Now we’re getting to the Good Stuff. This was one of those classic Shield vs. Shield bouts, as Roger Goodell would put it, between two former NFL players — Mark Gastineau, the erstwhile Jets sack dancer, and Alonzo Highsmith, who’d had a more modest career as a running back after the Oilers took him third overall in the 1987 draft.
Both had a fair number of pro fights under their belts, though Gastineau’s were more of the State Fair variety. Indeed, Mark (15-1 with 15 knockouts) hadn’t fought in 2 ½ years. He’d supposedly gone into the gym — after a four-round no-decision against the immortal Craig Thurber in Topeka — to learn some ring craft and had emerged, at the age of 39, a more polished pugilist.
Highsmith, eight years younger and 31 ½ pounds lighter (223 ½ to Gastineau’s 255), had a somewhat better track record (15-0-1 with 13 KOs), but that’s not saying much. Two of his recent victims had records of 2-24 (Jim Wisniewski) and 0-23 (Ed Strickland) when they climbed between the ropes. In fact, Strickland was winless in 30 career bouts.
The Gastineau-Highsmith tussle took place Nov. 3, 1996, in Urayasu, Japan, outside Tokyo. Believe it or not, it was on the undercard of George Foreman’s bout against Crawford Grimsley for Foreman’s dime-store IBA and WBU titles. George, 47, won a unanimous 12-round decision, but laced up his gloves only twice more before returning his full attention to selling grills.
Our two gladiators are ready to rumble. Let’s go to the ring for the introductions:
Once again, the beginning of the end for Gastineau:
Bruce Keidan in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Highsmith is no great boxer, but compared to Gastineau he is Sugar Ray Robinson. . . .
“Gastineau didn’t even know how to quit,” an eyewitness reports. “He finally sat down. You’ve heard of guys taking a knee? He took a buttock.”
“The referee was counting in Japanese,” another reports. “Gastineau couldn’t be sure when it was safe to get up. So he just stayed down until he was sure the referee was done counting.”
Obviously, the second report was embellished. The referee, Tom Vacca “from Ashland, Ohio,” most definitely counted in English. But at that point, Gastineau was so groggy it probably sounded like Japanese.
Highsmith went on to fight 13 more times, against better competition, before calling it quits. Final record: 27-1-2 with 23 KOs. But for Gastineau it was his last bout — and wisely so. A better matchup for him would have been Sylvester Stallone — with the winner getting Brigitte Nielsen.