LOWELL, Mass. — LeLacheur Park normally play host to Lowell Spinners professional baseball, minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, but on Wednesday night there was a few stars in the house other then the Spinners.
The ceremonial first pitch participants included Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, former Red Sox first baseman Sam Horn and UFC veteran and Boston native John Howard.
“It was an honor,” said Howard about throwing out the first pitch with the governor of the state he calls home. “It was an honor even be in the same building as him and take a picture with him.”
It was a night to celebrate for Howard, a week after he received his brown belt from Dave Ginsberg in Cambridge. “It feels great, it’s been along time waiting,” said Howard. “I was offered my brown belt from different black belts but I have a specific black belt I train with in Dave Ginsberg and I trusted his teaching. I wanted my brown belt specifically from him.”
The UFC welterweight fighter tossed out a ceremonial first pitch, signed autographs for some fans and tossed t-shirts into the stands while taking in the experience of Red Sox minor league baseball.
“I wanted to show all of Boston that someone like me, coming from rough times in a place like Dorchester, is doing something great and positive and to share that with everyone locally,” said John Howard. “Plus when you’re from Boston you love all Boston sports teams, like the Red Sox.”
Lowell has a long fighting history, most notably former WBU Intercontinental Light Welterweight boxing champion Micky Ward. He was also a three-time New England Golden Gloves champion and was the focus of the film The Fighter base on his fighting career. Ward was played by actor Mark Wahlberg. Lowell knows its fighting.
“As soon as I came out [onto the field] a couple guys noticed me, saying hey that’s John Howard,” said the UFC veteran. “I was honored they even recognized me, it’s been a great experience.”
The 32-year-old even participated in a sumo wrestling match with two Spinners employees in between the first and second inning. A nightly feature that has become a fan favorite.
“Sumo wrestling was awesome,” said Howard. “The kids were great to work with, I explained in the back room what to do and it was awesome.”
Mascot Coordinator Sean Ma and Spinners’ Promotions/Game Day Operations Associate intern Brett Estrella dressed in the sumo suits to take on the veteran fighter. After a few hip tosses and a double clothesline the match was over.
“I landed on my right knee, but it was fun,” said Ma. “It was like roller coaster, hell of an experience. Great to face someone who is one of the best at his sport like John Howard.”
“It was surreal,” said Estrella. “John Howard was fun to work with, he made it easy for us. I have now faced a UFC fighter and pro wrestler.” Estrella also participated in the sumo match against Northeast Wrestling champion Matt Taven last month.
It was an overall great experience for Howard and his guests, but its back to the gym and get ready for when he receives a phone call from UFC President Dana White or Matchmaker Joe Silva. Although the UFC has no announced plans for the promotion to return to Boston, Howard would love for them to return to the State of Massachusetts in the near future.
“Right now I am training hard, waiting for a phone call,” said Howard who is coming off a decision win over Cathal Pendred at UFC 189. “Once I get that phone call you all will know [who I am facing next].” When asked about a return to Boston Howard enthusiastically said “I always want the UFC to come back to Boston and when it does I will request to be on the card.”
Howard wants the fans help when it comes to getting the UFC back to the Commonwealth. “To the fans out there, if you request [the UFC in Boston] it will happen!”
While Howard waits for his next bout he is excited to watch the Thiago Alves vs. Benson Henderson fight at UFC Fight Night 79 in Seoul, South Korea this November. “It’s going to be a really interesting fight, because Henderson is fighting at 170-pounds and of course that’s where I am and will likely have to fight him. That’s why I am interested in that fight,” said Howard.
It’s nice to local MMA fighters get attention at the ballpark, it was a pleasure to have John Howard at LeLacheur Park.