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.

Father-son combos are notoriously dicey in boxing and, for a time after the Olympic setback, the Walkers were no exception. The fighter wanted to turn pro immediately; Mack said no, citing his son's lack of physical strength inside the ring.

"I was hangin' with the ladies," Scott says, "playing music, dancing a lot, just hangin'. I didn't know what I was doing. Figured I'd turn pro and see how it went. My dad didn't see it that way."

Scott finally agreed to lift weights. He gained some much-needed weight and strength. In the summer of 1989, Mack Walker decided it was time for Scott to test the professional waters.

"The boy had no promoter, no Olympic medal, no recognition, no nothing," Mack says. "And I wasn't his damned sugar daddy. Hell, we've never had money to speak of. You can say we were a bit on the naive side. But we gave it a shot."

Professional boxing is a cruel, sometimes evil vocation. For every Julio Cesar Chavez, and even every Michael Carbajal, there are 10,000 wanna-bes who don't have a prayer of making money in the ring.

But for untold youngsters--mostly black and Hispanic these days--the fantasy of hearing a crowd roar for you, of having strangers ask for your autograph, of having an entourage, of being The Man, is alluring.

The reality, unfortunately, is more like Scott Walker's experience than, say, Michael Carbajal's. Carbajal's pro debut was on ESPN before millions of fans. The Pink Cat first fought professionally on a sparsely attended August 28, 1989, card at a Tempe nightclub.

Walker learned who his opponent would be just six hours before he stepped into the ring. Walker lost a close decision to the forgettable, but more experienced, Sugar Ray Collins. The promoter cut Walker a check for $275 for his efforts.

Walker won three fights, then lost a split decision to a bruiser named Joey Orantes on the July 1990 Phoenix undercard of Carbajal's first title fight. Orantes broke Walker's left eardrum with an overhand right in the first round.

That loss shoved Walker even deeper into boxing's bush league. The low point may have come in August 1991, when Mack Walker and Scott drove to South Dakota for two outdoor fights in three days on a remote Indian reservation.

"We got all of $300 a fight against these lousy, build-your-record-against-them guys," Mack Walker says. "It's moments like those when you start wondering what in the world you're doing in this business."

Scott Walker recalls those experiences wryly: "I hated it sometimes and I liked it once or twice."

A controversial loss to southpaw Brandon Croly in August 1992 left Walker with a soso 9-3 record and a cloudy boxing future. Frustrated and tired, he quit for about eight months. At the age of 23, his pro career seemed stalled, if not over.

But time healed Walker's psychological wounds and, by early 1993, he was ready to box again. A key factor in his renewed enthusiasm was Chuck McGregor, who had recently hooked up with Maxie's Boxing Gym.

McGregor took over most of Walker's training, improving his skills and soothing his sometimes-testy relationship with his father.

"There's no such thing as an Ozzie-and-Harriet family," explains Mack Walker, "and we're no exception. Boxing puts a strain on father-son relationships. It's a sport that boils down to hurting the other guy, and not getting hurt yourself. That can mean a lot of mental strain because if you do things, you better do them right. Chuck coming along when he did meant everything to Scott."

The 52-year-old McGregor says he was burned out on boxing's Byzantine politics and dirty dealings when he and his wife, Doris, migrated from Chicago to Arizona in 1986.

But the sport has been in his blood since his father, a steelworker and topranked amateur boxer, first took him to a gym as a boy. McGregor is an inveterate talker who loves to spin yarns about unforgettable fighters he's known.

He's much more, however, than a captivating storyteller.
"I always was a pest at those old south-side gyms, always asking why," says McGregor. "The why of boxing is important to me. In Scott, I saw a lot of natural movement and agility, and the thinking kind of style I like to teach best. I don't think he's ever taken boxing seriously enough to know how good he is or can be. He's not big-headed. He's always just done it."

New obstacles--physical, not emotional--conspired to keep Walker from fighting for six months in 1994. Surgery on his right hand for a tendon injury proved successful, and Walker returned to the ring in September 1994.

After more low-paying wins against generally weak opposition, Walker finally caught a break. ESPN wanted to showcase Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello in his second comeback fight.

The Arguello people considered their would-be victim carefully, finally settling on Walker. The Pink Cat signed a contract for $4,000 to fight the ex-champ at a casino in Las Vegas.

Arguello stunned Walker with his famous right hand in the first round--"The hardest anyone has ever hit me"--but he couldn't put down the Pink Cat.

Walker kept out of harm's way for the rest of the ten-rounder, piling up points with slick jabs and effective counterpunching. Most observers had Walker winning the fight easily on points, though two of the three judges scored it closely. The third judge gave it to Walker in a rout.

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