Skipper Kelp and Tuesday Nights
I dearly loved Tuesday Night Fights because it kept boxing alive in the mainstream as a weekly show and made the work week go faster…
“Skipper is bad ass!!! I watched him when he was an amateur and through his professional career. He threw the bombs and was a very exciting fighter.”—Poster named mestizod
“I went through all the tests so I could sleep at night. I had to check it out myself. There’s been an internal battle, and from 1998 until now, I’ve been thinking a lot. I have kids, and my family needs me. I see other fighters slurring their words, and they can’t read a book to their kids. There’s no money in the world worth that.”—Skipper Kelp
I’m old enough to have enjoyed the Monday Night Fights and the real Friday Night Fights, but later I dearly loved Tuesday Night Fights because it kept boxing alive in the mainstream as a weekly show and made the work week go faster. Starting in the early 1980s, the final broadcast was in August 1998 live from the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. “I’m sorry to see it go, and it’s a shame for boxing,” said Russell Peltz, the local boxing historian whose promotions turned the Blue Horizon into one of the world’s best known boxing venues. Near the end of the show, they played a tribute video featuring such fighters as George Foreman, Raul Marquez, Fernando Vargas, Chris Byrd, Bronco McKart, Dana Rosenblatt, Charles Brewer, Mark Johnson, Rocky Gannon, Michael Carbajal, Bobby Czyz, and other big names in boxing along with the solid broadcasting duo of Al Alberts and “The Champ” Sean O’Grady.
The ring announcers were often Ed Derian—and a young Michael Buffer. Can anyone ever forget Alex Rodriquez’s slaughter of Bernard “The Bull” Benton in 1990? In this one, the referee fell asleep at the switch and Benton was almost killed in plain sight. Can anyone forget the skills and toughness of Raul Marquez? And why did the referee bother to count over Ed Avant after Charlie Scott rendered him unconscious? And wasn’t watching former tough man and brawler Rocky Gannon more fun than watching an obese Butterbean, especially when Gannon pulled off a real Rocky when he fought Thomas Tate in 1996? These reflected just a small slice of the delicious pie called Tuesday Night Fights.
However, when I think about Tuesday Night Fights one name always comes to mind and that’s Skipper “Saigon” Kelp. Like Nigel Benn and Iran Barkley, Skipper Kelp was an all-action, ferocious fighting machine that just kept coming and coming. He fought with a rage that belied his introspective and intelligent demeanor. Serious boxing fans will never ask who Skipper “Saigon” Kelp was.
Kelp fought from 1990 to 1998 and scored some spectacular stoppages. In fact, his debut KO on December 20, 1990 in Las Vegas over Californian Miguel Lopez came on his first very punch—a menacing left hook that sent the hapless Lopez walking backwards to La La Land from whence he came. The punch profile was 1-0.
Skipper then went on a 15-fight undefeated streak before losing to talented light middleweight David Gonzalez (29-2-1) in late 2002. He went on to win seven of his next eight, but his loss during that stretch to Bronco McKart (15-1) in 1994 was a career altering one as the two fought a savage battle. Skipper, a highly touted prospect, suffered his only stoppage defeat, and McKart went on to fight some of the very best in boxing.
After four confidence-building wins, Kelp lost to undefeated Raul Marquez (22-0) in another grueling battle in which both men took serious punishment. Skipper then bounced back with a convincing decision over Adrian Stone (17-1-1). In this bout, Kelp got off the floor and dropped Adrian Stone twice in the 10th round. However, the wear and tear of the McKart and Marquez wars was now evident. Six months later, he lost to slick Tony Martin (32-5-10) over 12 rounds for the USBA welterweight title. The writing was now on the wall. More to the point, Skipper reportedly collapsed in the dressing room. Some said he should never fight again, but Skipper felt he was dehydrated. At any rate, he said in his typical articulate manner, “Not that I expect to be punch-drunk, but I’m willing to take a risk for what I want to attain in boxing. The only way I can explain it, and I know it’s a stupid cliché, but it’s the warrior inside me. I can’t really put it any other way. Something inside me says I can do it, I can win a world championship. My body has stayed young – I can still make 147. I want to give it one honest run.” (“You’re Through” by Steve Farhood, BOXING MONTHLY, July 2000 Archive).
After an 18-month layoff, Skipper came back to fight Javier Francisco Mendez in Skipper’s adopted hometown of Las Vegas and won a UD to close out his career with a 24-4-1 mark, but to really feel the essence of what this Vietnam-born warrior was all about, it’s helpful to watch his highlights video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl7e3by5fvY
The popular Kelp is extremely smart and posses a great attitude. He now manages Skipper Kelp’s Fight Capital Training Center, 3071 South Valley View Boulevard in Las Vegas (702-248-3432), trains fighters (like Joey Gilbert), is a sought-after trainer in MMA (especially Muay Thai), and is a close friend of Dana White. He also heads up the UNLV boxing champion team.
Skipper “Saigon” Kelp knew when it was time to move on. As a result, his story represents one of the relatively few happy endings to a business with mostly sad ones.