DeJesus and the middleweight by 10-round decision against Jimmy Cappiello. He also won the vacant New England light heavyweight title with a 10-round decision against Glenn Burnett on April 24, 1998 in Plymouth. Most of these fight probably don't mean much to the average fight fan, but to those of us in the greater Boston area, they provided entertainment and enjoyment, particularly for the many Irish boxing fans in the area. More importantly, they gave the affable and well spoken Mike a few days in the sun and maybe some egg money.
The last time I saw Irish Mike Culbert fight was when he won a hard fought 8-rounder over Jimmy Cappiello of Somerville, MA for something called the U.S.B.F. Regional Super Middleweight Championship at the Roxy in Boston on April 1, 2000. That's right. An 8 round championship fight! That's what journeymen sometimes do when they step up.The strangely disparate scoring of 79-75, 78-72, 74-78 favored Culbert. A standing- room-only crowd was up and roaring at the end, me included, as the two fought fiercely in their rematch for this Massachusetts "title." This was beer sloshing, slam banging, ball room boxing at its best; this was blue collar stuff and it was great.
Previously, on march 8, 1996 in Whitman, MA he was on the undercard with a young, but later to become infamous, Peter McNeeley. Mike moved his record to 12-2 beating Greg Cardiz of Hartford for the second time. With his nose mangled by a nasty second-round head butt, he fought courageously for each of the remaining six rounds winning them all. I was in attendance that night as well and I admired his grit and courage. It provided a pleasant contrast to the pathetic designated loser with whom McNeeley was matched.
But even for a journeyman, there comes a time to face reality, to acknowledge that it may be time to walk away. Mike Culbert is now almost 40 years old. He has two children and works full time as a supervisor at the Department of Youth Services in Brockton, MA.......the town he fought out of for most of his career and where he once trained with Marvin Hagler at Petronelli’s Gym. At the time, he was the youngest in the Brockton gym; now he is the only one left still boxing. If he is serious about his retirement, then let's hope he goes on to bigger and better things like two other New England fighters, John Scully and Dana Rosenblatt, did. They each finished with excellent records and launched promising new careers. Of course, they were not journeymen.
But there have been rumors that since Irish Mike has now garnered his 30th win, he just might want to move on to the biggest offer and payday he can get......one last fight in some fair grounds, armory or beery urban ball room. But heck, who can blame him? Isn't that what journeymen do?
"Writing about blue-collar folks is something I've been doing right from the start. It's a world I know pretty well. I like most of these folks quite a bit." Richard Russo