All contenders are pretenders
By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2

Today's cybertopic is the heavyweight fight game. Whoa-whoa-whoa, don't tune me out just yet. I'm not talking about Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko Bros.' Barnum & Bailey Circus. I'm going straight to the top here. I'm talking Joey ''Butt-a-Bing'' Buttafuoco versus O.J. ''The Decapitator'' Simpson.

They've got a few details to iron out, but, from the sounds of things, it's going down. And when it does, it's going to be huge. Joey's word, not mine. Frankly, I don't think huge begins to describe it. Given the choice of watching those two or the other heavyweights out there, I'd take Joey and the Juice any day. For that matter, I'd take the Captain and Tennille or Bill and Hillary.

OK, so it's trash sports. What, the heavyweight game isn't garbage, too? Why do you think George Foreman is back in the gym? He can't see far enough to check out the Spandex in the jazzercise class next door. Big George is a lot of things, but stupid isn't on the list. Why should he break his back doing commercials and sleeping in front of a ringside microphone when he can make some easy money?

Here's how bad things are for the heavyweights: The minute he steps back in the ring, Foreman becomes a Top 10 contender on a lot of people's lists, just ahead of the immortal Corrie Sanders. Makes sense, except that Big George is almost 55 years old. As far as I can tell, he only has to worry about one thing: If somebody catches him with a hard shot to the stomach, his prostate might fall out of his shorts.

Paula Jones and Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding returning to the ring is better entertainment than Lennox Lewis pulverizing the next pretender.
I'm not sure exactly when or how or why the heavyweights became lightweights. All I know is, given a choice, I'd rather return some of those kisses Sammy Sosa keeps blowing than watch the heavyweights. I'd rather watch Tonya Harding duke it out with some hog farmer from Arkansas instead of watching Lewis pummel another helpless Terry Forster impersonator with a mouthpiece. At least, with Tonya, you've got a shot to see some panty lines.

Where have all the heavyweights gone? I'd sure like to know. The last good fight I saw was when Barry Bonds' 73rd home run reached the bleachers. Watching the hair grow on Pete Sampras' back is more entertaining than watching today's heavyweights. Most of them float like mob-hit victims and sting like newborn kittens. Which reminds me: I'm not entirely convinced that Ali couldn't last four rounds with some of these yahoos. Joe Frazier? He could put some whup-ass on most of them with one hand tied to his walker.

What's strange about all this is that, for the better part of a century, bigger was better in the fight game. The heavyweights were all that mattered. Eras in American history were defined by which heavyweights ruled the ring. No more. These days, we like our french fries supersized, not our boxers. But then, what's there to like among the heavyweights? Lewis? Please. Make mine Jerry Quarry in that hypothetical matchup. Or Tyson, pre-Desiree, before the vultures and the meds ate him alive.

I read the other day where Chris Byrd is generally considered the top-ranked contender to Lewis. And here I thought he was the bass player for the Buffalo Springfield. Next on the list of contenders most likely to succeed is David Tua, whose name suggests he ought to be made into salad and served on rye at the corner deli.

For a minute there, we all hoped Lewis might have a legitimate threat with which to contend. His name? Wladimir Klitschko, not to be confused with his older brother, Vitali. Actually, it's not that tough to tell them apart. Vitali is the one wearing sunglasses to the movies after Lewis turned his left eye into an avocado. Wladimir had hoped to test Lewis, but that will have to wait after a stunning loss to the 37-year-old Sanders.

Not that there isn't some instant name recognition in the heavyweight game.
Vitali Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko, a top contender for the heavyweight crown, was dealt a face-full in his June 21 bout against Lennox Lewis.
Tyson and Evander Holyfield still cling to the ring, but only because the pay is just enough to cover their excesses. Tyson's press conferences are more exciting than his fights. In the past few years, he has threatened to eat various body parts of reporters' children, having found Holyfield's ear too tough to swallow, even with garlic.

Then there's Roy Jones, Jr., last seen at the Wendy's drive-up window, in hopes of bulking up and ruling the division after Lewis walks away. Don't laugh. Given the landscape in today's heavyweight division, he just might do it.

And now for the irony of our story: The demise of the heavyweights comes at a time when athletes in every other sport keep getting bigger and better. Shortstop, once the domain of Ray Oyler and Mark Belanger, is populated by 200-pound gorillas. Offensive linemen under 300 are as scarce as Saddam Hussein's cabinet members. Shaq is trying to get below 350 and LeBron James, your basic point guard, goes 245.

So many big bodies out there, so few heavyweights. Too bad Lyle Alzado, Ali's old sparring partner, isn't around. He coulda been a contenduh.

Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to Page 2.


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