This week the world of boxing sank to new lows: The city of Washington, D.C., granted the squeaky-voiced pugilist Mike Tyson a license to fight, and Fox aired Celebrity Boxing, featuring Tonya Harding v. Paula Jones.
There's a depressing logic in the connection between the two events. After all, if Tyson -- a convicted rapist who has sunk his choppers into two opponents -- gets licensed to box, then why not Harding? To her own thuggish credit, the infamous ice skater's supporters bashed opponent Nancy Kerrigan's knee. Harding's also done time for attempting to brain an ex-boyfriend with a hubcap.
But Fox's triple-card event didn't even have to deal with licensing issues because it wasn't classified as boxing -- it was called "entertainment." Unfortunately, it was barely even that.
Boxing can be a ferocious, balletic display of mental and athletic prowess. When it's not, the promoters at least try to build a good back story full of trash-talking heat. Some battles are lucky enough to have both, like the legendary Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle." Or my personal favorite, the transgendered "ladyboy" Thai boxer Parinya Kiatbusaba's pulping of a raging homophobe who had snarled, "[Kiatbusaba] will learn that Thai boxing is a game for a real man."
Predictably, Fox's special didn't feature any good boxing. But it also failed to produce potty-mouth pyrotechnics. Although the commentators noted that "fights are won between the dressing room and the ring," we didn't get to see any pre-bout verbal warm-ups. In the matches, the celebrity fighters just flailed at each other -- and then hugged afterwards.
The event got off to an inauspicious start in its anthem pairing -- Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough and his miserably warbling sister, Pollyanna. Great, I thought, a clash of the tenses: a wanna-be in a field of has-beens.
And that's exactly what these fighters were. The first card featured Danny Bonaduce, the redheaded brat from The Partridge Family, and "Brady" boy Barry Williams. Bonaduce opened with a mean right hook and soon had the pudgier Williams on the run. Williams would hit the mat five times before the referee took pity on him and declared a TKO in the second round.
Todd "Whatchou talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Bridges, of Diff'rent Strokes fame, then pummeled '80s rap poseur Vanilla Ice with a series of roundhouses, jabs, and rights. Vanilla tried to rally in the two-minute second round, but it was too late. Drooping over, pinwheeling, ducking, he lost in a unanimous decision.
Then there was a commercial featuring Alf the alien.
The main event -- Tonya Harding v. Paula Jones -- gave me high hopes. I had rooted for Harding in her Olympic days. With her blue eye shadow, "The Claw" Aqua Netted bangs, and loud ruffled outfits, she looked like a vicious Iowa high-school Heather. Add burning ambition to escape a hardscrabble life, and she made a great underdog compared to ice princess Kerrigan.
But Tonya let me down when she exercised "her female prerogative not to reveal her weight," as one Fox commentator put it. When a woman becomes notorious for a plot to club an opponent like a baby seal, why feign at ladylike pretenses? Especially when she's about to maul a little thing like Paula Jones, the Bill Clinton harassee, who appeared with a completely de-ethnicized nose and a full face of makeup.
Paula was clearly out of her league. She had stepped in at the last minute as a replacement for "Long-Island Lolita" Amy Fisher, who had done jail time for shooting and wounding her boyfriend's wife. In by far the most profound statement associated with the event, Fisher's parole board said that letting her fight in the match "would [have sent] an inappropriate message to victims of violent crime."
Harding wound up chasing Jones around the ring; in what became a horrible playground re-enactment, Jones took to hiding behind the ref. Adding insult to injury, Harding nailed Jones in the back of the head as Jones was waving off the match.
This awful mismatch highlighted what was worst about Celebrity Boxing: the squandered potential for brilliant match-ups. In lieu of boxing ability, there has to be a good reason for two people to step into the ring together. Historical enmity, perhaps. Or the ability to serve as symbolic proxies for clashing ideas. Or simply because they are the freakiest of similarly minded freaks.
Under this premise, I came up with my own triple-card event. In the first fight: Vanilla Ice v. Suge Knight, who allegedly dangled Ice off a balcony over a royalties dispute. For the second bout, perhaps loudmouth "I say 'nigger' a lot so I'm down" Quentin Tarantino v. Spike Lee.
And to end? Mike Tyson and Hannibal Lecter.
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