Butterbean — "King of the Four-Rounders"
He got his name — "Butterbean" — from a diet of chicken and butter beans in trying to slim down to the 400-pound limit for the Toughman competition, which he dominated two decades ago.
He made his name as a boxer — "King of the Four-Rounders" — back in the late 1990s when, as a rotund, bald, scowling super heavyweight wearing massive American flag trunks, he took on all comers, including former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes (Holmes won a 10-round decision, despite getting knocked down by Butterbean in the 10th).
Now he's using his name to promote mixed martial arts, trying to sell events featuring men with nicknames such as "The Serial Killer," "The Texas Gunslinger," "The Meat Cleaver" and "The French Foot Fighter."
Butterbean's latest show is Friday in Worcester, Mass., a pay-per-view mixed martial arts promotion (9 p.m. ET, $29.95) known as "Moosin: God of Martial Arts," which features a headline match between Tim "Maine-iac" Sylvia, a former UFC heavyweight champion at 6-8, 300 pounds, and Poland's Mariusz "The Dominator" Pudzianowski, the world's strongest man five years in a row. The Dominator (2-0) is raw but light on his feet, finishing second in the Polish version of Dancing with the Stars.
Butterbean says this could be the most viewed MMA show ever, what with 5 million Poles expected to watch one of their most popular athletes.
It'll have to pull a lot of viewers to beat the record — EliteXC on CBS on May 31, 2008, when Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson drew 7.281 million viewers.
Butterbean, whose real name is Eric Esch, has done it all — toughman, boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, pro wrestling, even sumo wrestling. He is 43 and still fights, though the bouts are few and far between, unlike his heyday when he sometimes fought three times a month.
He had to call off a charity match on his own card against former Boston Bruins enforcer Lyndon Byers because the commission said Byers was not qualified to fight.
His fights have spanned the globe, from Kalamazoo to Baraboo, from Beijing to Beverly Hills, from the Playboy Mansion to Madison Square Garden, and every casino in between.
He's never had a bad experience, he says, unless you count the time at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut when "they wouldn't let me chew bubble gum in the locker room."
Most people remember him not from his fights but as the guy who knocked out Johnny Knoxville in the movie Jackass.
"All those fights, and I get recognized for knocking out an actor," he says with a chuckle.
Friday's main event is the kind Butterbean loves because he's not a "Corvette vs. 18-wheeler" kind of guy. "I want to see two freight trains going at it," he says. "The Pudzianowski-Sylvia fight, that's two freight trains."
With more than 200 fights on his résumé, Butterbean, who weighs in at about 400 pounds, says it may be time to become a full-time promoter, a side of the business he's been dabbling at for about four years.
"It's time to slow down," he says. "The body takes its toll. I'm 43, so I have a few fights left, but I'm getting into promoting because I love the sport so much.
"I also want to promote boxing matches," he says. "It's not which sport is better. They're different sports. You can't compare them."
Butterbean's two sons, Caleb, 21 (215 pounds), and Brandon, 23 (270-pound "Babybean"), both do MMA, but they're not on Friday's card because "it's way above their skill level," their dad says.
Asked if he'd like to promote their fights, Butterbean says, "I'd rather they not fight. The fight game's so hard. I tried talking both of them out of it. (Caleb) had a scholarship to play football (father and sons played high school football), but he wanted to fight. You have to support your kids at whatever they want to do."
"They both have fights coming up in Louisiana, and I'll be there, to make sure they don't get hurt and do what they need to do."
Butterbean, from Jasper, Ala., couldn't be happier these days.
"I'm likin' this promoter thing," he says. "It's a mind challenge, and I haven't had a chance to work with my mind that much."