DAMON FELDMAN'S tentative first steps as a promoter of local "celebrity boxing'' cards included ring appearances by disc jockeys, TV weathermen and a certain aging, out-of-shape boxing writer.
Granted, my 2003 slugfest with Center City attorney and former Pennsylvania boxing commissioner George Bochetto featured some of the most torrid two-way action since the Thrilla in Manila, or so George and I would like to believe. But as celebrities go, we're way farther down the D-list than Kathy Griffin.
Give Feldman credit, though. His sales pitch was persuasive enough to lure Tonya Harding (the bad girl of figure skating) and former "Partridge Family'' kid Danny Bonaduce (the bad boy of TV sitcoms) here for fisticuffs involving the once rich and famous. A couple dozen pounds above her triple-axel-nailing prime, Harding proved more dangerous as a hubcap flinger than a fighter, but Bonaduce had a legitimately pugnacious streak. I suspect it's because he's still ticked that David Cassidy was the teeny-boppers' heartthrob, not the red-haired, wisecracking little brother he played during the show's 1970-74 run.
Now Feldman is back with another celeb boxing event, and this one figures to be his biggest yet.
"I got Jose Canseco, the 'bad boy of baseball,' " Feldman said in announcing the July 12 card at Bernie Robbins Stadium in Atlantic City. Canseco will fight NBC-10 sports director and former Eagles return specialist Vai Sikahema.
That would be the same Canseco who won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1988, the year he became baseball's first 40-40 man, slugging 42 home runs and stealing 40 bases for the Oakland Athletics.
It's also the same Canseco who opened the steroids Pandora's box with his 2005 tell-all book, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big." Canseco not only admitted to his own use of performance-enhancing drugs, but he named names, times, places. He's the guy who gave lethargic baseball commissioner Bud Selig a hard enough nudge that Selig put former Sen. George Mitchell on the case. The Mitchell Report sent several mortal-lock Hall of Famers into possibly permanent limbo.
But, as another clubhouse tattler, Jim Bouton, discovered with his 1970 expose of baseball's seamier side, "Ball Four," a lot of people would rather slime the messenger than hear the message. It's a pretty safe bet that Canseco and Mark McGwire no longer send each other Christmas cards, if indeed they ever did.
Decide for yourself whether Canseco, who turns 44 on July 2, is a money-grubbing Benedict Arnold who ratted out teammates to peddle his book or a crusader for needed change in sports. In any case, he figures a lot of you will show up in Bernie Robbins Stadium.
"I imagine the reception will be mixed," Canseco told me. "But the curiosity factor is going to be incredible. Whether people want to see someone kick my butt, or me kick someone else's butt, I guarantee there will be interest."
Maybe even enough interest for Feldman and Canseco to launch a nationwide tour and draw attention from network-TV types who are always looking for reality programming.
Canseco, to be sure, looks the part of someone most would-be opponents might want to avoid. At 6-4 and 245 pounds, he's only 5 pounds above his 1988 playing weight. He still has guns for forearms, too, although he insists he's off the juice. He credits his Adonis physique to 20-plus years in martial arts, during which he claims to have earned black belts in kung-fu, taekwondo and Muay Thai.
"Definitely I'm not a Bonaduce," he said. "I'm a real athlete, and a real heavyweight."
So why would a real athlete - one who crushed 462 big-league homers - enter boxing for the presumably limited stipend Feldman can afford to pay?
If you guessed that the fortune Canseco amassed from baseball is mostly gone, bingo. Canseco recently revealed he lost his opulent California home because of divorce settlements to his two ex-wives that cost him $15 million.
But Canseco said that, like many successful athletes, he is intrigued by boxing because it's the ultimate one-on-one challenge. Remember, Wilt Chamberlain and Jim Brown once entertained notions of mixing it up with Muhammad Ali.
"I've always been a boxing fan," Canseco said. "I have a lot of respect for some of the heavyweight champions like Ali, [George] Foreman and the
"Elite athletes have the hand-eye coordination, hand and foot speed, depth perception and balance you need to be successful in any sport. I've always wanted to give boxing a try."
Well and good. But remember what Mike Tyson once said: Everybody has a plan until they get hit.
It remains to be seen whether Canseco, backer Gary Barbera and Feldman can revive TV's "Celebrity Boxing" franchise. Fox aired two episodes in 2002, with the most enthralling matchup, at least to Philadelphians, pitting 7-7, ultrathin former 76er Manute Bol against 400-pound, ultrawide former Eagle William "The Refrigerator" Perry. 'Nute and his 102-inch wingspan jabbed Fridge silly in that one.
Feldman said he has received nearly 2,000 e-mails from people who'd like a shot at Canseco, including, he claimed, third-party representatives professing to represent former champions Mike Rossman, Ray Mercer and Bobby Czyz. Canseco wisely has said he'd prefer not to mix it up with real pro fighters, at least not initially. Sikahema, who's remembered fondly around here for shadow-boxing the goal post after returning a punt for a score in a November 1992 win over the host Giants, should prove to be an elusive target.
Just a thought, but do you think McGwire would be interested in lacing up the gloves and trying for some pugilistic payback against his fellow "Bash Brother?" *
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