For most people, the thought of jumping into a boxing ring with Kevin Hart would appeal as much as arriving one minute after late registration ends at their favorite poker tournament. Antonio Esfandiari is not most people. But what made the former Big One for One Drop winner don the boxing gloves and go through seven months of training?
“The gambling aspect of it!” laughs Esfandiari when Remko Rinkema and Brent Hanks caught up with him on this week’s Poker Central Podcast. “When someone offers you 35:1 on something, how do you not take it?”
Not all of us can call upon an Olympic superstar to put us through our paces during our gym workouts. But when Great Britain’s gold medal winner from the 2000 Olympics, Audley Harrison, got in touch, Esfandiari was all ears. Harrison, who defeated Kazakhstan’s Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov back in 2000 to claim gold, became Esfandiari’s coach and mentor.
“He was such an amazing coach, He had my whole program from Day 1 for seven months. It was a very scientific approach.”
For seven months, Esfandiari trained four or five times a week, and claims now that ‘40 never felt so good.’ He also had to reduce the vices that he’s enjoyed partaking in his whole adult life. Not only did he have to maintain his diet and have sleep precisely when Harrison said so, but he also needed to avoid sex for three weeks prior to the fight and alcohol almost exclusively during training.
“My alcohol intake for seven months was so minimal. They told me: ‘We’re timing it so that you peak on the week of the fight.’ I wanted to give myself the best chance.”
Although there were plenty of wagers at 35:1 on Antonio, Kevin Hart went into the bout as a huge favorite. But as Esfandiari admits, it was never about what he could win outside the ring.
“Money wasn’t the motivating factor at all. It’s nice but when you play high stakes, it’s one session.”
Hart was all about the banter in the months leading up to the fight, and they instilled plenty of nerves in Esfandiari.
“Kevin talked a lot of smack. He kept saying ‘Why are you inviting people to your funeral? I’m gonna destroy you!’ Now bragging rights for the rest of my life. It was very nerve-wracking, but as the fight started, I thought ‘I can actually do this’.”
Esfandiari sparred against a boxer who is Kevin Hart’s size for seven months, claiming he would often ‘Stand back and let the punch whistle past my nose’. But when it came to the fight, the masterplan worked. Esfandiari goes into detail about exactly how in full to Remko and Brent and it’s an incredible story worthy of the next Rocky film. As for whether it will happen again in a rematch?
“Why would I want to give a chance to go 1 and 1?” says the Magician. “I’m an undefeated boxer!”
You can catch up on just where it ranks in Esfandiari’s greatest ever winning feelings – including his first WPT title and that famous One Drop victory – in the full podcast episode, as well as finding out what sort of WSOP schedule he might be playing this summer.
As well as the interview with Esfandiari, Remko and Brent take a look at the Triton Super High Roller Series which just wrapped in Montenegro and featured yet another win for one of the players of 2019, Bryn Kenney. Can Kenney hold off Jungleman’s charge in the Power Rankings? You’ll have to listen to find out!
Listen to the entire podcast right here: