Fighter carries memory of father into the cage

(From the Arizona Daily Sun)
September 17, 2005 10:00 pm

By Ed Odeven

Robert P. Beecroft and his son, Rich, shared a passion for boxing. They watched dozens of fights together and discussed the tactics of champions like Marvin Hagler and Muhammad Ali.

The elder Beecroft never stopped impressing his son with his keen understanding of the Sweet Science.

“He would talk a lot about sequences and make predictions. He was usually right on key as far as knowing what fighter was going to come out and do what,” Rich, a Flagstaff resident, was saying Saturday by telephone. “He gave me a lot of advice as far as my fighting, (too).”

Right until the end.

On Aug. 31, as they talked about Rich’s upcoming fight, Robert gave his tall, long-limbed son one last bit of advice:

“He said, ‘Use your power and reach when you’re fighting. … Son, they are always going to try to get in to you to try to get you down because they’re afraid to take your punch.'”

Robert passed away Sept. 1 in his sleep at his Heber home. He was 63.

For Rich, it was a painful loss. His father had always been there to offer words of encouragement and to help guide him on his journey through life. “He just really wanted to see me excel in the things I enjoyed doing,” Rich says.

When Rich speaks about his father, he describes him as hard-working, humble and giving.

And Robert was his son’s biggest fan.

He was at Apache Gold Casino in Globe July 9 when Rich, a 32-year-old heavyweight, made his professional debut in a King of the Cage fight. (Beecroft recorded a first-round knockout at the 1:43 mark.)

Rich’s second pro fight was scheduled for Sept. 10 at the Pinal County Fairgrounds in Casa Grande against former world champion Andy Montana, the night’s eighth and final fight.

In the days before the fight, Rich had no time to prepare for Montana. After all, he was attending to his family’s needs.

The funeral was held Sept. 7 in Heber. A large gathering of family and friends came to pay their final respects to Robert Beecroft. And in a touching tribute to his dad, a former logger and trucking business owner, a local businessman enabled Robert to have his “last ride” on a flatbed diesel truck from the church to the cemetery, rather than in a hearse.

Three days later, Beecroft stepped into the ring against Montana, and there was a definite void in Beecroft’s heart.

“To not have him there was just emotionally overwhelming,” he admits.

The fight, before a sellout crowd of 1,500, wasn’t easy, either.

In the first minute, Montana, who weighed in at 257 pounds for the fight — 40 more than Beecroft — got his counterpart into a tight key lock (also called wrist lock), but he escaped the first one. This defensive strategy was made, Rich explains, because Montana’s trainers told him not to try to go toe-to-toe with the hard-hitting Arizonan.

Seconds later, Montana, who trained for this fight by working with Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelts, unleashed another key lock.

“I fought the key lock for about 1 minute, 20 seconds,” Rich says, “and the referee kept asking me if I wanted to tap, and I wouldn’t tap. Then the fibers in my shoulder started cracking and the ref heard that. And right as I went to tap, the ref called the fight.”

Beecroft gained some admirers that night, the owner of Rage in the Cage and the fight promoter.

“They’ve never seen anyone hold onto a key lock (that long),” Rich says, recounting their conversation. “You typically tap in the first 20 seconds.”

Montana and Beecroft will hold a rematch in late October in Tucson, because as the ex-champ told Beecroft, “he didn’t feel right about the fight and knew I was about 50 percent.”

This is an opportunity Beecroft is grateful for.

“I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to have a rematch with him,” Beecroft says, “because I think you’ll see a totally different fighter.”

He also learned an important lesson that day.

“That was the first loss I ever had,” says Rich, who went 12-0 as an amateur. “I think the biggest thing about it was it was humbling to a point that I gained a lot of maturity in the loss, knowing there are always limits to your ability to perform at 100 percent. I’m really focused not on the loss, but what I’ve learned from the loss and the ability to move forward.”

His trainer partner/coach, Robert Beraun offered him this perspective:

He told me, ‘Some of the greatest fighters come off of a good loss. You’ve got to know what it feels like on both sides of the coin to be able to become great. The greatest champions of the world have lost and become better fighters from their losses.”

Beecroft returns to the ring Friday at Glendale Arena, where a crowd of 15,000 is expected for the night’s fights.

“I’m dedicating the rest of my career to my father,” Rich says.