Bean turning to margarine?

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

For his last boxing match, back in February, the man-mountain known as Butterbean tipped the Toledos at a whopping 417 pounds.

But now that he's campaigning as one of the hottest attractions on the mixed martial arts circuit, Alabama's Eric Esch has made a concerted effort to shed some of that extra girth.

If he keeps it up, we might have to start calling him "Margarinebean."

Yesterday, at a relatively svelte 370, the effervescent Esch met the media to talk up his Dec. 28 super heavyweight cage match with Edmonton's Nick Penner at the Shaw Conference Centre. It's the main event on The Fight Club's First Blood debut MMA show.

"So far you're doin' everything right ... but I think you should have booked a bigger venue," Esch told TFC promoter Mark Sinclair. "When the Bean comes to fight, the fans get a show. And in the cage, there's no place to go but toe-to-toe. That's what gets the fans pumped up, and that's what I'll be doin' on Dec. 28. You're gonna be turnin' people away.

"My boxing buddies won't like me sayin' this, but in MMA, the action is the attraction. Me and Nick won't be tip-toein' around, throwin' little bitty jabs and then runnin' for cover. In the cage, it's fire and forget. Hit and get hit. Last man standin' is the winner, but there's really no loser. The fans respect that. That's why MMA is growing so fast."

Esch knows of what he speaks. As a boxer, he won worldwide acclaim as the "King of the Four-Rounders," notching 58 knockouts en route to an impressive record of 77-7-4. In his only foray beyond four rounds, he went 10 with Larry Holmes in 2002, and even managed to drop the former world heavyweight champion with a left hook in the dying seconds before losing a unanimous decision.

In MMA, Esch is a modest 11-4-1, but his pop culture profile and over-the-top entertainment value have made him more than a sideshow attraction in a sport desperately looking to esablish mainstream respectability.

"When both guys give their all, it's the fans who win," he said. "Ever since I've come to MMA, I've seen how the crowds embrace the honesty of what happens in the cage. And with promoters like The Fight Club, who are dedicated to elevating the integrity of the sport, that's only gonna get bigger and better."

Sinclair said TFC, an offshoot of Edmonton-based KO Boxing, has already booked the Shaw for four MMA shows in 2008, and is looking at other venues as well.

"Our ultimate goal is to raise the profile and integrity of the sport to where it will be on equal footing with more established combat sports," he said.

"The fact our first show will also feature Canada's first officially sanctioned national championship fight, a welterweight title bout between Stjepan Vujnovic from Georgetown, Ont., and Victor Bachmann from Edmonton's Team Threat, shows our commitment. The Canadian Boxing Federation is now sanctioning MMA and providing impartial national rankings, so the days of every wannabe promoter dreaming up his own 'world' title matches are hopefully behind us."


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