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TYSON VS. MANDARICH? NAH. HOW ABOUT SAM DONALDSON INSTEAD?

SHARE TYSON VS. MANDARICH? NAH. HOW ABOUT SAM DONALDSON INSTEAD?

Let me get this straight. Tough guy Tony Mandarich, by virtue of having appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, is hoping to fight Mike Tyson.

Be still, my heart.Mandarich, you already know, is not a boxer, he's a football player. Until a month ago he thought boxing was something you do to your groceries. But because he is 6-foot-6, and because he is 315 pounds, and because he was anointed by S.I. as perhaps the meanest, most fearsome lineman ever to come out of the college ranks, an idea was born.

Promoters schemed up the concept after seeing Mandarich (Body by Rambo) flexing on the cover of S.I. After ogling the picture for a few minutes, someone undoubtedly suggested that Mandarich couldn't look worse than Michael Spinks did against Tyson.

Soon after, they went into a promoters' trance, brought on by the sound of cash registers going off in their heads. They went so far as to predict that a Mandarich-Tyson bout would be the biggest pay-per-view event ever.

Although Tyson has said he is willing to fight Mandarich, there are some detractors - not the least of them being Tyson's promoter, Don King. King's boxing director, Al Braverman, has indicated - with a straight face - he is against such a fight because it would make a mockery of boxing. "If they want to get into a circus show, they should go over to wrestling," he said.

It was a touching show of concern for a sport that brought us such material as Ali vs. a Japanese wrestler, the conversion of football stars Too Tall Jones and Lyle Alzado, and the antics of the ever-popular Tex Cobb. Boxing, bless its heart, brought us Rocky Balboa.

So the sport is looking for a big draw these days. Tyson has no competition in the ring. His biggest challenges come from court complaints. The closest he comes to being knocked out is when he drives into a tree. Boxing's most prestigious weight division is as locked in as Hawaiian real estate.

As a result, promoters are bringing back all your favorite oldies: Duran, Leonard, Hearns, Foreman. You saw them in their prime, now you can see them in slow motion.

Enter Mandarich, whose weight, arm-span, height, chest, biceps, forearms, waist, neck and fists - and presumably the space between his ears - are all greater than Tyson's.

"When he (Mandarich) hit the heavy bag, I thought the roof was going to cave in," said boxing trainer Lou Duva to Sports Illustrated.

Uh-huh.

If hype is the key to good fights, Tyson should consent to meeting Mitch "Blood" Green. They could continue the bout they started last year outside a nightclub.

Which brings up some other possible opponents for Tyson:

- Morton Downey Jr. There would be considerable interest in seeing Tyson beat Downey up in public, and then paint a swastika on his face.

- Arnold Schwarzenegger. A definite Las Vegas flair: "Conan meets Iron Mike."

- Manute Bol. If arm span, weight and height are major factors - which Mandarich is counting on - Bol should give it a shot. Iron Mike Tyson meets Manute "Super" Bol.

- Sam Donaldson. I must admit there is something appealing in the idea of seeing Donaldson in the ring shouting, "Mr. President! Mr. President!" - then getting hit in the mouth.

- Roseann Barr. No comment here about weight divisions.

- Hulk Hogan. He's been involved in worse.

- Robin Givens. No, that's already been done.

- Manuel Noriega. The classic matchup of bad guys. And Noriega has good experience at separating the public from its money.

All would be as marketable as Mandarich.

The sorry fact is, if Tony Mandarich gets in the ring he will be just another in a long history of promotional freakshows.

If giving the public a good fight is the objective, they need to get another idea. If they're trying to protect boxing's image, they have nothing to lose.