Category Archives: Friday Night Fights

Friday Night Fights XII: Woody Strode vs. Gorgeous George

If Woody Strode is remembered today, it’s probably as an actor,  not as one of the two players to reintegrate the NFL in 1946 with the Los Angeles Rams. His most famous role was as the title character in Sergeant Rutledge (directed by the legendary John Ford). He also played the Grand Mogul in the classic Batman TV series. But his most famous scene was in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, when he fought Kirk Douglas in one of the great cinema battles of all time. Take a look:

Awesome, no? (Yes, that’s Laurence Olivier taking the knife to Woody at the end.) Steven Spielberg certainly has a high opinion of it:

Anyway, how did we get from that exercise in thespian manhood to this? By this, I mean Strode’s wrestling match — date unknown — with Gorgeous George, one of the daintiest grapplers ever to climb in the ring? If you’ve never seen George’s shtick before, you’re in for a treat. The guy took Muhammad Ali’s “I’m so pretty” to a whole new level.

Besides his football and film careers, Strode also did some rolling around on the mat. He even wrestled Primo Carnera, the former heavyweight boxing champ — Sept. 27, 1956, according to (Alas, I couldn’t find any more information about it.) The character of Mountain Rivera in Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight (played in this trailer by Anthony Quinn). is loosely based on Carnera.

Speaking of boxing, Strode refereed some bouts, too — including one in Ogden, Utah, in 1956 involving light-heavyweight champ Archie Moore. Moore’s victim was a wrestler-turned-boxer, Roy Shire, who — get this — had faced Woody a few months earlier.

Headline of Moore fight Strode refereedText of Moore fight Strode refereed

OK, that’s enough backstory. Here it is, tonight’s main event: Woody Strode, who was built like a Greek god, vs. Gorgeous George, who would have been the first on his block to use Grecian Formula (if it had been around then).

Too bad Woody didn’t work that “long pitchfork,” as Spielberg called it, from Spartacus into his act.


Woody Strode as the Grand Mogul in the "Batman" TV series (1966).

Woody Strode as the Grand Mogul in the “Batman” TV series (1966).

Friday Night Fights XI: Tarzan White vs. Chest Bernard, 1952

Arthur “Tarzan” White was semi-famous even before he made his NFL debut with Giants in 1937. After all, not many players are nicknamed Tarzan — or have the personality White possessed. When his Alabama team went west to play in the Rose Bowl after the 1934 season, the Los Angeles Times couldn’t help writing about him, despite the fact he was just a “sub” on a line that had Don Hutson at one end and Bear Bryant at the other.

“Although only a sophomore of 19 years,” Braven Dyer’s story went,

”Tarzan” weighs 200 pounds despite his abbreviated stature of 5 feet, 7 inches. His real name is Arthur, which sounds harmless and in direct contrast to the “Tarzan” nickname. As a youngster White became tremendously interested in the so-called comic strip, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, featuring the exploits of the famous man of the jungle. So impressed was the Alabama youth by these pictures and yarns that he built himself a house in the trees. He actually practiced swinging through the trees . . . and is said to have been very proficient. White also practiced with the bow and arrow and achieved such perfection that he could go out and bring down wild game with these primitive weapons. Whether he ever wrestled with a lion or tried to ride an alligator bareback is something they neglected to tell me.

Speaking of Burroughs, he once tried to stop White and other wrestlers from appropriating Tarzan’s name, believing they lacked the virtue, athleticism and unspoiled innocence normally Tarzan White photoassociated with his character. (What do you suppose gave him that idea?)

“The other self-christened Tarzans are apes, all right,” he told the United Press, “only they’re muscle-bound and have broken noses. Tarzan is a copyrighted trademark, and if these plug uglies insist on using it, I’m going to insist on the right to license them and stencil the copyright number on their chests.”

Naturally, the “self-christened Tarzans” ignored him.

Tonight’s bout, from the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, pits Tarzan against the aptly named Chest Bernard. (As broadcaster Russ Davis says, “This guy is called The Chest, and with justifiable reason. Hel-looooo!”) If Bernard was The Chest, then White could just as easily have been The Back. The fur on it was so thick it could have been mistaken for the the Real Tarzan’s native habitat.

“Tarzan White sits around the dressing room and plays solitaire by the hour,” Davis says. “[I] walked in tonight to see him before the bout. There he was, playing solitaire and whistling a tune. . . . And he never cheats with himself.”

No, Tarzan always played the good guy in the ring. Bernard was the villain, refusing to shake his hand at the outset and constantly pulling his hair and grabbing hold of his trunks. (Davis: “Mr. Bernard, sir, you are a stinker, sir.”)

Tarzan gave away 37 pounds in the match, weighing 225 to The Chest’s 262, which wasn’t unusual, apparently. According to Davis, he was “one of the smallest of the heavyweights.” He was naturally strong, though, and dead-lifted Bernard — in the days, mind you, before iron-pumping was in vogue — several times. says Tarzan’s career spanned from 1939 to ’64. The following bout took place Jan. 25, 1952, when he was 36 and had been out of pro football for six years. He spent his first three seasons with the Giants, the next two with the Chicago Cardinals, then returned to the Giants in 1945 after a serving in the Air Force during World War II.

Tarzan was never busier in the ring, in fact, than in ’52, wrestling (at least) 75 times. His bout with The Chest was one fall with a 30-minute time limit. All set? Here we go . . .

Broadcaster Davis was right. “He’s a mean one, this Bernard.”


Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

Friday Night Fights X: Joe Savoldi vs. Man Mountain Dean, 1934

The Bears’ signing of “Jumping Joe” Savoldi, the star fullback from Notre Dame, late in the 1930 season was a national story. Savoldi had been booted out of school in mid-November when it was discovered he was married — a no-no for college athletes back then — and George Halas was quick to get him in a Chicago uniform, even if he had to pay a $1,000 fine because Savoldi’s class had yet to graduate. (This, remember, was several years before the NFL had a draft. Teams were free to sign any player they wanted.)

Despite making great money with the Bears, Savoldi played just three games for them — the only games of his pro football career. He then turned to wrestling and, according to

Savoldi practices the Flying Dropkick.

Savoldi practices the Flying Dropkick., had over 600 matches in the next 23 years (and briefly held one of the dime-a-dozen heavyweight “titles”). Years later, he explained the sudden switch to Frank Blair of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

His Bears teammates, he said, weren’t too thrilled when they found out what Halas was paying him, and

they quit blocking for me. . . . Here I was getting some $4,000 a game with my cut of the gate, and my teammates in the line and backfield were being paid $50 to $125 per man. . . . If I was worth 20 times as much as they were, I could make my own touchdowns without any help. After I had been riddled a dozen times trying to hit the line or sweep off tackle, I just fell down and stayed there. I didn’t have a chance.

So they took me out and kept me on the bench after the second game — not because I couldn’t play football, but [because] the other guys wouldn’t play and block for me. I had a contract for 18 games after that first season, with a guarantee of $500 a game, but I didn’t want any part of that pro football. I went into wrestling. In that business you don’t need blockers.

As you might expect of a wrestler with 600 bouts, Savoldi took on anybody and everybody, from legends like Strangler Lewis and Jim Londos to ex-football players like Bronko Nagurski (his former Bears teammate), Gus Sonnenberg, Jim McMillen, Sammy SteinMayes McClain and Roy “Father” Lumpkin.

Nagurski was the champion himself for a while. has him beating Savoldi three out of three, but it seems to have missed this match in 1938:

Savoldi loses to Broniko 9-27-38

During World War II, Savoldi performed some kind of “secret mission” for the U.S. government. Jack Cuddy of The Associated Press wrote about it in 1945. Savoldi wasn’t able to provide him with much detail — it was all very hush-hush — but Cuddy had his suspicions. Joe, he noted, had been born in Italy, and not only was fluent in Italian but knew a fair amount of French.

All Savoldi told him was that he was “on special assignment. Yes, I am permitted to tell you what areas I visited. They were North Africa, Sicily, Italy — including Salerno — and France — including Normandy. Yes, I was under fire — plenty of times. No, I wasn’t wounded. This scar on my cheek and these cauliflower ears came before the war.”

After he retired from the ring, Savoldi trained the famed Bobo Brazil, whose signature move was the concussion-causing Cocoa Butt. Jumping Joe’s specialty, naturally, was the Flying Dropkick, which he demonstrates — to great effect — in the following clip. His opponent is Man Mountain Dean. They crossed paths several times, but I’m pretty sure this bout was in 1934.


Friday Night Fights IX: Tom Zbikowski vs. Blake Warner, 2011

What would our Friday Night Fights series be without a Tom Zbikowski bout?

Zbikowski, the future Ravens safety/special teamer, was still in college — a junior at Notre Dame — when he made his professional debut in June 2006 by knocking out Robert Bell in 49 seconds.

Zbikowski as a returner with the Ravens.

Zbikowski as a returner with the Ravens.

It was a semi-big deal. Bob Arum was the promoter, Angelo Dundee worked Tommy Z’s corner and the setting was Madison Square Garden.

According to NCAA rules, Zbikowski, a cruiserweight, could accept his $25,000 purse and still retain his football eligibility, but he couldn’t “accept any money from any manufacturer to wear a specific brand of boxing apparel,” The New York Times reported.

By that time he’d had 90 amateur fights, compiling a 75-15 record. “I think I avenged all those losses,” he once told the Los Angeles Times, “and I probably had 10 to 20 more fights not listed, in smokers and stuff around the [Chicago] area.”

The Ravens drafted Zbikowski in the third round in 2008, and he spent four years in Baltimore backing up strong safety Ed Reed, returning kicks and running down under them. After that came a season with the Colts that was ended, five games early, by a shin injury.

Tommy Z was a Wild Child, as you might expect of a boxer-footballer. “I’m the only guy who can drink six beers, then spar 10 rounds on the same day,” he bragged to the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh last November. Wrote Haugh:

Alcohol had become such a part of Zbikowski’s routine the night before games that he compared it to a superstition. His ideal mix: four glasses of scotch and four Guinnesses. Of the 64 NFL games Zbikowski participated in, he estimated at least 12 were played with a massive hangover.

“Get a little messed up, sneak a girl into your room, feel on top of the world,” Zbikowski said. “I had some of my best games off of benders — some of my worst, too. My two best seasons ever were 2005 [at Notre Dame] and 2009 [in Baltimore], when I was the most out of control drinking, so I thought, hey, maybe I should go back to that.’”

But for the first time in Indy, Zbikowski felt his nighttime activities affecting his game-day ability.

“I was drinking too much,” Zbikowski said. “I got fat.”

To lose the weight, he said, he took a diuretic, a blunder — the substance was banned by the NFL — that earned him a four-game suspension at the start of the 2013 season. It turned out to be moot, though, because he didn’t make it out of training camp. His hometown Bears, who had signed him in the offseason, released him, and that was the end of his football career.

But back to boxing. In March and April of 2011, when NFL players were locked out by the owners, Zbikowski climbed in the ring three more times — the last three of his four professional bouts. He TKO’d Richard Bryant in one round, won a unanimous four-round decision over Caleb Grummet, then had the following fight against Blake Warner, who, as you’ll see, had the body of a middle-school assistant principal.

All told, Tommy Z spent less than 17 minutes in the ring as a pro — 16 minutes, 54 seconds, to be exact. How good was he? Arum thought he had prospects, though Bob was probably thinking mostly about all the Notre Dame subway alumni who might come to his bouts. We’ll give Emanuel Stewart, who trained Zbikowski at the end, the final word on the subject. After Tommy hung on in the fourth round to beat Grummet, a mixed-martial-arts guy, Stewart said, “Thank goodness it wasn’t a six-round fight.”

One more thing: This clip has Spanish broadcasters — a Friday Night Fights (and Pro Football Daly) first. Don’t worry, though. “Zbikowski” in Spanish is still “Zbikowski.”

Friday Night Fights VIII: Charley Powell vs. Charlie Norkus, 1954

When Charley Powell died last month at 82, he was an all but forgotten sports figure — outside, that is, his hometown of San Diego, where his feats in football, baseball, basketball, track and boxing are legend. Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times columnist, once wrote: “When the conversation veers around to all-around athletes, it gets to Charlie Powell in a hurry. There’s Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, and, well, how about Charlie Powell?”

As a 20-year-old in 1952 — he passed up college in favor of a minor-league baseball fling — Powell was man enough to play defensive end for a 49ers club stacked with four Hall of Famers: quarterback Y.A. Tittle, running backs Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny and tackle Leo Nomellini. A chiseled 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, he might have been one of the greats if he hadn’t gone into boxing, which paid better.

As he told Gay Talese of The New York Times late in his career: “Trouble was I’d have to take weight off in the summertime [for boxing] and put it back on in the wintertime for football. It

An ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

was off and on, off and on, and I couldn’t concentrate on either sport.”

Powell did have his moments in the squared circle, though. The biggest came in March 1959, when, as a 4-to-1 underdog, he TKO’d Nino Valdes, the No. 2-ranked heavyweight. The win moved Charley up to ninth in Ring Magazine’s ratings, as high as he ever got. From The Associated Press account:

“Valdes had gone down twice before in the [eighth] round [before referee Cy Gottfried stopped it], once following a left and a right to the jaw, . . . and once when the ex-pro football player draped him over the middle strand of the ring ropes. . . .

“[Valdes] suffered a gash over his right eye in the third [round] and thereafter presented a gory picture after he tried to ward off the aggressive Californian, who crowded in and refused to allow his bigger opponent to unlimber his heavy guns.”

After getting off to a 20-3-2 start, Powell settled for a final record of 25-11-3 with 17 knockouts. A succession of broken hands — along with a chin, I’m told, that may not have been made of granite — undermined his early promise. Toward the end, he served as a tuneup for a young Cassius Clay (soon to be known as Muhammad Ali) in 1963 and a dethroned Floyd Patterson in ’64. He was knocked out both times, but give the guy his due: He traded blows with two heavyweight champs.

The following is a clip from Powell’s 1954 bout against journeyman Charlie Norkus at San Francisco Civic Auditorium. You can watch all seven rounds if you want; I’m just focusing on the first one, when he . . .

Now that’s punching power.

Powell mixing it up with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).

Powell mixing it up with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).


Friday Night Fights VII: Dick the Bruiser vs. Ivan Rasputin, 1955

Dick Afflis isn’t much remembered as a football player. A muscular 6-foot, 251-pound lineman, he spent four seasons with the Packers in the early ’50s, but the franchise was nigh invisible in those days. It wasn’t until Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959 that Green Bay got back on the radar screen.

After leaving the NFL, though, Afflis became famed in the Midwest as a wrestler — Dick the Bruiser. In fact, David Letterman, who grew up in Indianapolis, named his television show’s Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 3.16.48 PMband “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” in homage to The Bruiser, who billed himself as “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler.” Afflis even won the heavyweight title — or one of them, anyway. (Of course, who didn’t?)

Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times columnist, probably had the best description of him. “Combine the worst aspects of the Japanese fruit fly, the rose aphid, rabies or the giant spider, together with the best of Benito Mussolini, and you get an idea what kind of man Dick Afflis is,” he wrote. “. . . He wrestles for a living and hates for fun. He looks as if he eats people. He’s the kind of guy who would put Albert Schweitzer adrift in a lifeboat, then poke a hole in his canteen.”

One of Afflis’ more memorable episodes came in 1963, when he started a brawl in a Detroit bar owned by Alex Karras, the Lions’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Karras, who had just been suspended for betting on NFL games, was slated to wrestle Dick the Bruiser five days later. (Alex, it seems, had antagonized him by referring to him in a newspaper story as a journeyman football player. Then again, maybe they were just trying to build up the gate.)

This is from a book Bob O’Donnell and I wrote, The Pro Football Chronicle:

[Afflis] no sooner walked in the door than the punches started flying. The first two policemen arrived in no time, but they weren’t a match for the 6-foot, 250-pounder. One suffered a broken wrist, the other a torn elbow ligament. (Neither knew how to counter a body slam.)

Six more cops arrived, and only then was The Bruiser subdued. Nearby, a television set and vending machine lay in ruins. . . . They had to cuff his hands and feet.

Afflis also sustained a five-stitch cut under his left eye, which he attributed to a pool cue. He was fined $400 for his misbehavior, but the money wound up being refunded. Read the crazy explanation here.

When Afflis and Karras met in the ring, the wrestling pro — to no one’s surprise — pinned the amateur in 11 minutes, 21 seconds. Alex left the arena with teeth marks in his bicep. Said The Bruiser: “Football players should leave wrestling to wrestlers and go back to their betting.”

In tonight’s bout, Afflis takes on Ivan Rasputin, a.k.a. “The Mad Russian.” The date is June 10, 1955. The place is the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Afflis died in 1991 at 62. According to the obituary that ran in the Chicago Tribune, he “had been weightlifting at home [in Largo, Fla.] and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus.” His gravel voice, the Tribune said, was “the result of a football injury to the larynx,” but his wrestling career also took its toll.

“He broke both ankles, his nose and other bones,” the Tribune reported. “‘I’ve got so many stitches on my head that it looks like a baseball,’ he once bragged.”

Friday Night Fights VI: Steve Hamas vs. Max Schmeling, 1935

Everybody knows who Max Schmeling is: the German who, at the height of Nazi fervor in 1938, was knocked out in the first round by heavyweight champ Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium. The famous clip:

The referee who counts out Schmeling, by the way, is Art Donovan Sr., father of Artie Donovan, the Colts’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle. Art Sr. worked no fewer than 18 of Louis’ bouts. “‘Little Arthur’ was the kid on the subway from the Bronx who carried his father’s small bag with his gray referee’s uniform in it downtown to him on fight nights,” Bill Gildea wrote in The Washington Post in 1986.

As you heard the narrator say, Schmeling had held the title for two years himself earlier in the ’30s. He also was the first man to defeat Louis — in 1936 on a stunning 12th-round knockout. Indeed, their short-lived rematch might have been the most emotionally charged fight of all time, what with the Brown Bomber’s desire for revenge, Adolf Hitler’s naked racism and Germany’s growing militarism.

Anyway, that’s Max Schmeling (in case you needed a refresher course). As for Steve Hamas, his opponent in tonight’s featured bout, he’s largely fallen through the cracks of boxing history.

Steve Hamas, April 1934

Steve Hamas, April 1934

Before he climbed in the ring as a professional, though, he spent a season as fullback with the Orange (N.J.) Tornadoes, one of the many teams that came and went in the NFL’s early years.

Truth be known, Hamas was probably a better fighter than footballer. A two-time college champion at Penn State, he tore through his first 29 pro opponents, knocking out 26 and decisioning the others. (Among his victims was former Frankford Yellow Jackets back Tex Hamer, who didn’t fare nearly as well between the ropes as Steve did.)

After KO-ing ex-lightweight champ Tommy Loughran in two rounds, Hamas climbed high enough in the rankings to earn a shot at Schmeling. It was a good time to catch him. For one thing, the German had just been TKO-ed by Max Baer (who would go on to win the heavyweight crown a year later). For another, he didn’t train all that hard for his bout against the pride of the Orange Tornadoes, perhaps because he thought of him as more of a media creation than a polished fighter.

Sure enough, Hamas absolutely hammered Schmeling when they met at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall in 1934, winning a unanimous 12-round decision. In the New York Daily News, Paul Gallico wrote that Max “was a 10-round target for Hamas’ straight left in the face. . . . Nobody [had] ever cut Schmeling before.”

Naturally, this set up a sequel 13 months later — in Hamburg, where the atmosphere was a tad different. Instead of 13,000 screaming Americans, there were 25,000 screaming Germans.

The fighters have emerged from their dressing rooms and are about ready to begin. Let’s go up to the ring.

Alas, that ninth-round knockout was the end of Hamas’ boxing career. He experienced temporary numbness in one his legs afterward, and the scare convinced him to hang up his gloves. His place in history remains secure, though — as the only ex-NFL player to beat a former heavyweight champ.


Friday Night Fights V: Ernie Ladd vs. Wahoo McDaniel

Not sure exactly when Ernie Ladd and Wahoo McDaniel, two heroes of the early AFL, met in this tag-team match at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. YouTube says it was “the early ’70s.” That’ll have to suffice. Wrestling’s records, I’m afraid, aren’t nearly as exacting (or available) as boxing’s are.

Each man was legendary in his own way. Ladd was as enormous as he was talented — a 6-foot-9, 325-pound (at his heaviest), all-league defensive tackle for the Chargers. John Schmitt, the Jets’ Wahoo in headdresscenter, had a great quote about playing against him for the first time. “I looked up across the line of scrimmage,” he said, “and there was Ernie Ladd. His eyeballs weighed five pounds apiece.”

Ladd also had a prodigious appetite, and is said to have eaten 124 pancakes at one sitting in a contest. If you want to find out more about the “Big Cat,” as he was called, check out this piece I wrote about him in 2007, not long after he died. It only begins to do him justice.

McDaniel, a 6-1, 235-pound linebacker, was a novelty because of his Native American heritage. He came from Choctaw stock and would enter the ring wearing a feathered headdress. HIs celebrity skyrocketed when he was traded from the near-invisible Broncos to the Jets in 1964, the year before Joe Namath arrived. The Shea Stadium P.A. announcer would say, “Tackle by . . . guess who?” And the crowd would shout, “Wahoo!”

Bud Shrake wrote a classic portrait of him in Sports Illustrated 50 years ago. A must read (if only to be reminded of how great SI used to be).

It’s hard to say how many times Ladd and McDaniel met on the mat, but — wrestling being wrestling — it was certainly more than a few. Here’s an account of one bout in Dallas in 1966 that ended in a draw when “both were counted out on the ring apron.”

Wahoo Ladd double KO in '66











Guess it was part of their act, because they did it again in Lakeland, Fla., in 1978:

Wahoo beats Ladd 1978





In the following clip, McDaniel is teamed with Cowboy Bill Watts, a former teammate at the University of Oklahoma, where they played under Hall of Famer Bud Wilkinson. In fact, Wahoo still holds the Sooners record for longest punt: 91 yards. Watts, a defensive tackle, left school early and signed with the Houston Oilers, but was cut in camp in 1961 (something I never knew until I researched this).

Oilers drop Billy Watts







Ladd’s partner is the equally famed Billy Graham. You can watch the whole video if you want; I’ve just pulled out some footage of Wahoo and Big Cat going at it, a little over a minute’s worth. As you’ll see, they both do some damage.

“He was a wild, crazy Indian,” McDaniel’s daughter, Nicky Rowe, said when he died in 2002. “He was bigger than life. He was amazing.”

As we pick up the action, Graham, in trouble, is about to tag Ernie, who then climbs through the ropes to get at Wahoo. Brace yourselves.

Friday Night Fights IV: Fridge Perry vs. Manute Bol, 2002

For sheer grotesqueness, it’s hard to top the celebrity bout between William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the former hole-clogger for the Chicago Bears, and Manute Bol, the erstwhile three-point shooting machine for the Golden State Warriors. Perry weighed over 400 pounds — at least 50 above his playing weight — when he climbed through the ropes at Atlantic City’s Emerald Queen Casino on May 22, 2002. As for Bol, he was still the 7-foot-7 stick figure of his basketball days when he climbed over — yes, over — the ropes:

In a pre-fight interview, Fridge seemed undaunted by Manute’s 102-inch reach (as well as his reputation, as a youth in his native Sudan, for killing a lion with a spear). “He’s seven-foot-something,” he said. “I’m 6-3 or whatever. But, you know, you don’t fight standing up. You got to bend down, you got to bend your knees and everything. So he’s got to come down to size.”

Ring analyst Ray Mancini, the onetime WBA lightweight champ, wasn’t sure how Perry could attack Bol — legally, at least. “This guy is so tall,” he said, “I don’t know where [Perry]’d hit him without it being below the belt.” And indeed, watching the two paw each other was like watching a giraffe tangle with a water buffalo.

Both men had retired in 1994. They also were the same age: 39. In his sports afterlife, Perry goofed around in wrestling and Toughman boxing, while Bol engaged in various publicity stunts to raise money for relief efforts in his war-ravaged country. He even tried to play hockey with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League, “but his arthritic feet swelled in his custom-made skates before he could take the ice,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The bout was scheduled for three rounds of about 90 seconds (by my watch). Looks like Michael Buffer is ready to introduce the fighters. . . .

Thankfully, there was no rematch.

Friday Night Fights III: Vai Sikahema vs. Jose Canseco, 2008

Nothing like a football-vs.-baseball brawl to get the juices flowing. Of course, when Vai Sikahema squared off with Jose Canseco on July 12, 2008, both were well past their playing days. Sikahema, a two-time Pro Bowl return man with the Cardinals, had been out of the NFL for 15 years and was working as a sportscaster in Philadelphia. He was 45. Canseco, the power-hitting poster boy for MLB’s steroid era, had played his last big-league game 7 years earlier. He was 44.

For their celebrity bout in Atlantic City, the two former jocks wore headgear. Sikahema, 5-foot-8, tipped the scales at 205 — 24 pounds above his football playing weight. Canseco, 6-4, came in at 248, giving him a huge size advantage. Vai, however, had had scores of amateur fights when he was younger, while Jose’s background was mostly in the martial arts.

So much for the preliminaries. We’re about ready for the introductions:

Sikahema said it all after the fight:

As for Canseco, when he his head had cleared — sort of — he conceded the bout had been a blunder:

Poor Jose. He was so discombobulated, he didn’t realize it was a left hook that knocked him down the first time, not an overhand right.

Two years later, a story by Doug Robinson in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News revisited the bout. Apparently it was Canseco’s people who thought it would be a good idea. When his agent called Sikahema out of the blue one day and proposed that the two meet in the ring, Vai tried to dissuade him.

“You don’t want to do this,” Sikahema continued. “Canseco is going to be in trouble.”

The agent was surprised. How big are you, he asked?

“5-8. 200.”

“Well, Canseco is 6-4, 250.”

“I’m telling you he’s in trouble. Does he know what a Tongan is?”


“Well, he’ll find out. I come from a warrior culture and we fight till one of us is lying on the ground. I grew up boxing.”

“Canseco has five black belts.”

“OK, we’ll see.”

Canseco and his backers didn’t know that boxing was the reason Sikahema had come to this country in the first place. They didn’t know that his father had brought his family from Tonga to live in a hellish hot garage in Arizona so he could train his son to be a fighter. They didn’t know that he spent his youth boxing around the West, living out of the back of a pickup truck, and that he might have fulfilled his father’s plans for him if he hadn’t discovered something better. There was one other thing they didn’t know: His father had trained him specifically to fight big men, because he knew all his opponents would be bigger than his son. He had been taught to weather blows to get inside, then pummel the body and unload that left hook.

Like the one that felled Canseco.