Aaron and Duncan talk about the Tua fight and the generally surreal atmosphere in West Auckland, survey the international cricket season, try and not get too excited about the Warriors and generally get amongst the issues of the day in a decidedly unprofessional manner.
Category Archives: Boxing
Aaron and Duncan talk the Warriors resurgence, the Wellington wind being a manifestly better cricketer than Peter Ingram, the wide open West in the NBA, Mike Tyson’s reality TV career and some other nonsense.
In the end, it lived up to its billing. Two men met in the ring, and conspired to let the talk become action. That it was over in scarcely more then a round, and rendered much of the pre-bout prognostication moot – none of that mattered so much as the sheer brutal truth rendered in Tua’s blows.
But as much as the fight itself confounded and lived up to expectations, the entire process was a perfect piece of modern boxing lore. In a lot of ways that was down to pitch perfect promotion. David Higgins was, for the most part, a shadowy figure in the lead up to the fight. He was quoted in the papers, interviewed on the radio… he was very present in the build up. But for most he lacked a physical presence until he appeared in front of a nation just prior to his main event.
His arrival on screen was perhaps the biggest revelation of the entire card. Certainly bigger than Tua’s demoltion of Cameron, which was a possibility in the back of the mind of even the most ardent Cameron supporters, who had surely factored into their considerations the eventual outcome. I mean, how could that skinny, nervy looking 29-year-old be responsible for all this, right? But it fits perfectly with contemporary boxing’s quasi-sporting theatre of the absurd that the main event was the entire spectacle itself, and its most shocking moment the unveiling of the promoter, rather than the actual fight. Which is to say that the tumultuous build up, the volume of which eventually engulfed the nation, far outpaced the pugilistic quality of what was sold. Continue reading
Thrilla in Manila is a new documentary covering the legendary 1975 bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. John Dower has directed documentaries on everything from Britpop and Kurt Cobain to NYC soccer team the Cosmos, who signed Pelé late in his career. He explored the fight, cited as one of the greatest and most brutal of the 20th century, from Frazier’s perspective, and thus breathed new life into a subject which can feel a little shopworn due to the pervasiveness of the Ali myth.
The talking heads are of an exceptional standard: Imelda Marcos, Ali’s doctor Ferdie Pacheco, and Joe Frazier, who looms as noble and tragic figure throughout. Dower was a fine, eloquent speaker, and is clearly exactly the kind of man you want helming a documentary of this nature. He does a great job of placing the fight in its historical context, at the centre of a battle for the soul of black America, and the political and social ferment which fed into it. All this made the Thrilla seem like so much more than just a boxing match.
D: I wanted to start by asking you what compelled you to become a documentary maker?
J: I guess I kind of like real stories. It’s as simple as that. I think documentaries, factual stories can give you an element of story telling and drama that you don’t really find in actual movies these days. It’s just largely special effects driven and contrived… not all of them but I think when a documentary clicks, you can’t beat real life.
D: The film I’m wanting to talk about is Thrilla in Manila. What attracted you to that as a subject?
J: I was quite fortunate with that film. I had made some other feature documentaries, I’d made another sports feature documentary about a football team in America in the ’70s called The New York Cosmos and normally what happens is when you have ideas, you kind of tout them around the British broadcasters and drop down on your knees and beg to be let into the channel and if you’re let into the channel, you might get a hearing on your idea, but with this film, I was actually approached by a Commissioning Editor at a British channel, who I’d made some other films for, who had always wanted to make this film, and he knew that I was a big sports nut and fortunately he asked me to make it. So it was a bit of a rarity, it kind of dropped on my lap, which doesn’t happen often.
D: As an aside, if you’re a sports nut, there have been some fantastic sports documentaries over the years. What are some of your favorites?
J: I still think the best sports documentary is When We Were Kings, ironically. The film about Muhammad Ali. There aren’t that many of them to be honest because sports documentaries I think are very difficult to make because firstly, you can’t beat the drama of the actual sporting event and also sportsmen are quite dull, really. They’re trained not to have another life, especially these days, they’re marketed certainly not to have an interesting life. So it’s unusual to come across very good sports characters but When We Were Kings and Hoop Dreams, I guess. There aren’t many. It’s difficult to pull off.
D: One thing I really admired about Thrilla was the ability of it to give a dissenting voice to the whole Ali mythos, to present him and Frazier as equals rather than Frazier as almost a bit player in the whole Ali drama. Was that something you intended to do from the start or was it something which welled up in the story?
J: No, it was always deliberate from the beginning. We deliberately said it unashamedly. There’s this idea that documentary makers are somehow purveyors of objective truth, which in my mind is absolute bullshit. Every filmmaker has a point of view and an agenda in some way. It’s unavoidable as soon as you put the camera on someone, something changes, so let’s not pretend that you’re capturing their life exactly as it happens. We set out to make a film from Joe’s point of view unashamedly. We didn’t set out to trash Muhammad Ali. As I’ve said to you, one of my favourite ever films was When We Were Kings, but there was a side to Ali I think that didn’t quite fit the myth that’s in that film and gets kind of brushed under the carpet and we were very keen to re-address that.
D: Did you read Norman Mailer’s The Fight in your prep to the film?
J: Well I’d read it years ago. We had this dilemma about whether to have Mailer in the film or not. We approached him, he agreed to an interview. We were always slightly concerned about the associations it would have with When We Were Kings, which features him prominently. At the same time, he was an extraordinary character and I wanted to know what his take on the Manila fight was. But sadly, our schedule moved, mainly because of Imelda Marcos actually, who pushed us by a couple of months. By the time I came back to do Norman Mailer, he was very, very ill and shortly afterwards died. That decision was made for us.
D: It must have been incredible to film Imelda Marcos, she’s got to be right up there as a ‘get’?
J: She’s pretty out there, I have to say. She’s as mad as a bag of frogs. There’s no two ways about that. She’s one of those rough old characters, but it was good to get her. Again, that’s part of the thrill for me for making docs, trying to find everyone, to track down all the characters that were there. It’s the thrill of the chase.
D: When you’re trying to get someone like Imelda Marcos, how do you even go about making an approach? There would be so many layers to peel away that it would be very difficult to get there.
J: I think I was quite lucky in that respect. I knew somebody that had made a film in the Philippines and had a fixer that I think had known Marcos and it just kind of works like that, you just keep going until you get the definitive no and then you really get a kind of ‘Fuck off’ no or you get them. Imelda was relatively easy to get.
D: One thing which I found completely shocking was to see where Frazier lived. Such an iconic sporting figure to live, not in squalor, but it’s very modest circumstances.
J: Yep, well it may surprise you, but there are some rather unscrupulous people involved in boxing and I think they sadly took advantage of Joe. It happens in boxing. It’s the cliché that’s in Million Dollar Baby, the guy living out in the back room. It was the case with Joe and, having said that, Joe is very happy where he is. I can’t help thinking that even if he had all the money in the world, he might still live in that room.
D: Well you do get that impression. He’s not a guy who wants for much, he just wants to be around fighters. So what is that area of Philly like? Obviously there are some scenes there but you don’t really get a sense of an area without actually being there. Is it as run down and dangerous as it looks?
J: I have to say I was shocked. I’ve done a lot of filming in America, but to go to an area like that, it’s like ‘Fuck me, this is America?’. I guess it was sort of unfettered capitalism in all it’s glory. That’s what happens with the bottom. It’s just a destroyed place. It was not a good place.
D: You said you’re a big admirer of When We Were Kings. The other big Muhammad Ali movie of the last little while was obviously Michael Mann’s Ali. What were your impressions of that?
J: They’re very difficult to pull off, those biographies, I think. I actually think Will Smith did a great job of playing Ali, I thought he was the best thing in it. Like any other Michael Mann movie, it was beautifully and stylishly made. The problem was, and I think this was it’s mistake, was it tried to cover everything and as a result it kind of didn’t say much. It was quite boring, which is always the worst crime of a film, and rather tellingly, like all the other Ali films, it ended at the Rumble in the Jungle. It didn’t go near the Thrilla in Manila. I think they are difficult to pull off, those real life biographies. I think the Johnny Cash film did it well, but then they didn’t try and include absolutely everything in the story, which I always think is a mistake. Just to throw in the kitchen sink.
D: I read that it was quite hard for you to get Joe Frazier to watch footage of the fight. Was that the case?
J: Yeah, it took me months. To watch the Thrilla, it took me absolutely months to get him to see it. I don’t know why. Apparently Ali’s never watched that fight again and a writer once tried to get him to watch it and he said ‘Why would I want to look at hell again?’. I also think Joe’s an incredibly proud guy and he’s certainly watched the first fight a few times.
D: In the process of making the film, you said it was unashamedly a partisan effort in some respect. Did it change the way that you felt about Muhammad Ali?
J: Not really, no. I still think he is and always will be the greatest sportsman ever. We do suggest in the film that his reasons for going to Vietnam were not quite as straightforward as they’re always portrayed, but yet he still didn’t go and it was an immense, terrible sacrifice. You can’t imagine someone like David Beckham saying ‘I’m going to forego three years of my salary because I don’t agree with the war in Iraq’. But I always felt, coming into this film, that Muhammad Ali had been turned into a kind of woolly saint and all the interesting, dark edges had been taken off him. So we’re kind of doing him a service in some way to restore that more complicated picture.
D: You say that David Beckham wouldn’t trade three years of his salary, and I totally agree, but why is it that sportsmen nowadays, with a few obvious exceptions, lack for the passions and the character that you seemed to get in sportsmen of years gone by?
J: I think it comes down to money and marketing. I just think you can’t say anything controversial because you’re so heavily managed, which is what’s interesting about Joe because Joe genuinely doesn’t care. I can’t imagine anyone being able to control him, if Nike or Adidas were in charge of him. Can you imagine the marketing team that would descend on him after he made that comment about pushing Ali in the Olympic flame? They’d be like ‘You can’t say this kind of stuff!’ But I think Joe’s a real human being in that respect, he’s still upset by it. In some respects, why shouldn’t he be?
D: What was it about the fight which aroused such monumental passions you see played out in the film and you see still echoing now, over 30 years after the fact?
J: I just think sporting contests of that magnitude are rare. It takes a lot of factors. Like the Ashes in 2005, it was a combination of two quite closely matched teams, some great bowling, which was lacking in the most recent Ashes, and they just clicked at the right time and it produced the most extraordinary cricket series, for instance. I think it was the same with Ali and Frazier. They were two very different boxers of two very different styles and they brought out the best in each other. I think, as I say in the film, Frazier was the one fighter that Ali truly feared, especially as he was the first fighter to ever beat him and knock him down. I think that’s why those fights had so much riding on them and it was all to play for in the final one.
D: Just on that subject, the 2005 Ashes kind of cries out to be documented. Is that a project which might interest you?
J: No, really, because I just don’t think there’s enough to hang on it. I do believe that any good film, whether it’s a sports film or not, without sounding like too much of a wanker, needs to be layered. It needs to have these other elements that make it more intriguing. With this, you had the backdrop of ’70s racial politics. You had a blood feud between two characters. You could forget the boxing and say this is a story about betrayal. It has those other elements, and while the Ashes was an incredible sporting event, there’s not really much else there for a film. I’d quite happily watch the box set of the actual matches again, but there’s not enough, I think, around it to make it a bigger film. I don’t think there’s much more than the actual action.
D: Returning to Thrilla in Manila. You got a really good array of people who were close to it, from a small level, up to Marcos and Frazier. Was it tough to track them down and were any reticent about participating?
J: This is one of those great films in which people were very forthcoming. Once you found them, for instance, the corner man, who’s the last surviving corner man in Joe’s corner, everyone said ‘Don’t bother with him. He’s shot, his mind’s gone’. Which only made me even keener to find him, and we found him and he was a bit confused and he was mixing up fights and jumbling them up, and we thought we’d give it a go and we went along and I took my computer and I had a copy of the fight on it and started showing it to him and the light bulb went off in his head and it was like he was transported back there, which was, again it’s what makes doing these films so great.
D: Was there a moment when you were filming it when you realised this was all going to work out pretty well for you?
J: Yeah… It’s unusual to have, there were a lot of interviews, Joe took a lot of time to warm up in some respects. He was very wary of us. There were a few interviews in the beginning that didn’t really yield very much. But I think it’s the test of a good documentary maker or a good film is just the patience. If you think the story’s there, you wait on it. I always thought Joe was a great character and I thought it was a great story.
D: Ali’s doctor Ferdie Pacheco, to me, comes off as the least sympathetic guy in the film. There’s almost a cruelty about him towards Frazier, which is kind of distasteful at this distance.
J: Yeah, but he’s a great character, you kind of need those people to make these films. We’d have one person in the film that would take Ali’s view and he was a great one because he was not beholden to Muhammad Ali anymore and yet he’s just a great character. When you walk into a room and you’re going to do a series of interviews with someone like him, you rub your hands with glee.
D: Boxing in general seems to be the sport which has translated best to filming and has an inordinate amount of celluloid devoted to it. Why do you think that is?
J: It goes beyond sport. It’s like the purest contest of will. It’s man against man and nothing else and we’re intrigued by what it requires to do that. It’s got this kind of violence to it and films like violence. But there’s also this strange beauty to it and you’ve also got to be some kind of character to do that, which lends itself to good fictional characters.
D: Before you go, I was just wondering what projects you’re working on now?
J: I’ve literally just finished a drama documentary about two politicians in our country, so a very, very different film. It’s more comedy than anything else.
D: Which politicians?
J: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
D: Boris Johnson’s a hell of a character.
J: Yes, he certainly is
Here’s the trailer. Thrilla in Manila is available now on DVD through Shock. I highly recommend it.
See those men? They’re coming to inspect you! Hope you’re very afraid. Because they’re who the Warriors will be facing over the next few days. In case you don’t recognise my artful depictions, that’s Monty Betham, Dean Rice(?!), Awen Guttenbeil and Hugh McGahan.
Yep, the mighty Vodafone New Zealand Warriors are so perturbed by their hideous season that they’ve appointed what must be the most disastrously stupid panel of experts ever assembled to to assess their 2009 performance. Let’s go through their credentials one by one.
1) Monty Betham
According to no less a resource than Wikipedia, Monty Betham’s first name is actually ‘Monty’. Not Montague or Montgomery, but Monty. I’m not sure if that makes it worse or better, but it’s definitely a fact worth considering. My future brother-in-law and I have been discussing a future DeadBall post we’re working on called ‘the worst Warriors team of all time’. It’s coming soon, but one position we pretty much haven’t debated at all was that of of captain. It has to be Monty Betham, right?
He epitomised the worst excesses of the Mick Watson regime, with its arrogance and thuggish attitude toward criticism. Betham being voted ‘the player you’d least like to get into a fight with’ by Rugby League Week only indicated that he spent more time practising his left hook than his tackling technique, and as a member of this panel he brings all the gravity and intellectual force that Kendra has brought to reality television. Speaking of which, for the last three years, while the Warriors have been attempting to rebuild after his awful tenure, ‘Monty’ has been starring on such masterpieces as Celebrity Joker Poker and Dancing With The Stars.
He viewed each as ample preparation for a return to rugby league, as a recent Sunday News story featured an image of him with his shirt off (better that than the truly horrifying shot of him in drag at Telethon) pronouncing his 31-year-old carcass ready to return to the rigours of the NRL. There cannot be many people less qualified to lead a review of a terrible season in the NRL than Betham. But the Warriors have found three more.
2) Dean Rice
OK, here’s a few facts, New Zealand. Everywhere else in the world, men who like to mess around with a long, slender, symmetrical bat play baseball. I wrote about 12-year-old kids playing it it a couple of days ago. Only in New Zealand do we get excited about our men being the best at the women’s version of a men’s sport. Seriously, the fact that the ‘Black Sox’ get nominated for Halberg Awards is one of the most embarrassing things about being a New Zealander, along with Cuba St, Te Radar and Logan Swann. I don’t know who Dean Rice is, but when you google ‘”Dean Rice” AND softball’ some faculty member from Georgia beats him to the top spot. Seriously, that has to mean something in this context. Did I mention that softball is a women’s sport? Do we boast about being Men’s netball world champs?* Thought not.
3) Awen Guttenbeil
It says a lot about this committee that Awen Guttenbeil is comfortably its most respectable member. He defined journeyman throughout his 11 season career with the Warriors. Guttenbeil played out these years, which saw us roam from wooden spooning to Grand fInal, without remotely impacting on our fate. He scored 15 tries, none of which even the most ardent fan can probably remember, and were it not for his bald head, most supporters would struggle to picture him even now. He was notable for having a funny German name and not leaving the club, which is fine, but not enough to justify selection to a panel that is judging a Warriors season which has the dubious distinction of having the worst promise-to-delivery ratio of any in our club’s blighted 15 year existence.
4) Hugh McGahan
McGahan is ostensibly the character guy. A former Golden Boot (for international player of the year) and Dally M (for backrower of the year) winner, he played over 100 games for the Roosters in the golden late-’80s era of rugby league. He was a Kiwis captain. He scored six tries in a test, and was an inaugural inductee into the NZRL’s Legends of League (such an awesome name) hall of fame. As far as reputation goes, there aren’t many in league who stack up better. Or stacked up better.
Because in late 2007 McGahan was charged with fraud in the Auckland District Court, and in May 2009 he was sentenced to 270 hours of community service for his part in a scam involving poker machines in the service of various North Shore sporting organisations. It has been painted up in some quarters as some Robin Hood-style wealth redistribution, and he probably didn’t personally gain from the episode. But surely it’s too soon to be appointing him to a panel discussing an issue like this? His indiscretions were punished in the midst of the horror run the Warriors went on this season. Wouldn’t you want to be squeaky clean about this? Unless of course you just want to be told you’re doing an amazing job by a bunch of dudes who just want to feel like they’re part of a team again…
* I checked this later, and there is apparently a plan to hold one of these within the next five years. If and when we do win, this will be an infinitely cooler thing to be World Champs at. Because indoor netball is in many ways superior to regular netball, and is a distinct sport from basketball, as opposed to an intentionally weakened derivative.
The competition proper began in cycle 11, and already one of the Britneys has gone to a less insane place. Re-dubbed Sharaun because having more than one person with the same name made Tyrabot’s brain malfunction, the former Brittney B’s wide-eyed proclaimation “I am America’s Next Top Model” looked extra sad and desperate after her elimation. The comments she got (a fave: “you love to spread your legs!”) were pretty classic, and the way she assuredly declared of Isis “America’s next top model is not gonna be a dude” helped ease her out the door pretty painlessly.
Elsewhere in the episode we were treated to an overt testament to just how old this cycle is, with all the talk of an upcoming election, and Nigel joined the show via a magician’s box, which was nice.
In the contestants’ new home there was a walk of fame for models of yesteryear, and they soon descended on Isis, to get the skinny on the first man to join the party. What with the political theme, there were plenty of opportunities to reveal cheery ignorance/indifference, so let’s get to the rankings.
1. Isis (Ranked on show: 2)
They ranked her second, but that was clearly an over-compensation to avoid accusations of tokenism. Her prior experience as a model lead to her monstering the photo session, and a maybe too curious Nigel Barker seemed particularly taken by her (admittedly enthralling) backstory. She was given the subject ‘privacy’, and given her special situation, it was a doozy. Still she dominated the shoot, and in so doing created a wall of enemies who were ultra-pissed at coming second to a set of testicles. It’s a scenario they’re going to have to get used to in the coming weeks, because Isis is the total package.
2. Marjorie (RoS: 1)
She got immigration, and draped herself prettily over a barbed wire gate. She looked a little lost, but also very striking, and with the competition (with one very prominent exception) generally filling out American archetypes, Marjorie’s strange, detatched beauty looks a good bet for the title. I normally hate all French people and things, but this girl lacks the customary sleazy confidence they display, and hasn’t worn berets or strings of garlic once, so she gets a better than pass mark for the week.
3. Alina (RoS: 5)
Not just because she’s a vegan bisexual with her sights set on the most conservative vegetable in the patch, but because she legitimately nailed the photo. Foreign Policy is a pretty amorphous, centreless subject, but against the backdrop she looked very Miss World, not really like a model, but super hot. Kinda like those ’40s girls they used to have performing for sailors about to go and die for their country so they’d be able to dream of a better world as the torpedoes hit.
4. Joslyn (RoS: 4)
Her subject: Unemployment “somethin’ that I am. Un-em-ployed!”. “Well you look like you about to get some work,” said Miss J, drily, and it was tough to argue with hookery designation. She does have a strong crack-addict look on TV, but sloughs it off in photos, where she somehow flips it and becomes pretty stunning. There’s just something about her good humour and general attitude which is very infectious, particularly against the conservatism and self-obsession of many of her companions, which makes you think she’ll survive a while. Plus her shots utilise her gangly limbs to great effect.
5. McKay (RoS: 3)
She’s one of the five most irritating models, what with the totally forced Mixed Martial Arts angle they’re pushing (seriously, that faux fight she had in ep 1 with Jay Manuel was retarded), but she did turn in a fine photo. She got the Enivironment, and predictably used a boxing stance, which works a little I guess, like, she’s fighting to protect it or some such nonsense. But she also looks extremely gormless in the pic, and when they make her do something other than her one lame trick we’ll see what she’s got left in the holster.
6. Sheena (RoS: 8)
“She’s big, black and lovin’ it!” Sheena has no idea she’s Asian. it’s very cute. I thought her Harlem schtick would get tiresome, but actually it’s catching. Pretty sure “I thought it was gonna be too hooch or somethin’!” is going to become a new catch-phrase of mine, and the way she’s shot through with adrenalin just to be on the show is awesome. Not sure if she’s actually good looking, and she definitely isn’t a model of any description, but she’s too much fun to get kicked off early.
7. Samantha (RoS: 6)
She’s an all-American blonde, and looked 100% stunned and for most her time on screen. She was given the economy, one of the most ridiculously executed of all the conceits, and sorta threw a shape out in front of it, which was fine, but nonsensical too. She has a cool ’70s Playboy vibe, which we haven’t seen in a model in a while, and while she’s not perfect for the role the fact they’ve cast her in it suggests they’ll make it work.
8. Annaleigh (RoS: 9)
Cute as a button, but very FHM in her healthcare pose. Her and Hannah are filling the girl-next-door/American-as-apple-pie slots, and she just edged out her Alaskan counterpart this week. Ultimately, what she did had nothing to do with healthcare (it was more sexy_nurse.avi), but she has this distance and aloofness which suggests maybe she can parlay cutesie into something more substantial.
9. Lauren-Brie (RoS: 11)
Was just arbitrarily posing for education, which shoulda been a no-brainer, and had a very quiet episode. But she has a definite now look, and they’ll teach her a few rudimentary facts of (modeling) life that’ll have her utilising that big ol’ forehead of hers and tan waifiness far better than she did this week.
10. Brittany (RoS: 7)
They obviously have raps on this gyal because only she of the Britney 3 got to keep her name, and she was given the military, which is easily the best assignment of the lot, except maybe bureaucracy (there’s a catch there though, which is coming). The judges loved her, and she has a pretty smile, but given the material there was precious little on show, and she seems fairly uncertain of herself, like she’ll crack under the pressure you know is coming. I’m not at all sold that her exotic looks will amount to anything much when the blowtorch comes on.
11. Nikeysha (RoS: 13)
She talked back to the judges, so got in big trouble for trying to defend herself, in a typical scapegoatin’ style. But the shot was fine. Great even, from the waist up. Sure there were some strange things going on with the mirror and the legs, but there were far worse errors committed, and I think the reason she ended up in the bottom two was more accurately that the judges need a whipping girl, like Ruby was in NZNTM. And Nikeysha, with her scrawny arms and exaggerated features, is every inch a model. Watch for her makeover to change the game, and her to persist a good while in this comp.
12. Hannah (RoS: 12)
Palin’s daughter got nukes, which shoulda been the cue for some dangerous poise and scarcely contained firepower. Instead we got a regular angular pose and no sense of anything. She claims to “not know how [she] feels about them,” which is fine, but this wasn’t a test ban treaty, it was a photo shoot, and her abdication of sentiment cost her dearly. She’s also overplaying bumpkin card entirely, and chumming up with raw sewage (see below), so the jury is still out on this particularly missile.
13. Clark (RoS: 10)
She’s just the worst kind of American, strong opinions (“if she walked around like that in a small town she’d be shot. And not because they’re smallminded, it’s just tradition.”) allied to soul-deadening witlessness. So she’s gonna be sicc-ed on Isis in the weeks ahead, and unless some of hese girls have spines as well as moony eyes it could get real ugly. The banal thing about Clark is she really doesn’t have the looks to try and get away with it.That long straight nose gives her a bit of a Richard Dean Anderson vibe, which ordinarily I’d love, but when she’s confusing bureaucracy for communism (SERIOUSLY! How stoked must the producers have been to hear that pearl drip from her tongue?) and looking horsily confused in her shoot it’s hard to think there’s much going on beyond reactionary homophobia. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for good TV’s sake) she’ll be here a while yet, but she took a shit photo when there was every chance to get tangled up in sexy red tape. So Clark’s our resident evil. Have fun with her while she lasts, because this troll ain’t winning.
Those words, scrawled in a childlike hand between the oaklike legs of Jean Ferré, are actually at the low end of his fighting weights. Ferré was discovered and re-named by Vincent J McMahon (father to the current WWE head), who dubbed him André the Giant, a title that would allow the world to understand and respect his scale.
He wrestled up to 340 times a year, swiftly becoming the biggest draw in the sport, prior to the Wrestlemania and all that it spawned, and eventually grew to more than 500 lbs. But it was never his weight or his height that was the issue, but the bewitching combination of the two. He suffered from acromegaly, a rare condition which causes the body to create too much growth hormone, but in his case it meant that rather than being lanky and disproportionate like most seven footers, he was instead a bear of a man, with wrists larger than most men’s ankles. In his teens he played rugby (imagine seeing the above packing down in a scrum!) in his native France, before a chance meeting flipped him to wrestling.
The rest is history: one of the breakout stars of the WWF at its peak, the holder of the WWF Championship and the first inductee into its Hall of Fame, along with an acting career, most notably as Fezzik in The Princess Bride and an untimely death in 1993. He became a genuine multi-media superstar in the ’80s, when his Herculean stature matched up to a decade which celebrated freakishness more ardently than any other.
In the 1976, though, professional show wrestling was still brushing off carnival dirt, and remained a passionately regionalised phenomenon, without much in the way of national stars to unify its fanbase. So any gimmick it could use to get on network TV was fair game. Which explains why when promoters put together a bill to settle, once-and-for-all, whether boxing or wrestling was the superior fighting discipline, the wrestlers practically bit the pugilist’s hands off to get in the ring.
It doesn’t even begin to explain why Muhammad Ali, at the height of his fame, and still a pretty reasonable sort of a a boxer, would face up to Japanese superstar Alberto Inoki, though given his legenedary ability to chew through money, there were probably a few million good reasons. That fight (which I’ll post below) was pretty bizarre, as Ali just danced around ‘canvas back’ Inoki until it ended in a tie. André the Giant’s though, was good old-fashioned wrestling pandemonium.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozRTSSaP6p4%5D
I love that he fought Chuck Wepner, the guy who inspired Rocky, who his own manager describes as “the kind of guy who would probably fighht a gorilla or a kangaroo, if the money was right.” And that the perilous sense of order was totally destroyed by Gorilla Monsoon’s intervention following Wepner’s ejection from the ring.
It’s just such a fantastically ridiculous concept, pairing a scripted, nominally no-holds-barred show sport with the strict, coded discipline of boxing. And the way the Giant does these fake headbutts, which Wepner doesn’t know how to respond to, and other wrestling moves that he sorta half plays along with. I guess the chief attarction of this whole thing is the sense of hucksterism. This seems like the last, triumphant gasp of snake oil salesman and the PT Barnum approach to showbusiness, when it still teetered on the brink of the total chaos. As great as Wrestlemania was, it succeeded precisely because it was as tightly scripted as this worldwide (Ali’s bout was in Tokyo) wrestling-vs-boxing event was shambolic.
The ongoing unsuccessful atempts to organise a league vs union match (with mixed rules or otherwise) suggest that modern sporting bodies have far too much control over their respective brands to ever allow such a spectacle to take place. Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing, and neither of these bouts are remotely worthwhile as sports. But the very fact they exist makes me oddly, inexplicably happy, with one superstar at the start of his run, another toward the end, meeting via satellite in this unlikely ringbound farce.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29qI1GyhDeg%5D