This week’s feature on “Irish” Pat Lawlor of San Francisco, California, is the second profile of a colorful Irish or Irish-American boxer to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. The 41-year-old Lawlor, who turned pro in October 1987, recently embarked on an ill-advised comeback after a nearly three year hiatus from the ring. Although he began his career with 12 straight wins, his record now stands at an unenviable 23-16-1 (7 KOs). Always known for his candor, wit, and outspokenness, there is no question that Lawlor always has, and always will, march to the sound of his own drummer.
Lawlor is much too intelligent to not know that his best days are behind him and they are not coming back. A few years ago he published a heart wrenching poem that described his rise from the relative poverty in San Francisco’s Sunset District to personally lead a fistic renaissance in the City by the Bay, to his downward spiral into the role of a well-traveled, but always lovable, and extremely quotable, loser. The poem began:
Sometimes I think it’s a lowdown shame
The way I try to hang in this rough, crazy game
My body is aching
My hands and feet are sore
I’m getting really tired of pulling myself off the floor
That was only the beginning, and the dirge-like poem didn’t get any more positive by its end. Back in 1990-91, Lawlor had beaten legendary champions Wilfred Benitez and Roberto Duran in consecutive bouts, but not much had gone his way since then. By 2000 he was clinging to those victories as proof positive that he was still a viable opponent for any up and comer who wanted an established name on his resume.
In many ways his victories over those Hall of Fame champions was more of a curse than a blessing. Once he beat them, he outgrew his San Francisco roots, where he regularly drew more than 8,000 fans to the Civic Auditorium, and started losing with aplomb all over the world. Among the champions, contenders and prospects who beat him were John David Jackson in San Francisco, Terry Norris in Las Vegas, Hector Camacho in Mississippi, Dana Rosenblatt in Connecticut, Joe Calzaghe in Wales, Duran in a 2000 rematch in Panama, Rudy Markussen in Denmark, Jurgen Brahmer in Germany, Vinny Paz in Rhode Island, and Bryant Brannon in Philadelphia. Lawlor finally retired, presumably for good, in June 2002, after being stopped in two rounds by undefeated Librado Andrade in Ontario, California.
“I had enough,” Lawlor said then. “I feel like a whore being put out by a pimp. My body’s being put through the ringer. I’m a fighter, I always will be, but enough is enough.”
Not surprisingly, enough was not enough, and Lawlor, who turned pro as a welterweight, was back in the ring at The Shark Tank in San Jose on February 3, 2005. Weighing a career-high 195 pounds, he huffed and puffed his way to a four round draw with previously undefeated Paul Vasquez, who was 3-0 going into the bout.
Although Lawlor hasn’t shed any pounds since then, he has a plan that he is determined to put into action. Because he has fought opponents who held titles in every weight class from super featherweight (Camacho) to super middleweight (Calzaghe), he is certain he will set some kind of record if he fights Evander Holyfield, who began his career as a light heavyweight and held the cruiserweight title before becoming a multi-term heavyweight champion.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and closed mouths don’t get fed,” explained Lawlor. “This is a win-win fight for Holyfield. I was a light puncher at the lighter weights, and I’m still a light puncher. Holyfield has to believe I can’t hurt him. So he gets, in his mind, an easy victory, and I get to make history.”
Lawlor’s plan doesn’t stop there. Believing that he could be competitive, if not victorious over Holyfield, he would like to parlay that bout into a match with none other than Mike Tyson. “There’s no way I’m going to beat Mike Tyson, even I know that,” said Lawlor. “Holyfield’s an old slow guy, so maybe I’d have a chance with a little preparation. But I’d love the opportunity to throw some leather on Tyson. That would have even more historical significance.”
Lawlor’s girlfriend, Taina Steinberg, whom he also calls his best friend, wholeheartedly disagrees with Lawlor’s plans, but knows that she has little power to stop him from doing anything he puts his mind to.
“At one time Pat was young and in great shape,” she said. “Now he’s not. I don’t want him to fight, and he knows that. I was very happy when he was inactive the past few years. All you hear is stories of fighters who didn’t stop when they should have. Now he’s chasing this record. Who cares if he fights all these fighters from different divisions? In the grand scheme of things, is it really important?”
To Lawlor, it most certainly is. Like so many other fighters on the flip side of 40, he doesn’t have a lot of other options. For a while he was a Teamster who set up staging areas at conventions, but that job slipped through his fingers. Then he conducted property inspections, snapping photos for title companies. Now he plans on becoming a pest control specialist, and is preparing for the 157 question licensing exam. Not surprisingly, however, he just can’t get boxing out of his system.
Believe it or not, Lawlor’s reputation as a fighter was actually once eclipsed by his outspokenness on unrelated matters, both small and large. Back in his glory days he used his immense popularity to run for mayor of the ultra-liberal San Francisco on an arch-conservative, anti-gay platform. He vowed to return the city to its blue-collar, workingman roots. Utilizing the slogan, “If you’re mad as hell and want to holler, put in your vote for Irish Pat Lawlor,” the neophyte politician was a walking, talking sound byte machine.
The press initially embraced the idiosyncratic candidate, but Lawlor says they turned on him like rabid dogs when his campaign started to pick up stream. They were frightened off, he says, by the immense grassroots support he was generating. “I got disgusted with the press after that, and rarely read newspapers these days,” he explained. “There was a point where, for several years, I wouldn’t read them all.”
When asked about the recent controversy involving San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, who was allowing gay marriages in defiance of federal law, Lawlor called him “a closet homo” and described the same-sex marriage issue as “annoying.” He said he also has to stop with the “Jew jokes and the queer jokes,” because he has no hatred in his heart, and the modern version of himself is a lot mellower than the younger.
“All I want to do is set this record, get my pest control license, and live and let live,” he said. “I know a lot of people don’t want to see me fight. My ten-year-old daughter Sarah (from a previous relationship) is always asking me about Alzheimer’s, so someone’s talking to her. I want to leave something for her. Even if it’s not money, at least it could be some kind of legacy.”
Lawlor will be working the phones this week, trying to line up the fight with Holyfield. Whether or not he is successful is anyone’s guess. Amazingly, as erratic and delusional as many of his ideas sound, he is actually no less quirky than he was a decade ago. Lawlor will always be an iconoclast who refuses to see things through anyone’s eyes but his own.
When it was suggested that he might be better off forgoing Holyfield and spending more time preparing for his pest control licensing exam, his answer was vintage Irish Pat. “Rats, roaches and termites aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “They’ll always be around, even long after Holyfield and Tyson are gone.”