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Eddie Croft: A Story of Success in the Ring and In Life: RSR Talks with the Three-Time World Title Challenger and Former WBC Continental Americas Super Bantamweight Champion

Interview by Mike “Rubber Warrior” Plunkett

“I really tell them, it’s one of the things I really stress; you get out of life what you put into it. The same goes for boxing it’s especially true in boxing” — Eddie “Prime Time” Croft

I remember seeing Eddie Croft for the first time almost seventeen years ago. It was Christmas time and “Prime Time” had just fought the fight of his life only to be rewarded with a majority draw in what otherwise looked like a close but well deserved win to these eyes. Not that it was all bad. He struggled not with just anybody, but with a talented future world champion, having demonstrated the spirit to succeed and will to survive in a way that suggested he belonged among the very best. But fate sometimes has a cruel way of leaving its impression on talent and on one’s personal legacy, often teasing those that have earned their ticket by taking something away just as they get within inches of their ultimate goal.

Amazingly, the spirit to succeed that took him to the highest levels of professional boxing has spilled over into his life outside of the ring, and while the story of Eddie “Prime Time” Croft is far from over, the byproducts of his discipline and drive as a former prizefighter and ranked contender have today put him on the road to success and happiness.

MP: How did you first become involved with boxing and who, if any, were your earliest influences?

I started martial arts when I was five years old back in 1974. Growing up in martial arts…there’s only a few ways that you can make money in martial arts. One is to own a school. Two is to be in the movies or three is to become a kick-boxer. Since that was always kind of my route I thought that I would kick-box and possibly make movies and then own a school one day. In 1987 this guy walked into my gym and, we used to have Friday night sparring class in my karate school and our martial arts school was one of the best in the San Francisco Bay area, people would come from all over to spar, and we usually sent them packing with their tail between their legs. But Johnny Nava, who later became my trainer, he walked in one day, and even though he was chubby, probably weighed about 200lbs, and that weight on him didn’t really look good – he actually put a whoopin’ on most of the guys he sparred with. It turned out that he was former pro, he had just retired the previous year, and I figured if I wanted to kick-box I would need to learn what he knew. He fought as a middleweight out of Pacifica, California in the early 80’s. So I approached him and asked him to train me, he started training me and I fought in the Golden Gloves in 1988 here in San Francisco and I won, so I decided that boxers made more money than kick-boxers, and that was the route that I wanted to go. I won two more Golden Gloves after that and I was on my way.

As far as earliest influences, I remember as a kid watching Muhammad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, he was probably the person that I looked-up to most as a kid growing up. I also remember in the early-80’s, guys like Salvador Sanchez and I loved Azumah Nelson; usually smaller guys were the guys that I would really rally behind.

MP: You turned pro in July 1991 just above the featherweight limit, outpointing Manuel Prospero who weighed-in a mere pound beneath the lightweight division limit, scoring a clear four-round decision. What do you recall of that moment and why was there such a vast disparity in weight?

I really fought most of my career as junior featherweight or super bantam. I probably could have made 118lbs and I was coming in at 126 just because as an amateur I was coming in at 125lbs so I wanted to really kind of stay close to that weight in the beginning. Manuel Prospero was actually a late sub, we had another guy, I can’t remember what his name was for the life of me right now, and he came in on probably a week’s notice, and he was a little heavy. I remember his record being 4-12, you know, I always felt that I was going be a world champion, and in order to be a world champion it didn’t matter if this was my first pro fight or my tenth pro fight, a guy that was 4-12 had no business beating me. I remember I only got hit with one clean punch in the fight, and that was a body shot and everything else I either slipped or blocked and I just kind of cruised to an easy victory. I was by no means ever worried about the weight disparity.

MP: Just over a year into your career and after settling in as a junior featherweight, you outpointed George Garcia, the former California State Super Bantamweight champion in your 14th bout. Looking back, did this win reinforce the notion that you could one day move onto bigger game and a shot at a major world title?

I saw George Garcia sparring in the gym in San Jose and this was at a time when I was still an amateur; I knew I could beat him, so when the time came and they would bring an opponent to us, I said I’d fight him anytime. He was strong and very aggressive but I knew that I could outbox him and really make him pay for a little bit of his wildness. I was always from the get-go, early on in my amateur days, I always felt that I could compete, or that one day I could compete, with the best in the world. I don’t know if that bout validated the feeling because I already felt that way, not to sound overconfident or cocky. Going into the ring, you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself otherwise you’ll get knocked out if you don’t.

MP: Two years into your career you scored what can be described as a break-out win over former world title challenger Jerome Coffee, scoring a unanimous twelve-round decision for the WBC Continental Americas Super Bantamweight title. What do you recall of this bout and of Coffee as a fighter?

I remember Coffee, especially like when we boycotted the Olympics, the Moscow Games in 1980. I remember Jerome Coffee being an amateur world champion at that time. It was funny, having watched him from afar as a kid, kind of admiring his work and style, the way he fought; it was an honor to be able to share the ring with him. At the same time I had seen him fight previously, I was at a fight when he fought Rudy Zavala.

I saw him give Zavala trouble early in their fight, but I saw him fade, he started fading in the fourth, fifth round. Part of that was age and part of that was mileage having been around a long time with a lot of pro and amateur fights, so I knew at that time that the early rounds might be close but I would start taking over about the fourth round. As it turned out, I shut him out on a couple of the scorecards. The one thing that I do remember about the fight was that he was really crafty, he was the first guy that I fought that I can say was a true veteran and used a lot of feints, used his head a lot to his advantage, knew how to tie you up; there were a lot of things that I learned in that fight that kind of prepared me to fight ranked contenders after that.

MP: You lost your title and your undefeated record to the 28-1 Gerardo Martinez in your next bout. What happened?

You know, in that fight I really got knocked out of my game plan. I wasn’t a really big puncher. I knew that I had a little pop in my punches but my game was really predicated on moving, making good use of my jab, making people miss and countering. In the first round he caught me with a right hand and it was a flash knockdown. I was fine, when it happened; I didn’t even know that I got hit. I thought that I slipped and fell and I got up and was fine. After that he came in really recklessly trying to finish me and I ended up knocking him down twice in the same round, in the very first round, from that point on I just thought I could finish him and I ended up really trying to load up and hit him with one punch at a time going for the knockout, and he just outhustled me. It was a real tough way to learn a lesson but sometimes it’s the only way you can learn.

MP: Next up was the talented Hector Acero Sanchez of the Dominican Republic who at the time was 28-1 and who would go on to win the WBC Super Bantamweight title. The official result was a majority draw after a competitive contest that could have gone either way. What do you recall of that bout and of Sanchez as a fighter?

That was the first guy that I fought that could do things similar to me. He had really good head movement, good defense, was really good at slipping punches, making people miss and making them pay, good jab. We even looked similar, same haircut, same skin color and everything. The exception was that he was a little bit better at that particular style than me.

At the end of the fight I remember Al Bernstein saying what a travesty it was, it was such a bad decision, but I really remember I took the first two rounds and I felt really confident about that, but rounds 3 through six he was really able to take me out of my game because he was better at my game than I was. Round 7 he caught me with one more good shot, I dropped my hands in the middle of the ring and I took a step back, and I said I really got to turn this into a war in order for me to win this fight. From that point on I really got aggressive and I started coming forward throwing more punches, trying to really throw hard. Since I changed strategy right in the middle of the fight, it kind of threw him off. I thought I swept rounds 8, 9 and 10 and that’s what gave me the draw.

MP: After posting four wins you moved up in weight to challenge a 39-2-1 Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson for the IBF Featherweight title on network television, losing a wide unanimous decision. Looking back, was it too soon to be fighting a fighter of that caliber barely four years into your career and what do you recall of Johnson as a fighter?

I wanted to fight Tracy Harris Patterson. They called and they offered me the fight but I was getting married, I had a wedding planned, people were travelling over from Italy to come to the wedding, so I couldn’t postpone it. Patterson’s people said they’d give me the next shot and they got Hector Acero Sanchez instead. Sanchez, I found out later in the wedding during the reception, I found out that he had beat Patterson, so essentially there went my shot. We tried to secure a shot with Sanchez, and that wasn’t happening. Later they offered the fight with “Boom Boom” and we jumped at it.

During training I got hit and received nerve damage to my left eye that I actually had five surgeries for in recent years. I had one surgery in 2007 and then four more in 2008. But at the time we kept it quiet and basically I was fighting with one eye.

MP: In your next bout you moved back down to 122lbs, losing by 7th-round TKO to a 38-0 Marco Antonio Barrera for the WBO Super Bantamweight title. What do you recall of that bout and of Barrera, who at that point was on a rampage through the sport?

I look back at it, I used to always say, if I was right I would have beaten Johnson, I would have beaten Barrera, but l look at it with a more objective eye now, well Johnson maybe……Barrera maybe, it would have been a competitive fight, even with one eye I was able to go seven rounds with him; he was really handling me at the time but there was a lot of things I couldn’t  do like when I made him miss I couldn’t make him pay because I wasn’t able to pick him up and really see where he was. I look back it now more objectively because Barrera is an all-time great. The guy is a Hall of Famer. So is “Boom Boom”. Do I think I would have beaten them? I don’t know. I would love to say yes, but at the same time, I know that the fights would have been competitive and I still would have stayed in title contention for years to come if it weren’t for the injury.

MP: After taking some time off you were matched tough with a 34-0 Dennis Holbaek Pedersen in September ’99, losing in the 6th-round. By that point was the desire waning?

I hadn’t seriously trained or anything for years. I won a fight against a guy named Frankie Lizarraga in ’98 and in ’99 I fought a guy named “Tiger” Smalls and I just knew I was done at that point. I didn’t have it the eye was just no good. I got a call and they asked if I’d like to fight Dennis Pedersen kid in Denmark. I said you know what, I’ve never fought out of the country and I was still in pretty good shape; I’ll take the fight. I went out there, this guy had a lot of fights, 28-0 (Pedersen was listed as 34-0 at the time of their bout) and for the first couple of rounds, he couldn’t even hit me. I was thinking this guy was terrible, this guy is awful, he can’t even hit me and I was a shell of my former self, and not only that, the guy was way bigger than me. He was 130lbs or probably walking around 145 or 150 and I was a 122 poundguy; he really should have been blowing me out of the water. A top-ten guy should have blown me out of the water, and he had the hardest time hitting me. I really did it just to kind of go on a little trip, go out of the country, part of the deal that I made with them was my purse, two plane tickets because I wanted to bring a friend so I got a chance to hang out in Denmark with a friend and kind of be in the limelight a little bit. I knew that, like I said, if I wasn’t injured, I would have still been fighting at that point because I still had good reflexes. I just couldn’t see. It takes two good eyes to be a good fighter.

MP: Your record shows that you challenged the 42-1 Erik Morales for the WBC Featherweight title after three years of inactivity and three straight stoppage defeats. How did such an unlikely opportunity come about and what were your thoughts going into the bout given the context of your career at that point?

The same agent that set up the fight with Pedersen called me up and said “Hey Eddie, we need a guy, a former contender to go three or four rounds with a guy in Mexico City, they’re  having the WBC 30-year convention, and they want to have a big show, a big fight; they’re offering twenty-grand cash.” I said to the guy it has to be someone fairly good if they are going to pay that kind of money.  They said “well they want you to fight Erik Morales.” They weren’t looking for a world-beater, just a former contender, someone that could go three or four rounds and look good. This is kind of like the seedy underbelly of professional boxing that most people don’t hear about. Erik Morales; twenty-grand may not pay my hospital bills! I went on to tell him that I haven’t fought in years or stepped into a gym in awhile, which wasn’t necessarily true. I had been in the gym but had spent more time training people than actually working out myself. I asked for thirty-grand. He  called back a couple of days later, offered me twenty-five and two planes tickets and I said, OK fine, I’ll do it. Just because I wanted to be able to say that I got to fight both Barrera and Morales.

What I remember of the fight, it’s kind of a crazy story, I remember the day of the weigh-in waking up at six in the morning to a phone call. They wanted me to go downstairs to check my weight. My weight was fine, the weight was 130lbs and I weighed probably 129 pounds. So I went downstairs and I got on the scale and I was 128 and a half and I was a little dehydrated having just gotten out of bed. They said it was too light. They gave me a big jug of water, a gallon of water and said, “This is your homework”. I drank the water, weighed in again; too light. They told me to go eat a big breakfast, don’t pee, don’t go to the bathroom, hold it.

Ok, fine. I ate as much as I could, my belly was really full, went back to the weigh-in with my pants on, they gave me a couple of bags of pesos to put in my pockets, got on the scale and weighed about 136 pounds and Morales weighed-in about 140, and the fight went on. I decided to just go out there and see what I could do.

The first round I got hit with the jab and my timing was off. It kind of shook my legs a little bit. It all kind of came rushing back to me right then; I remembered what it was all like. He threw a couple more jabs and I slipped them and then I threw a jab and popped him, and I thought to myself that this was really easy. I hit him a couple more times and I felt pretty good moving around and I felt like I won the round. When the bell rang I started walking back to the corner and began thinking to myself that I was really tired; the elevation’s high, the air is not so good, the fight was outside in a bull ring, lots of smog and lots of dust. I didn’t know how much more I had left. I told my corner I was going to go out there and hit him as hard as I could with the first punch I threw.

The bell rang, I walked across the ring and I surprised him with a hard lead right hand, snapped his head back and he gave me a look of pure anger. He started swinging for the fences and he caught me with a body shot and I went down, then he caught me a few more times and I was down again; I barely made it out that round…and then he stopped me in the next round. I really remember thinking to myself after the fight that he was not nearly as good as Barrera was.

MP: Who hit harder, Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera?

Marco Antonio Barrera. He hit harder, he was faster and he was more technically proficient. His punches were shorter; he was by far the better fighter. Now, what made Morales great in my opinion was that he was relentless and he was long for the weight class, really long and kind of tall. Good body puncher and he had a lot of heart. As far as technical skills, he wasn’t anywhere near what Barrera was.

MP: Seven years after your last professional bout you are moving forward in life while giving back to the community with B Street Boxing. Tell us about that.

I opened up a boxing gym in downtown San Mateo, the city where I grew up. When I was a fighter in the early-mid 90’s I always wanted to open a gym, and in November 1st 2008 I opened up B Street Boxing. I am so proud of the progress that we’ve made. I had a couple of registered amateur boxers; in 2009 Golden Gloves I had just one entry. Over the past year we’ve really been busy growing the gym and developing boxers, this year in the 2010 Golden Gloves I entered eight fighters and four  won their division, one novice winner and three open winners. I’m really very proud of the accomplishments and skill level of the fighters we’ve developed here.

MP: Discipline is the key to success. Is that something you look to impress upon the youth that walk into your gym, regardless of their ambitions in the sport?

I really tell them, it’s one of the things I really stress; you get out of life what you put into it. The same goes for boxing, it’s especially true in boxing; if you train with a half-hearted effort then you’re going to get half-hearted results. The same goes in life. If a kid is in school, I tell him if you’re only studying half as hard as you can, your grades are going to reflect the amount of effort that you put in. Luckily, we have some people here that are really dedicated to the craft, and that are really in tune with training hard, doing work on their own, doing the roadwork and the extra conditioning work, spending time doing all of the push-ups and all of the sit-ups, sparring that extra round if they need to push themselves a little more. The people that come in here are really driven and they know what they want to get out of this sport and life. I’m blessed in that way.

MP: What are your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievement is being able to open the gym. I had some dark moments after I stopped boxing. I didn’t know what I was going to do and I was really scared. A lot of times when you hear of fighters after they are done fighting, they don’t have anything and they don’t really have any skills. Luckily for me, I can talk a good game and usually I can back it up. I’m able to communicate my ideas to people and enough people believed in me to help me out opening the gym, and enough of them believed in me to allow me to be their trainer.

MP: You strike me as a very effective communicator, which is not something a lot of fighters are. Talking and listening to you, I’m not completely surprised you are doing as well as you are.

Thank you. I really appreciate that. One of the things that is so great about martial arts is that you learn how to teach early in your development. Because there is a ranking system, you go through the belts, and with each step up in rank you are almost expected to guide the ranks below you. I’ve spent basically my whole life teaching and it really kind of carried on into boxing. I’m really able to give everything that I’ve gotten out of this game and give it away freely. It’s really great.

MP: What fighters do you follow today?

I follow them all. I like Shane Mosley a lot, Floyd Mayweather JR,, his skill is just amazing. Everybody is following Manny Pacquiao right now. He’s the hottest name, maybe ever. I follow Andre Ward closely because he’s a Bay Area kid as well. I really always kind of liked the lesser known guys; I was a big fan of Buddy McGirt, I was a big fan of Mike McCallum and I loved James Toney. I like fighters that are welterweight and below; guys like Israel Vazquez and all those guys. I try to watch as much boxing as I can.

MP: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans in closing?

Not only to my fans but to all boxing fans; I’m really grateful that there are so many great boxing fans that support boxing. I hear all the time that our sport is dying. I don’t see how it’s dying if Manny Pacquiao can get thirty-million for a fight. If they are still generating seven figures in a fight, I don’t see the death of boxing any time soon. I’d like to express my gratitude toward everybody watching and going to the fights.

Eddie Croft
Nickname: “Prime Time”
Division: Super Featherweight
Professional Record: 23-7-1, (10 KO’s)

Date       Opponent                  Location                  Result
1991-07-11 Manuel Prospero           Gardnerville, USA         W PTS  4
1991-09-20 Jorge Ojeda               San Francisco, USA        W TKO  4
1991-10-11 Eduardo Castro            San Francisco, USA        W PTS  4
1991-11-15 Cesar Vasquez             San Francisco, USA        W PTS  4
1991-12-20 Francisco Lueveno         San Francisco, USA        W KO   3

1992-01-05 Robert Parra              Reno, USA                 W UD   4
1992-02-23 Anthony Griego            San Francisco, USA        W TKO  2
1992-03-26 Alejandro Armenta         San Francisco, USA        W PTS  6
1992-04-24 Andres Chavez             Sacramento, USA           W KO   2
1992-05-16 Eloy Cortez               San Jose, USA             W KO   2
1992-06-09 Javier Carmona            San Francisco, USA        W KO   6
1992-06-30 Idelfonso Bernal          Sacramento, USA           W KO   2
1992-08-29 Magdaleno Maldonado       Reno, USA                 W PTS  6
1992-11-22 George Garcia             Burlingame, USA           W PTS  8

1993-02-19 Jorge Fuentes Martinez    San Mateo, USA            W TKO  6
1993-04-23 Vinnel Ponzio             San Mateo, USA            W PTS 10
1993-05-21 Felipe Garcia             San Mateo, USA            W UD  10
1993-07-16 Jerome Coffee             San Mateo, USA            W PTS 12
        WBC Continental Americas Super Bantamweight Title
1993-09-23 Gerardo Martinez          San Jose, USA             L PTS 12
        WBC Continental Americas Super Bantamweight Title
1993-12-09 Hector Acero Sanchez      New York, USA             D PTS 10

1994-05-22 Jose Luis Vegagil         Burlingame, USA           W KO   4
1994-07-16 Richard Duran             San Mateo, USA            W PTS 10
1994-11-16 Dadoy Andujar             Las Vegas, USA            W KO   7

1995-01-28 Antonio Ramirez           Reno, USA                 W UD  10
1995-05-28 Tom Johnson               South Padre Island, USA   L UD  12
        IBF Featherweight Title
1995-11-04 Marco Antonio Barrera     Las Vegas, USA            L TKO  7
        WBO Super Bantamweight Title

1998-11-20 Frank Lizarraga           San Rafael, USA           W SD   8

1999-03-31 Priest Smalls             Monterey, USA             L KO   3
1999-09-03 Dennis Holbaek Pedersen   Copenhagen, Denmark       L TKO  6

2000-01-14 Fred Neal                 Las Vegas, USA            L TKO  3

2003-02-22 Erik Morales              Mexico City, Mexico       L TKO  3
        WBC Featherweight Title

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