On the Edge
By Ted Sares
Buddy McGirt once said, "I remember my fight with him like it was yesterday, He came up to me before the fight and asked for my autograph. He was wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, had a chew of tobacco in his mouth and a cup in his hand. He definitely could have been someone to look out for. He had an awkward style, but he could sure fight."
Buddy could have added that he shared something with the likes of Danny "Little Red" Lopez, Bobby Chacon, Saad Mohammed, Jaime Garza,Tito Trinidad and Arturo Gatti. He had that knack......that special flair for the dramatic.....of coming back from the brink of defeat to take his opponent out in breathtaking fashion. Only a fool would ever count him out. With a no-defense, full-offense brawling style, he would take take several blows to land one of his heavy handed straight rights. Hanging tough, he would suddenly and dramatically turn the tables at the end. Once he had his opponent hurt, he would close things out decisively.
He had emerged seemingly out of nowhere as one of the fight game's most exciting, tough-as-nails welterweights and the fans came to love him both as a fighter and as a young man with an obvious big heart, full of personality and promise. He was the quintessential blood and guts warrior who, like the aforementioned fighters, always seemed to grab victory from the throes of defeat. His come from behind victories over Anthony Stephens, Adrian Stone, and, in his final fight, Nick Rupa, won him not only the USBA welterweight title, but a hugh fan following throughout the boxing world and the ESPN circuit. Possible big fights were on the horizon and names like Tito Trinidad and Yori Boy Campas were being mentioned. In boxing parlance, he was a hot property. Hell, He was Gatti before Gatti.
He was also a loving son and was from a close knit family, but from another perspective, he lived his life the way he wanted to........freely and on the edge..........the wild and dangerous side, but as his boxing success increased, his personal life seemed to be stabilizing at least somewhat. Though, as his brother related, "settling down and going to work wasn't part of his life. He had several jobs, he was one of the best roofers in the County, but that just didn't appeal to him." By some accounts, he was also allegedly robbing drug dealers, an activity that can have the most serious of repercussions. Allegedly, he would do this in a dangerous, crime ridden area of his town known as "The Bottoms."
He became a professional boxer at age 21 on July 13, 1987 against Billy Pryor whom he knocked out in the third round in Mobile, Alabama. He knocked out his next four opponents. After these bouts, he was a bit inconsistent, though extremely exciting, winning some and losing to rugged Canadian Stephane Ouellett, and then to Eric Holland in a televised slugfest from Philadelphia in August 1994 featuring savage back-and-forth exchanges. Curiously, Holland, a bright prospect at the time, would never be the same after this brutal bout. Things changed for the better on January 4, 1994, when he fought tough Buddy McGirt in Florida. Even though he lost a ten round decision, he gained respect from those who witnessed the fight, but more importantly, he gained self-confidence knowing he could hang tough with somebody as capable as McGirt. I recall the look on Buddy's face toward the end of that fight and it was one of extreme caution and fear as he was being stalked until the final bell. I sensed something........here was someone to keep an eye on.
Things exploded quiet literally on October 26, 1994 when he fought Anthony Stephens for the USBA Welterweight Title. The fight was televised on ESPN. In a previous bout, Stephens had knocked Felix Trinidad off his feet before before being ko'd by Tito. Coming from behind, he savaged Stephens, knocking him down an astounding five times before the fight was mercifully halted in the twelfth and last round. Becoming the new USBA champion, he was now looking ahead to better fights and bigger paydays.
His next fight on April 7, 1995 against a streaking prospect from the UK named Adrian "The Predator" Stone reinforced his growing reputation for the dramatic. The undefeated Stone was the favorite, and in the early goings, he lived up to his billing giving him a solid beating. But he kept his cool, regrouped and suddenly, like a lightening bolt, took command winning by a sensational knockout in round ten. As is my wont, I was up and screaming at the end, hardly believing the sudden turn of events. One thing was now certain; he had become one of my very favorite fighters. I had found my Bobby Chacon and Saad Muhammad all wrapped into one fighter
After quickly disposing of Kenny Lewis, he then faced capable veteran Nick Rupa on July 7, 1995 in what would turn out to be his last fight. True to form, he was losing the fight, but suddenly turned the tables and ko' d Rupa in round seven.... and he did it in front of his proud family. It was Rupa's first stoppage loss and he too would never be the same fighter. I could hardly wait for his next fight.
It would never come. Sadly, seventeen days after the Rupa fight, my favorite fighter was missing. Between July 24 and August 11, 1995, boxing had lost one of its grittiest warriors, but his parents, three younger brothers, wife and child, lost
far more. His truck was found on the railroad tracks outside of town where some speculated a "fierce battle" had taken place. Days later, his body was found in a swamp.The autopsy revealed he had received a blunt trauma to the head, but not one that would have resulted in his death. More than ten years later, the circumstances surrounding his death remain the subject of much speculation and have been detailed by far better writers than I and I'll leave that part of the unfinished and highly complex tragedy to them.* Suffice to say the pathos, intrigue and cross currents are the stuff of movies and best sellers.
One account I came across indicated that after he was found in the swamps, his body was loaded onto the back of a train engine and taken home to Mobile, Alabama as the sun was setting in the distant western sky. If so, then the man for whom he was named, the Outlaw Jesse James, must surely have been smiling down on the Outlaw Jesse James Hughes who lived like he fought...........on the edge.
"Boxing has become America's tragic theater." Joyce Carol Oates
*See: "Ten Years Later: Death of Jesse James Hughes Remains a Mystery" by Sean Newman, May 10, 2005.
Ted Sares is a syndicate writer who can be reached at [email protected]