Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Travelers punch up pregame

Leader sports editor

It began with an idle comment at a UALR basketball game.

It ended with Gary Hogan standing victorious next to Jose Canseco in a boxing ring.

Hogan, 60, an associate athletic director at UALR, took a 39-37 decision over Canseco before the Arkansas Travelers’ game with the Midland RockHounds at Dickey-Stephens Park on Friday night.

Canseco, 46, the former big-league slugger who retired in 2002, has been in and out of the ring as a boxer, wrestler and mixed martial-arts competitor, among other pursuits. Hogan, on the other hand, hadn’t raised a glove against an opponent in an organized bout since 1981.

How did this happen?

Travelers general manager Pete Laven knew of Hogan’s love for boxing. He knew Hogan, a one-time, local sports anchor, had fought one-time light heavyweight contender Mike Quarry twice and boxed former WBA heavyweight champ John Tate once at the Travelers’ former home in Ray Winder Field in 1981.
When Laven mentioned idly to Hogan at a basketball game that Canseco was available, he was almost assured of Hogan’s participation.

“Let’s put it this way: It’s the entertainment business and I’m not going to go out there and get booed for not throwing punches,” Hogan said in the runup to the fight. “I may go down, I have no fear of that, but the bottom line is we’re going to make it entertaining. The worst thing to happen is for us to kiss each other.”

Laven tracked down Canseco’s agent and got a commitment, then learned the Arkansas Athletic Commission would have to sanction the bout, a process that took several weeks.

Hogan, the former Trojans baseball coach who has had five knee surgeries and a hip replacement, trains in the gym of Arkansas Golden Gloves guru and pro cut man Ray Rodgers.

“I feel great, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in years,” said Hogan, noting he would be the last man to box at Ray Winder, which closed in 2006, and the first to fight at Dickey-Stephens Park, which opened in 2007.

Canseco, 6-4, 240 pounds, had a longer reach and drastically outweighed the 191-pound Hogan.

He was greeted at Dickey-Stephens Park mostly with boos, perhaps owing to his checkeredpast as a steroids user during his playing days with Oakland and Texas, among others, and his willingness to name other users in his book “Juiced.”

Hogan initially wore headgear, but took his off when Canseco entered the ring without.

Hogan seemed intent on keeping his promise to throw punches as he went after Canseco early, only to get his chin bloodied in the first of the four rounds.

“Not at all, never bothered me a bit, they just wiped it off when I came to the corner,” Hogan said.

Canseco appeared eager to prove to the crowd he could win if he cut loose and then he held off for most of the rest of the fight, covering up and letting Hogan hammer away at his midsection. Canseco’s only other decisive blow was a straight right that staggered Hogan into the ropes in the fourth.

In a Twitter update after the fight, Canseco condemned anyone who would “take advantage” of a 60-year-old man.

Both men were generous in their comments afterward.

“It was a lot of fun, I’m glad nobody got hurt,” Canseco said. “A great man right there and a great match. He can box, I’m telling you. He’s 60 years old and he can fight.”

Canseco signed a contract paying $14,000.
Hogan did not receive a check but enlisted numerous sponsors to raise money for Rodgers’ gym and praised his coach there,

Walt Woods, and his sparring partner, Walt’s son Johnny, for his training.

“He won the first round, he got me a few times,” Hogan said. “I threw more punches and moved around the ring. I won the last three. I thought he got a little tired, to be honest with you, but he did a nice job coming in. I really do appreciate him coming in and doing this.”