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Ray Edwards stood in a neutral corner after knocking down T.J. Gibson during a bout.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Reusse: Ex-Viking an (un)real knockout

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 16, 2013 - 7:24 PM

Sunday marks the 122nd anniversary of the first boxing title fight to be held in Minnesota. Chicago's Tommy Ryan defeated St. Paul's Danny Needham in the 76th round to win the world welterweight title. The elongated battle was held at the Twin City Athletic Club in Minneapolis.

It was a week ago that a bout with a local angle last gained attention. No witnesses remain from the events of Feb. 17, 1891, but it can be safely assumed Needham showed more grit than did Nicholas Capes, the loser of the recent fisticuffs.

That fight was actually held across the border -- in Fargo -- on Feb. 9, but the fact that it featured Ray Edwards, the former Vikings defensive end, was a source of Minnesota curiosity.

Capes, a short, bald, chubby Iowan, entered with three first-round knockout losses in three bouts and quickly made it 4-for-4 with a comedic backward vault to the ring's floor. What made this special was Capes went into his vault one second after Edwards' punch missed his face by a foot.

The North Dakota boxing commissioner suspended Capes from further activity -- roughly the equivalent of the triathlon commissioner suspending a short, bald, chubby sportswriter from further Ironman competition.

What was mostly missed here was Edwards being a mere 15 days removed from a KO victory with as much high comedy as the Fargo event. That fight was Jan. 25 in Hinckley, with Cory "Spare Tire'' Briggs as Edwards' foe.

Watching the video on YouTube I would put the Spare Tire at 460, 470 pounds. This Edwards classic ended in 40 seconds, when Briggs took a couple of shots to the gut and knelt against the ropes, unable to rise due to pain and/or bulk.

There are two choices for folks who have followed Minnesota's boxing scene for a few decades: Laugh or cry.

I choose laughter.

I watched Capes and smiled in recollection of Derrick Dukes' boxing debut. I watched the Spare Tire go "ugh'' and smiled in recollection of my friend Ray Whebbe's boxing debut in far away Macao.

Unlike short, bald, chubby Nick Capes, Dukes was 6-3 and chiseled, and had come to the Twin Cities to learn pro wrestling from Eddie Sharkey. In the spring of 1991, much-publicized NFLer Mark Gastineau was going to launch a pro boxing career. Dukes signed up as the opponent for the bout in Salem, Va.

The description: "Gastineau came out of his corner and threw a left hook. Dukes vaulted into the air, landed on his back and was counted out at the 12-second mark of the first round.''

Sharkey, the wrestling teacher, addressed the controversy that followed Dukes' quick exit: "It was a perfect landing. Derrick broke his fall with his hands, just like he has been taught. The problem came because it was the wrong sport.''

Whebbe was a friend of Duke, Sharkey and everyone in the second tier of boxing and wrestling around here. Anywhere on the fringe, there was Ray, spinning yarns.

The best of those came in 1994, when Whebbe tagged along with the three local fighters who had been recruited for the card in Macao. This was a Harold Smith promotion; Smith had done prison time for his financial dealings as a U.S. boxing promoter.

When another fighter bailed on his scheduled bout with Macao heavyweight Li Hou Quing, Whebbe was asked if he had boxed. Ray was hesitant until told there was $1,000 to be earned, he said, "Yeah, I'm a boxer. I'll take the fight.''

Ray had lost 200 pounds in several years of dieting. He was now a less-than-taut 191 pounds and not an impressive sight as a foe for Quing, called "the strongest man in China.''

Whebbe claimed to have "hit him with 20 good shots in the first two minutes.'' The other version was that Ray was running away and Quing knocked him out with one punch to the back of the head.

Whebbe left this veil of tears in 2003, or he could be Ray Edwards' next worthy opponent.

Boxing ... you can't live with it, but you can't get all the laughs without it.

For instance: Gene Fesenmaier was an off-the-wall promoter in the 1970s. A colleague of mine was named the new boxing writer at the St. Paul newspapers. Fez responded by sending an envelope that contained $50.

When the cash was returned, Fez glared at the young sportswriter and said:

"That's the trouble with you, pal. You would rather be right than President.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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