A local promoter’s police-boxing bout stays off the ropes
By Sunday afternoon, Tom Gaffney was breathing a deep sigh of relief.
The co-founder of Badge vs. Badge, an amateur boxing event for male and female law-enforcement officers and firefighters, earned the wrong kind of publicity earlier this year when a Sacramento fight featuring boxers from across the state ended in an audience brawl.
At that May 21 event, Larry “Psycho” Ward, of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, made quick work of his opponent, Oakland police officer Casey Johnson. After the bout, Ward goaded Johnson’s ringside cop buddies into a near scuffle; a video of the clash went viral online and became the only thing people remembered about the event.
The International Association of Boxing temporarily banned the Oakland Police Department from participating in its events, critics decried “Psycho” Ward as an instigator, potential venues reconsidered doing business with Gaffney and his partner Gary Shurley, and Sacramento-area amateur boxing was at a standing eight count.
But Sacramento’s Radisson Hotel gave Gaffney and Shurley another shot at fight promotion this past Friday the 13th. And with big, brash Ward as the headliner, there was little need to pile on the hype.
Strobe lights flashed against scarlet curtains where the 220-pound Ward was supposed to make his grand entrance at the Radisson. Moments earlier, Fresno police officer Bryan Williams entered at that very same spot to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
Loud boos and sharp whistles heralded Ward’s eventual appearance. Ever the entertainer, the officer primped his way to the ring, stopping to hug a beaming, leathery fan and pose for photos with his belt and sweat-dappled muscles.
Weeks earlier, Gaffney was asked what precautions he and his fellow organizers would take to prevent another spectator fracas. No reserved seating was one of the solutions, since May’s dust-up was assisted by the two opposing camps having blocks of seats. Yet on Friday, there still was a loud and large Fresno contingent taking up whole sections of the converted banquet hall, cheering for Williams to wipe the smirk off Ward’s face.
It didn’t happen.
Thirty-four seconds into the first round, Ward patiently deflected and avoided Williams’ frantic onslaught. Then, Ward dropped him with a blistering, staggering left.
“Man, wasn’t that something?” Gaffney cooed of the blow. “[Ward] talks the talk, but he backs it up.”
As the referee frantically waved his arms over the toppled Williams, Ward mounted the ropes in his opponent’s corner and crowed. A man in a backward ball cap stared with clenched fists at Ward, then Ward back at him, and for a moment—just a moment—déjà vu seemed at hand.
But before matters escalated, Ward danced out of the ring with his belt, leaving a dazed Williams sitting on a blue stool at center ring wondering what the hell just happened.
And, without incident, the crowd exited quickly, still buzzing from the brutality.
Gaffney received positive feedback from the athletic commission, afterparty hosts The Park Ultra Lounge, and—perhaps most lucratively—Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, which may offer Gaffney a multifight contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.