WEST PALM BEACH — It was just another Thursday afternoon when Steve Shepherd went to grab some tacos at Anita’s Mexican Grill in suburban West Palm Beach.
Shepherd, 68, had recently pulled a muscle in his leg and was walking with a limp to his car as he left the restaurant on Okeechobee Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95.
He seemed like the perfect target for the man who was seen by surveillance cameras pacing back and forth in a nearby alleyway for a few hours, apparently waiting to mug someone.
Little did the assailant know that Shepherd is a five-time, world-champion kickboxer.
“He picked the wrong guy,” Shepherd said Thursday at the KickBox-SuperFIT gym he owns with his brother, Ed, on Dixie Highway near Eighth Street.
At about 4 p.m. Dec. 27, Shepherd said someone hit him in the back of his head with a bottle as he was walking to his car. He said he “blacked” for a few seconds. His knees buckled, and the attacker punched him in the face near his left eye.
Shepherd said the man appeared angry, got really close to his face and began to scream, “Give me your (expletive) phone!”
Still dazed from the first few blows, Shepherd said at first, he thought he accidentally picked up the attackers’ phone at the restaurant. But he quickly put the pieces together and began to fight.
Shepherd, who has been professionally fighting since 1975, said he threw a right cross at the man, which caused his hands to go up, leaving his abdomen wide open. Shepherd threw a right hook to his ribs and believes he broke them.
“And then he just crumbled right there,” he said. “I felt (his ribs) crack.”
Bystanders thought the two were involved in a street fight and began to break it up, which allowed the attacker to escape, Shepherd said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is still searching for the man involved in the attack. Surveillance video shows he is in his early 20s with long, dark hair. Investigators suspect he may be homeless.
Shepherd suffered a ruptured eardrum and a small laceration and bruising around his left eye from the attack. He said he hopes his injuries don’t interfere with his plans to become the oldest person to be in a professional fight this March.
His last professional fight was in 2000. At the time, there was a law that prevented those over 50 from professionally fighting. Shepherd, a Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame member since 1982, said he actively fought against that law and it eventually was changed.
“Maybe it’ll make people 50 and older feel a little less old and feel a little more useful,” he said.
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