“Irish” Micky Ward & Dicky Eklund now working ‘Bazooka’ Joe’s corner
CHICAGO – Junior middleweight prospect “Bazooka” Joe Linenfelser (9-1-1, 6 KOs), a 22-year-old boxer from Rockford, Illinois who lived a few years in Florida before returning home, has already been fighting professionally for nearly six years.
When he made his pro debut October 8, 2005, stopping 181-fight veteran Donnie Penelton in the opening round of their fight in Iowa, Joe was only 17 years old, the youngest pro boxer in the United States at that time, and a high school senior in Port Richey, Florida.
Most states require professional boxers to be 18. Iowa, however, licensed Linenfelser at 17 but only after he received special permission, which included a review of his grades and a letter from a teacher, an evaluation in terms of possessing exceptional boxing ability for his age, and undergoing an interview with Iowa Athletic Commissioner Dave Neil to convince authorities that Joe’s decision to turn pro was his own.
“I was going to the gym and the only guys there for me to spar with were pro heavyweights or pros,” Joe explained. “They took it easy on me because I was so young, but I was able to hang with them and decided to turn pro when I turned 17. I just love boxing. I tried to get away from it a few times because I had to make money working. It’s tough putting in a tough 40 hours of work and then go train at night, but boxing sucked me back in. For about 5-6 months, I was the youngest professional boxer in the United States.”
Joe first got the boxing itch when he was only 6 ½, while watching his father Jeff workout. “I bought Joe a pair of Sugar Ray Leonard boxing gloves when he was four,” explained Jeff, who manages his son’s career. “Right away, I knew he was a boxer by the way he threw an overhand right. The other little kids would get hit, cry and stop. Joe always took a good punch and, when he threw that overhand right….all done! He started learning how to box at 6 ½ and had his first amateur fight when he was nine. Joe (36-12 amateur career record) won a few Illinois State championships and reached the final of the Florida Silver Mittens. But Joe didn’t learn the art of boxing in the amateurs, gaining invaluable experience from gym workouts with pros like Pat Coleman.
“Joe’s always had heavy hands. He may not look fast, sort of like watching Kelly Pavlik, but he can really hit. Punching power is about timing, not speed, and Joe has an incredible sense of timing. When he gets moving, he goes one way and throws in motion; his opponent is gone. He played football and wrestled in school. He finished third in the state in wrestling and set a junior high record for interceptions, but I knew from the start that he was a boxer. Joe was a national 140-pound kick-boxing champion when he was 15, but he wasn’t challenged enough and stuck with boxing.”
Jeff has coached his son up to this point, but he just reached an agreement with “Irish” Micky Ward and his brother, Dicky Eklund, to start training “Bazooka” Joe.
In October of 2008, Linenfelser registered his signature victory to date against former NABA & NBA champion “Fearless” Fernando Hernandez, who Joe had previously defeated in a kickboxing fight. Linenfelser put Hernandez to sleep in the fifth round and then into retirement right after their fight in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Next up for “Bazooka Joe” was an eight-round throw-down with 1996 Cuban Olympian Ivan Leden (12-8-1), in Milwaukee, that Linenfelser won by decision.
Linenfelser was inactive the for 14 ½ months (2010-2011) due to an injury suffered in the ring, until his triumphant ring return this past April against Jeremy Marts in Chicago. Linenfelser dropped Marts twice from body shots in the final round en route to a win by unanimous, six-round decision.
“I started fights cautiously for the first few rounds,” Joe described his style of fighting. “I don’t like to miss. I feel one missed punch counts as getting hit with 10. I time my punches and, when I hit them, they’re out. I have a little possum in me. I do a lot of baiting and breakdown my opponents with hard body punches. The last two years I’ve worked hard on body punching with my dad. Fights often come down to body punches landed, when they start holding their elbows down to protect the body, and then it’s time to go upstairs to finish ‘em off.”
Linenfelser’s nickname, “Bazooka Joe,’ was this father’s idea. Jeff went so far as to ask The Topps Company, Inc. for permission to avoid any trademark infringement. “Joe’s was a kid who liked to chew bubblegum,” Jeff explained. “Nobody had ever used that name, which had been around for a hundred years, and Joe does hit like a bazooka – it just kind of fit.”
“Bazooka” Joe Linenfelser is promoted by Bobby Hitz’ Hitz Boxing Entertainment, managed by his father Jeff Linenfelser, and now co-trained by “Irish” Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund.