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?
“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.