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Go gently in the night

Posted: January 30, 2014 - 2:00am
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Marlintini's owner Ethan Billings and fight promoter Bob Haag stand together behind an Alaskan flag among many former participants of Roughhouse Friday bouts during last weekend's final boxing matches in the long-time sports bar.  KLAS STOLPE | JUNEAU EMPIRE
KLAS STOLPE | JUNEAU EMPIRE
Marlintini's owner Ethan Billings and fight promoter Bob Haag stand together behind an Alaskan flag among many former participants of Roughhouse Friday bouts during last weekend's final boxing matches in the long-time sports bar.

The Roughhouse Friday’s road has been long. Eight events a year for 14 years.

Daisy’s should have long ago been pushed up from a final resting place and annual pilgrimages made only by those who have a memory to rest a weary smile upon as they kneel on bended knee to clear away a stone or two.

That was never more apparent than last weekend’s final battles at Marlintini’s Lounge.

The night had heroes such as heavyweight champion Al “Mean Machine” Valentine and foes such as the Duckworth trio from Ketchikan.

“Al was always one of the best fights,” said Marlintini’s owner Ethan Billings, who is selling the bar. “And of course you have to have villains. We were the guys that brought this kind of stuff to town. We used to have 600 people in the old ANB Hall. In the olden days it was always better because more guys were into boxing. There were more boxing athletes. Now these guys are just kind of getting off the couch and wanting to make a hundred bucks.”

This venue has always been a business, first and foremost.

First purchased under the name Hoochi’s Sports Pub in 1995 (formerly the Landing Strip from 1976-91), Billings and friend Jim Cashen, along with then co-owners Rob Metcalfe and Bene Schleuniger, began to bring a variety of activities to Juneau under the name Marlintini’s Lounge.

The boxing was an extra caveat to promote that, starting in the Spring of 1999.

It did the job.

Over the years a variety of pugilists walked, ferried, or flew into Juneau to participate.

Cashen passed in March of 2003 and Billings was the sole proprietor.

The number and names of the events that have entertained there is staggering.

“Our business model was a promotional bar,” Billings said. “To get people in the door we had to do promotions. That could be strippers, male or female, comedy, national bands, cover bands, Seattle bands, Vancouver bands, local bands, satellite sports, Halloween, Sumo wrestling or stupid party tricks or whatever to attract people. All the stuff we have done for 20 years was a promotion pretty much because there is no walking or tourism traffic by our building. It is a destination bar.”

Attractions have included Edgar Winter, Little John, Eddie Money, Pat Travers, Blue Oyster Cult, Quiet Riot, Great White, Confederate Railroad, Foghat, Everclear, April Wine, Paula Poundstone, George Carlin and a laundry list of others that numbers in the hundreds.

“We were always ready to do it,” Billings said. “Because we were the guys that did promotions in this town. I don’t think anyone will ever come close to doing what we did in that bar and in this town as far as acts and entertainment. We all grew up here and our goal was to bring entertainment to a dead town.”

The boxers were not the best.

“It was all about being a superstar for a night” Billings said. “Fighters could say they were the man that night.”

Last weekend’s gathering was to be a send off for those who once found solace inside the ring there.

In a way it was sad.

Retirements are like that.

Sometimes we know when we want to leave.

Sometimes we need to be told to and often times the door hits us on our reluctant rears as we are shoved out.

Before the main fights could get going a disgruntled fighter past her prime threw a beer bottle at another of similar athleticism, the contents of which splashed most who wished to honor the moment with a candid photo.

“We had someone who wanted to give Bob Haag a good send off and another who thought someone was opening their mouth too much,” Billings said. “It was pushed too far.”

A positive saw the giving of championship belts to Haag, Billings, and a hearty handshake from Billings’ friend Russ Stevens, a former Southeast Showdown champ and the current promoter of Alaska Beatdown in Centennial Hall.

Haag, 68, and his scorekeeping wife Sandy, 66, have been married 47 years, most spent involved in the gentleman’s sport of boxing. They were West Anchorage High School sweethearts.

Sandy played violin in the school orchestra and Bob laced up in Eagles' hockey skates. Through every Roughhouse night their dedication to the event was paled only by the looks they passed to each other.

Another positive on the night was that smoke no longer circles from the end of lit cigarettes onto hazy forms moving in some inebriated ballet of intoxicated fans and disillusioned fighters.

In 2008 smoking was moved to shoulder-to-shoulder challenges outside the establishment where patrons were never sure if they felt threatened when arriving or leaving or if they had missed out on an outdoor party.

This was a bar scene.

Pure and simple.

Like all bar scenes it served its purpose by serving its patrons.

Fights that occurred outside the ring probably lasted longer than what referee Joe Isturis officiated, Haag emceed and Billings paid for.

Fighters signed releases and, for meager paychecks, risked concussion or various other injuries.

The paychecks were meager. In reality some spent again as much after their bouts, nursing wounds of defeat or exalting their wins.

Ring girls, many who looked better as the night wore on and the liquor flowed, found a following that leered in approval.

Friday featured “Autumn,” a top looker from Anchorage, a beauty among the beasts that prowl the center stage.

Judging was always skeptical, to one or the other corner and to the sober fan.

The fights could generate some thrills though.

Sometimes they established rivalries that spanned decades. Sometimes they were just a way to settle a dispute or misunderstanding.

Friday was a mix of all of that.

Valentine, age 55, (also known as Al Perkins) solidified his Southeast legacy by defeating Tyson Duckworth, 23, who was looking to “even the score with Al.”

Duckworth held the Southeast titles for middleweight and lightweight and this would be his second attempt to get the heavyweight title out of Valentine’s clutches.

Duckworth spent three rounds running away from Valentine, who had told me earlier in the week he would “go straight after him and leave nothing behind.”

The years have taken a toll on Al. His career started at age 17, discovered by Haag at one of these venues. Valentine matured to fight professionally in Las Vegas and New Jersey and he admits the blows have taken something from him.

The first tally was a draw. Boos from the crowd and Valentine standing in the center of the ring leading a “one more round” chant resulted in the gloves being reattached and another minute started.

Duckworth ran again. This time the judges felt Valentine retained his belt. The Ketchikan trio argued that in a rather unprofessional manner.

Jack Duckworth, 57, also lost. Randy Willard of Haines, a 28 year old weighing 189 pounds, fought respectful the first round, then deposited his opponent on the mat once in the third to take a split decision. It is time for the elder Duckworth to leave the ring, as was shown in a near attempted blow after the bell in round two.

It was tragic to watch Wayne “Kung Fu” Smallwood, 63, 166 pounds, retire after 53 seconds to Tyrell “Typhoon” Kleinsmith, 28, 160 pounds. It should have been done years earlier.

Walter “Showstopper” Brown, 32, 200 pounds, lost to Shawn “Iceman” Sheakley, 35, 221 pounds. Brown was credited with losing weight but his double-fisted leaping punch was the last blows of a dying fighter.

Justice “Cheesy” Cotese, 36, 233 pounds, stated he was here for the first fight and was here for the last fight. He wore a mask into the ring. The anonymity was further instilled with a loss to Anthony Vallejo, 32, 210 pounds, who was fighting for the first time.

Charlie Gallant, 24, went under the dissection of Ketchikan’s Michael Firari, 33, in another bout that required a fourth round to determine a less than adequate action win.

Tyler Phillips, 19, 150 pounds, was fighting for his mother. His Yakutat opponent Jamie Sin, 22, 149 pounds, was fighting for sport. Mother knew best.

The laugh ability of the evening was demonstrated in a grudge match between Nikolay “Russian Mauler” Barkov, 29, 170 pounds, and Blake Galvin, 32, 169 pounds. The duo had a tiff on the Juneau Douglas Ice Association circuit and were settling it in the ring. Social worker Galvin got the nod over state worker Barkov, yet it would have been more entertaining to see the aforementioned altercation on the ice.

Please don’t get me wrong here.

In my limited time spent covering the event I saw the dedication of Billings, Haag, Isturis, the bouncers, the scorers, the employees and the fans.

I saw enthusiastic fighters, and those not so polished.

If this were 25 years ago I could very well be one of those who blurred reality in the ring with the cool refreshment purchased there.

Older and wiser now, I appreciate Roughhouse for what it was.

A business.

A place to let off some steam.

A place that allowed a platform for a grudge matches between a guy whose buddy had taken his girlfriend or the continuation of a hockey fight or just a good old challenge.

A throwback to the days where fights were outlawed like gambling and held as “smokers” in basements or upstairs in armories.

It was a long road that, when traveled, is best remembered for the good times.

Marlintini’s Lounge will continue operating until the end of February according to Billings.

The liquor license was purchased by Tracy's King Crab Shack and will be in the Zephyr Restaurant on Seward. There is another company considering the Marlintini’s site to continue it as a sports bar or nightclub.

“It has been a long couple weeks,” Billings said. “A lot of stuff going on at once.”

Billings, a die-hard sports fans, turned down tickets to the Super Bowl in New York and will instead watch it from Las Vegas.

“With all the activities in Manhattan and the security cutting the tail gate parties, and having to be on a bus the whole time with the possibility of the weather hitting, it would be a nightmare being in New York,” Billings said. “If it was in Phoenix or San Diego, well, that is the way it goes.”

Billings recounted boxing promoter Haag’s description of the allure.

“You could walk by a kid shooting hoops,” Haag said. “You could walk by a park where kids are throwing a football around, walk by some guy hitting a golf ball, whatever. But when you walk past two guys fighting you are going to stop and watch.”

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