Pink Cat, Underdog

Scott Walker is the longest of long shots to beat boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez. But the skinny Mesa fighter who calls himself "The Pink Cat" isn't about to miss his golden opportunity.

"By the time I'm 50, I'll probably look like an old man--bad knees, bad back and bad hands. I'll be telling people, 'I used ta be a contenda.' Now, I've got a chance to make some big money. I've got me a big, big fight. That's my story."

Actually, the Pink Cat's story starts well before he was born seven-weeks premature in Oklahoma. That's where Maxwell (Mack) Walker was raised, on a ranch about 35 miles from McAlester, population 12,000. Mack was the youngest of three children--his brother Charlie is 27 years his senior.

Alma and Perry Walker's small spread never generated much money. Some years, the couple was compelled to do seasonal labor in such faraway places as Queen Creek, Arizona.

"They'd pick lettuce, pop carrots, whatever it took to earn a few bucks," Mack Walker recalls. "They'd go wherever. I remember Arizona when I was 4 or 5--hot and sandy. My folks didn't have it easy, but they were honest and they kept at it."

Mack enlisted in the Air Force in 1964. On duty in Columbus, Ohio, late that year, he met a lovely girl named Pat Hoffman. They got married in April 1965; later that year, Mack was shipped to Vietnam for an 11month tour.

Mack returned to McAlester after his honorable discharge in 1966. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he helped his ailing father tend to the ranch as he dabbled in real estate, auctioneering, helicopter piloting, furniture sales and--for a few days--pea picking.

Pat would give birth to two boys, Scott in 1969 and Torrey in 1971.
Scott spent the first four weeks of his life in an incubator, and doctors predicted he wouldn't catch up in motor skills and emotional maturity until his late teens. They were right.

Scott adored his cousin Chuck--Charlie's boy--before he could talk. For his second birthday, Chuck gave him a pair of tiny boxing gloves and a boxing bag. (Chuck Walker went on to compete in the 1976 Olympics with Sugar Ray Leonard and company, and fought professionally after that.)

Pat Walker enrolled her older son in jazz and tap-dance classes as a youth. Those lessons continue to bear fruit, in and out of the ring: Scott's footwork and movement in the ring are outstanding--perhaps the biggest reason he hasn't become a punching bag. And to this day, he's as comfortable dancing the jitterbug at a honky-tonk as he is sticking a jab in someone's face.

Scott also took piano lessons for years, and taught himself to play a passable guitar, on which he has composed numerous songs. ("Hit Me Like a Freight Train" is a recent composition. He insists it's about a romance, not a left hook.)

Mack and Charlie Walker--both fought on the amateur level--raised their sons around boxing gyms. Scott Walker entered a boxing ring as a contestant for the first time at the age of 8.

The occasion was a peewee tournament in McAlester. He lost in the finals.
"I think I cried," Scott Walker recalls, "because losing basically sucks."
Around this time, Charlie Walker was trying to convince Mack to join him in the furniture business in Arizona. In 1979, an act of God sold the little brother.

"It was so cold [in Oklahoma] that the pipes froze at this little store we had," Mack Walker says. "Then they unfroze and exploded, and flooded our place. It froze up again and stuck the furniture to the floor. I told Pat, 'Babe, start packin' your bags, 'cuz we're out of here.' I fixed up my Okie rig and we hit the road. Looked just like The Grapes of Wrath."

In 1980, the Walkers opened their own furniture store on East Main Street in Mesa. Mack Walker rigged up a makeshift outdoor ring behind the store--later to be Maxie's Boxing Gym--where he trained his two sons, then reaching their teens. Torrey quit boxing at the age of 16.

Scott kept boxing, even after he grew eight inches in the year after his 13th birthday. To call him thin understates it. At almost six feet two and 140 pounds, try rail-thin. Or desperately thin.

That year, Walker decided he needed a special identity in the ring. He chose the persona of the Pink Cat. "It just came to me," he says. He started wearing custom-made black shorts with pink trim. A few years later, he evolved to hot pink with white trim.

"Pink on a boxer is like waving a red flag at a bull," Mack Walker says, "but he wanted to do it, and he kept winning."

The Walkers' near-obsession was for Scott to make the 1988 Olympic team. His amateur record of 125-17, with 30 knockouts, indicated a level of skill. But he lacked the luck, timing and physical strength.

"I'd taught Scott a thing or two about boxing," Mack Walker recalls, "but I was too dumb to know crap about weight training. Scott was fighting monsters, and he didn't have the strength to fend them off."

Scott, then 18, didn't make the team, losing in the Western regionals. He watched morosely as a local boy named Michael Carbajal went on to fame, a medal and, after the Games, a large signing bonus with Top Rank.

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