THREE-RING CIRCUS? I THINK I’D MANAGE

I am starting a new boxing team. I want fighters with heart. I want fighters who eat nails and spit glass.

I want Charles Barkley.

Charles will be my heavyweight. We will take on all comers. Actually, Charles has been taking on all comers for some time now. There was the guy in Cleveland who said Charles beat him up. There was the guy in Chicago who said Charles broke his nose. There was the guy last weekend who said Charles threw him through a plate-glass window in Orlando.

That ends now. I think we all agree that Charles is doing something wrong.

He is fighting without a manager.

Which is where I come in.

“No more free fights for Charles,” I say at my press conference. “From now on, you want a shot at the champ, you talk to me.”

“But he’s a basketball player,” someone says.

“Oh, be real,” I say.

Maybe basketball is what he does in his spare time. Maybe rebounding and scoring and being a perennial All-Star is how the public sees him. But we in the fight game know better. We know Rocky. We know Raging Bull. Basketball! Ha. You know what we call that basketball stuff? Training. That’s what we call it.

“From now on, Charles will only fight ranked opponents,” I announce. “He is 3-0. He deserves a shot at the title. I’m thinking Vegas. I’m thinking Caesars Palace. I’m thinking Stallone, Costner and Magic Johnson at courtside.”

“But he only fights guys in bars!” someone says.

“Hey,” I say, “you got something against guys in bars? What’s more American than guys in bars? As long as they’re ranked guys in bars, my fighter will take them on.”

The important thing is that he doesn’t give it away for free. You don’t see Evander Holyfield walking into a bar and knocking out a couple of drunks for nothing, do you? Why should Charles? No sir. His exhibition days are over. He deserves respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Which reminds me. Let’s get Aretha Franklin to sing the national anthem.

“But isn’t it a little unseemly,” someone says, “an NBA star, getting into the ring with civilians half his size?”

“Oh, be real,” I say.

Career change for Barkley, Harbaugh?

I’m looking for a middleweight. I’m looking for a puncher. I’m looking for a guy who takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

I’m looking for …Jim Harbaugh.

Jim will be my middleweight. Jim will be my stallion. Wild. Uncontrollable. He already has shown this in preliminary bouts, including the swing he took at former quarterback Jim Kelly last weekend, the one that left Harbaugh with a fractured right hand. He did this because Kelly criticized him. He did this during a production meeting for a TV show. I think we all agree Harbaugh was wrong.

He should have done it on pay-per-view.

“From now on, any TV analysts want a shot at my boy, they go through me,” I announce. “Mr. Harbaugh — I like to call him Jammin’ Jim — will no longer conduct his bouts in TV studios. That is beneath a fighter of his stature.”

“Wait a minute,” someone says, “he’s an NFL quarterback.”

“Oh, be real,” I say.

Maybe quarterbacking is what he does on Sunday. Maybe getting sacked by defensive linemen is what you see, week after week. You call it football. You know what we call it? Conditioning. Some guys like the medicine ball. Some guys like getting sacked. Whatever works.

“From now on, Jim will only take on ranked TV analysts,” I say. “No offense to Jim Kelly, but he needs to get a few more bouts under his belt. I’m thinking Dan Dierdorf. I’m thinking John Madden. I’m thinking Frank Gifford. Maybe Kathie Lee wants to get in on that one. A tag-team thing. We could do that.”

“But isn’t it unseemly,” someone asks, “for an NFL quarterback to fight TV guys because they criticized him?”

“Oh, be real,” I say.

Lloyd would be top cruiserweight

A cruiserweight. I need a cruiserweight. I need a guy who goes to the body. I need a guy who’ll break your ribs.

I need Greg Lloyd.

Lloyd goes to the body. He showed us that last weekend, when he blindsided Jacksonville’s Keenan McCardell on the first play from scrimmage. I like that. A guy who comes out smokin’. Yes, I know Lloyd claimed that McCardell was calling his home and making threats to his family. I know McCardell denied any knowledge of this. I know people say Lloyd was wrong for attacking a man like that.

I agree.

He should have waited for me to make the fight.

“From now on, Greg only attacks ranked football players,” I announce. “And only ranked football players will be given his home number, in order to aggravate him.”

“But isn’t it unseemly,” someone says, “football players attacking each other over personal gripes?”

“You again?” I say.

What’s your problem. I have a good thing going here. I have Barkley, Harbaugh, Lloyd. I might add Dennis Rodman as a welterweight. And Vernon Maxwell as a flyweight.

It is time to treat these fighters-masquerading-as-sports-stars with the proper respect. No more freebies. Not in my stable. We approach the fight game the old-fashioned way. For money.

“How about Tyson?” someone asks.

“Tyson?”

“Mike Tyson? You know? The ex-heavyweight champ who bit Holyfield’s ear?”

“No thanks,” I say. “We don’t take guys who fight like sissies.”

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” tonight, 8-9, Barnes & Noble, 4940 Monroe St., Toledo; Thursday, 7:30-8:30 p.m., Waldenbooks, Flint; Saturday, 1-2:30 p.m., Student Bookstore, East Lansing; and 12:30-1:30 p.m., B. Dalton, Summit Place Mall, Waterford. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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