Episode 10: Killer Weight Loss Secrets: Fighters Cutting Weight is the Battle Fans Don’t See

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A fighter weighs inWe thought we’d have fun with our clickbait headline, but cutting weight is no laughing matter. As Andrew Stelzer reports, athletes in combat sports sometimes go to extreme lengths to rapidly lose weight leading up to the weigh-in. Then, having made the contracted limit, they try to pile the weight back on in the 24 hours before the match.

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As you might expect, this is unhealthy, leads to poor performance, and can even be deadly. The idea is to fight at the lowest possible weight class, preferably one significantly below what you actually weigh when the bout begins. But since it’s common for both contestants to be cutting weight, they’re usually risking their health without gaining a competitive advantage.

Imagine how much better the sports would be if the athletes were climbing into the ring or cage in peak physical condition, rather than drained by the weight-cutting routine. Stelzer interviews fighters in various disciplines, as well as health experts and sport officials about how combat sports can solve this problem.

Andrew StelzerAndrew Stelzer is a journalist in Oakland, California. You can hear more of his work at AndrewStelzer.com.

Weigh-in photo by Peter Gordon (CC by 2.0). Stelzer photo courtesy Andrew Stelzer.

Also in this episode: Billy Conn

Billy Conn was light heavyweight champion of the world in the late ’30s and early ’40s. He was in the inaugural class of the Boxing Hall of Fame, and the Associated Press ranked him as the ninth best pound-for-pound fighter of the 20th century. On top of all that, he had Irish charm and Hollywood looks.

He even starred in a movie about his own life, though his greatest movie moment was getting mentioned by Rod Steiger at the beginning of the famous “I coulda been a contender” scene with Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.”

 

But all anyone outside of Pittsburg remembers about Billy Conn is a fight he lost. It was in 1941, and he had moved up in weight to challenge heavyweight champ Joe Louis. Conn was such a hero in Pittsburgh that the Pirates baseball game was suspended for 54 minutes so the crowd at Forbes Field could listen to the fight over the loudspeakers.

Billy ConnFor 12 rounds at the Polo Grounds in New York, the Pittsburgh Kid had the Brown Bomber beat. But then he decided it wasn’t enough to beat the great Joe Louis. He wanted to be the guy who knocked out the great Joe Louis.

“What’s the point of being Irish,” he shrugged a few minutes after Louis knocked him out in the 13th round, “if you can’t be stupid.”

Tim Conn helps tell the story of his father’s moment in the spotlight, and the 50 years he spent reliving it, including his long friendship with Louis. Biographer Andrew O’Toole, author of Sweet William: The Life of Billy Conn, discusses Conn’s legacy as well.

Learn more

There are two Billy Conn biographies. Sweet William: The Life of Billy Conn by Andrew O’Toole, who you can hear in this story, and Billy Conn – The Pittsburgh Kid by Paul Kennedy.

The Boxer and The Blonde by Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated, 1985
In the words of the subhead: This is the story of Billy Conn, who won the girl he loved but lost the best fight ever. Not many photos, but they’re great.

BillyConn.net — Plenty of photos, and lots more, at the family’s official site!

Billy Conn, 75, an Ex-Champion Famed for His Fights With Louis, New York Times, 1993
This AP obit of Conn is pretty straightforward, but it does include a great story from late in his life when he punched out a robber in a store.

Mary Louise Conn, widow of Billy Conn, dies at 94, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2017

The Myth of Louis-Conn, New York Times, 1981
The Red Smith column mentioned in the story.

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Music

Opening Theme: “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix. (CC by 3.0)
Closing Theme: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny Rawls’ website and Facebook page.

His latest album is called Waiting For the Train.

Billy Conn Song

The song that plays throughout the story about the Billy Conn-Joe Louis fight is “The Pittsburgh Kid” by The BibleCode Sundays. They are a band from London who gave us permission to use their song about the great light-heavyweight who almost beat the Brown Bomber. Thanks to Andy Nolan for that.

The BibleCode Sundays’ new album is called Walk Like Kings. It includes guest appearances by Russell Crowe and Declan MacManus, the older brother of band member Ronan MacManus. You might know Declan by his stage name, Elvis Costello. The BibleCode Sundays are on tour in the U.K. for the rest of 2017.

BibleCode Sundays on Facebook.

Other Songs Used

“Aint No Thing” by BOPD
“Government Funded Weed” by Black Ant
Both used under the Creative Commons CC by 3.0 license.

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Bonus Episode: I’ve Had Enough Character Building


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Houston Chronicle clipThis headline and photo were the centerpiece of the Houston Chronicle’s front page on October 24, 1993, the day after Jefferson Davis High beat Wheatley 19-18 to end an 80-game losing streak that had begun in 1985. Coach Chuck Arnold is getting the Gatorade treatment from his players.

Arnold had taken over as a rookie head coach in 1991. His best player that year was Michael Porter, a running back who also played whatever position his team needed. Porter went on to a college career at Prairie View A&M — which was also in the middle of an 80-game losing streak. When Porter’s playing career ended without his ever having played on a winning team, Arnold hired him as an assistant. When Arnold retired two decades later, Porter became the head coach at Davis, which has since been renamed Northside High.

Porter is the focus of this week’s episode of Can’t Win 4 Losing. This bonus episode features longer interviews with Porter, Arnold and Gerald Garcia, a longtime coach at Northside who coached Porter back in ’91 and now works for him as an assistant.

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Music

Opening and Closing Theme: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny Rawls’ website and Facebook page.

His latest album is called Waiting For the Train.

Other Song Used

“Take Me Higher” by Jahzzar (CC by 4.0)

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Episode 9: We Kicked It Like National Champions


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Michael Porter was a good football player at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston. The trouble is, he was the only one. They were in the middle of an eight-year, 80-game losing streak, the longest in high school history.

Then Porter played college ball at Prairie View A&M—which was in the middle of an 80-game losing streak, the longest in NCAA history.

Now Porter’s the coach at his alma mater, renamed Northside High.

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This story is an update of Can’t Win 4 Losing‘s pilot episode, which aired in July. It’s also an expansion on host King Kaufman’s story that ran on NPR’s Only a Game on Nov. 18, 2017.

Streak breakers

Porter was on a bus returning to Houston from a Prairie View A&M loss when an assistant coach told him his high school had won. The coach had seen a newspaper. It was national news. The team photo above is on the wall of the Northside football team’s weight room.

People in the story

Michael Porter is the head football coach at Northside High School in Houston, which was called Jefferson Davis when he was a student there from 1988-92. He was a running back on the football team who was good enough to play as a freshman. One newspaper account described Davis’ entire offense at the time as “Michael Porter left, Michael Porter right.” After being part of the longest losing streaks in high school and NCAA football history, he was hired as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He took over as head coach in 2013.

Chuck Arnold in 2011Chuck Arnold was the head coach at Davis from 1991 through 2012. He led the team to an undefeated season and the state playoffs in 2008, but is probably best remembered for bringing the eight-year, 80-game losing streak to an end in 1993. Porter says he still checks in with Arnold for advice on football and coaching. This photo is from 2011.

Gerald Garcia is an assistant football coach and the former baseball coach at Northside High. When Arnold was a rookie coach and Porter was a senior, Garcia was “the young guy coach,” according to Porter. Now, he’s an elder statesman of the program. “I didn’t talk him about of retiring,” Porter says, “but I’ll just say I’m glad he’s still here.”

Ja’Michael Jordan was a sophomore defensive tackle on the Northside football team when he was interviewed for this episode. Patrick Brown was a senior running back. Jordan is now a junior and Brown has graduated and is attending college. You can watch Jordan’s highlights and Brown’s highlights at Hudl.com.

The absence of photographs is a result of King Kaufman’s inexperience as a podcaster when he was reporting this episode!

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Music

Opening Theme: “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix. (CC by 3.0)
Closing Theme: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny Rawls’ website and Facebook page.

His latest album is called Waiting For the Train.

Other Songs Used

“Take Me Higher” by Jahzzar (CC by 4.0)
“Dirt Rhodes” by Kevin McLeod (CC by 2.0)

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Episode 8: Futbol Americano


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Jonathan Tinajero

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Jonathan Tinajero was excited. He’d been scrolling through Facebook when he discovered a professional football league in Mexico. A native of East Los Angeles, Tinajero had dreamed of playing in the NFL, but his football career had fizzled in college. This looked like a fresh opportunity.

His father laughed at him. The LFA? La Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional? That’s a soccer league, son.

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Dad was wrong. The LFA is hoping to capitalize on the NFL’s popularity in Mexico, and soon Tinajero, a defensive back and wide receiver, was in Mexico City, playing for the Mayas, chasing those dreams again, and learning that the LFA is not exactly the NFL. Juan Reyes reports.

Juan ReyesJuan Reyes is a sportswriter for the Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel. He reported this story from Mexico City. For a gallery of photos of Tinajero and his Mayas teammates, click here. All photos are by Juan Reyes and Montse Lopez Flores.

Paulie Soda

The episode opens with our first story of losing from a listener. Jim Morfino called in with a memory from his childhood in the Bronx. Morfino, 74, lived across the street from Fat Nick’s candy store, which was really a bookmaking operation. “I don’t think there was a legitimate candy store in all the Bronx,” Morfino says.

Paulie Soda drove the soda truck, and was one of many Damon Runyon-type characters hanging out around the candy store, where Jim and his friends hung out after school. “Paulie was a loser,” Morfino says. A big problem for Paulie was that he hated the Yankees, so he bet against them all the time. A bigger problem: It was 1953, and the Yankees were on their way to winning their fifth straight World Series.

One day, though, Paulie let Jackie Pads talk him into betting on the Yankees. Just this once.

If you’ve got a story about losing in your life, call us up at 510-646-1082 and tell it to us. We’ll give you $50 if we use it.

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Johnny Rawls

Johnny RawlsIf you’ve been listening to Can’t Win 4 Losing, you’ve heard our closing theme song, “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls.  Now you can hear the story behind the song, as well as the story of how it became our theme. The Mississippi bluesman sat down for an interview before a gig in Fremont, California, earlier this year.

Music

Opening Theme: “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix. (CC by 3.0)
Closing Theme: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny Rawls’ website and Facebook page.

His latest album is called Waiting For the Train.

Other Songs Used

“Sing Swing Bada Bing” by Doug Maxwell
“The Duel” courtesy of Bensound.com
“Hold My Hand (Ambient Mix)” by Ars Sonor
Music by Chris Banks
Used with permission or via Creative Commons licenses.

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Episode 7 — My Fault: The Trey Junkin Story


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Trey Junkin was a long-snapper in the NFL longer than anyone else, ever. He can count on his fingers the number of bad snaps he made in 20 seasons in the NFL. But if you remember him, you remember him because of his very last snap. And it was a bad one. Also: You are a New York Giants fan.

Junkin played in the NFL for 19 seasons — “it kinda pisses me off” that it wasn’t 20, he says.

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But he did play in a 20th season. He’d already submitted retirement papers when Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi called him and asked if he could snap for punts in a wild-card playoff game in San Francisco. Junkin, 41 and with a bad knee among other ailments, hesitated, but agreed.

Trey Junkin with the Arizona Cardinals
In an image tacked to his wall: Trey Junkin after a happier finish, with the Arizona Cardinals in 2001.

Junkin practiced with the Giants for only a couple of days, but head coach Jim Fassel asked him to add placekick snapping to his duties. Again, Junkin hesitated. He had barely practiced with the unit, and while it looks simple, the process of snapping on placekicks, and “that triangle: snapper, holder, kicker,” is complex.

“There’s a million things that can go wrong,” he says. “And there’s only one thing that can go right.”

Fassel insisted, and Junkin agreed.

Things went well in San Francisco until they didn’t. The Giants built a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter, with all punts and kicks going smoothly, but the 49ers launched a furious comeback to take a 39-38 with just over a minute to play. Along the way, a first disaster: A bad snap on a field goal attempt that would have extended the Giants’ lead to 41-33.

And then, with six seconds to go, the Giants lined up for what would have been the game-winning kick.

“My fault,” Junkin says about those two snaps. Not the whole game. Not the second-half collapse or the officiating mistake that ended the game rather than properly giving the Giants one more snap. But that last bad snap? “That’s mine.”

Giants fans still cringe at the mention of Trey Junkin’s name. His career was the 16th longest in NFL history, the sixth longest among non-kickers/punters. The names above him on that list: Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Bruce Matthews, Darrell Green and Jim Marshall. Four Hall of Famers and one (Marshall) who should be.

For most of his 19-plus years in the league, he was anonymous, a perfectionist working in the game’s trenches. But all anyone remembers about him now is that one snap, his last.

He’s well aware of this. He’s thought about it a lot. He’s talked about it a lot. And he welcomed me to his home in Winnfield, Louisiana, to talk about it for Can’t Win 4 Losing.

Helmets
In the barn he used as a home gym when he was still physically able to do so, Trey Junkin has a collection of helmets from all the teams he played for. The only exception: The New York Giants.

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Music

Opening Theme: “Big Swing Band” by Audionautix. (CC by 3.0)
Closing Theme: “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit Johnny Rawls’ website and Facebook page.

His latest album is called Waiting For the Train.

Other Songs Used

In order of appearance:

In the West” by Kevin McLeod (Creative Commons 4.0)
“Room With a View” by Jahzzar (Creative Commons 3.0)
“Horses to Water” by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena
“Call to Statesmanship” by U.S. Army Herald Trumpets
“Bravura” by U.S. Army Band
Except as noted: public domain or Creative Commons non-attribution license.

Did you catch the NFL Films music vibe we were going for?

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