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by Eric Landers

"What a difference a generation makes. Back in the '70s, has-been
actors had Love Boat and Fantasy Island, now they have to get their
butts kicked on Celebrity Boxing."

--Anonymous chat room TV critic

For all their gnashing of teeth and pronouncements of cultural Armageddon, few—judging by the flood of news stories—of the cultural cognoscenti missed Fox’s celebrity boxing show. That's right!—who among us wasn’t planted smack dab in front of the TV just itching to see Vanilla Ice really get iced? And what red-blooded American boy wasn’t ogling the wonder of Tonya Harding's red, white and blue shorts as she clobbered the cornmeal out of Paula Jones? As to Barry Williams—Barry who? Who was that dude anyway?

Ordinarily, “celebrities” as eminent as these would be revisited on the E! Entertainment, Love Boat, or that bottom square on Hollywood Squares. The premise was simple enough: put two— very annoying—has-beens in boxing gloves and let them pound the snot out each other. Tacky or not, the show banged-out a rousing 7.1 rating and 17 share in the most coveted market of all—money-burning 19-49 year olds.

Phineas T. Barnum would have loved it—speaking of Barnum, I for one, don't understand why the cultural cognoscenti were so disbelieving Fox could stoop so

low—“ Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" and "Temptation Island" weren't exactly Masterpiece Theater—and why should March Madness be reserved for tall guys running around in shorts, answer me that.

Barnum showed we all have an unquenchable thirst for mutant-watching. Our grandparents couldn't get enough of his three-legged men and eight-foot women—and what is "championship” wrestling but the longest-running freak show of them all? So, the fact that 15.5 million viewers tuned-in to see Paula Jones get chased around the ring by a disgraced former ice queen should have come as no surprise.  And the show was so successful Fox executives are already talking franchise and an even bigger lineup of losers for the May ratings sweeps. Said Fox Network spokesman Scott Grogin the day after—“We're really happy with the success of Celebrity Boxing.  In a year when Fox has had so many critically acclaimed shows, it's nice to know the audience showed up." And this man has a right to be breaking out the Champagne. Only his network’s coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series snared a bigger audience.

But back to the rumble: The combatants were paid $35,000 each for their labors. Bonaduce, Tonya, and Bridges earned an additional $10,000 for letting an online Casino tattoo an ad on their backs. Fox is threatening a law suit over that stunt. The California Athletic Commission called the whole thing an "exhibition" which meant nobody had to fly to D.C. for a license. And to their credit, Dick Clark Productions gave the combatants ten days to train for the donnybrook. On the first card of the evening Danny "Partridge" Bonaduce was matched with Barry "Brady" Williams.  Bondaduce had been down this road before. He and Donny Osmond had hooked it up after exchanging insults in a Chicago health club in ‘94.  The sweet science took a beating that day. Bonaduce resorted to so much rabbit-punching, elbowing, hitting on the break, thumbs in eye, Mike Tyson would have shook his head in disgust had he been there. Still, the judges gave him the nod on points. Osmond did not take the loss well: "Let's go another round—bare-knuckle!" he screamed, to which the Duce contemptuously retorted, "Ah, go fight your sister!"

But that was in '94. Brady Bunch Williams was not going to let that happen to him, or so he promised in his pre-fight interview. Williams took his training seriously enough—2 ½  miles of road work in the morning, 2 ½ miles in the evening, hitting the bags and pads, shadow boxing, sparring—“I'm gonna let Danny bring the fight to me," he let it be known from his secret training camp somewhere near LA. "I've got the height, I’ve got the weight, and I’ve definitely got the distance on the arms.” William’s trainers hailed from Oscar De La Hoya's camp and the rumor went they were teaching him a lot of the deadly techniques De La Hoya used in his championship fights. By the end of his training Williams was so confidant he was cracking the kind of jokes Muhammad Ali used to crack in the 60s:

Williams:     The only person I'm concerned about is Tonya Harding.

Interviewer: Why's that, Champ?

Williams:     If she brings her skates, she might hide the blades in her gloves.

Interviewer: Any message you want to send to Bonaduce before the fight, Slugger?

Williams:    No, but I'd like to mention, I'll be touring with the Monkeys, Memorial Day                through Labor Day.

                                 Tale of the Tapes:

Danny Bonaduce (“Danny Partridge”)                 Barry Williams ("Greg Brady")

Nickname: "Boom Boom"                                    Nickname: "The Butcher"

    Age:   42                                                                 Age: 47

Height:  5’6                                                            Height: 5' 10

Weight: 168                                                          Weight: 182

Reach:   35”                                                            Reach: 39"

But even with De La Hoya's people behind him it soon became painfully clear ten days of training was hardly enough for the Brady boy. Once his shimmering boxing robe came off the one-time teen heart-throb looked exactly what he's become-- a flabby middle age guy who clearly hasn’t been eating his vegetables regularly. Meanwhile, Bonaduce bounced into the ring with an energy and lust for battle that belied his more than 12 years of rehab (see sidebar). Ring announcer Michael Buffer (whose pompadour is now completely gray) stepped to the mike to do the one thing in life he can do like no other —"LET'S RUMBUUUUUUL!—and it was on.  Sure, Williams came to fight, the only problem was, he didn't know how—in less than 10 seconds Bonaduce had him bouncing off the floor like a rubber ball. The audience was bouncing off the floor like a rubber ball too—from laughter. Bonaduce simply had no respect for him. He was walking through Williams’s enfeebled defense, dropping him to the canvass at will. He sent the poor man to the canvass more than half-a-dozen times. To his credit, Williams kept getting up, kept doing his damndest to make a respectable showing; and you could look in his face and see he was hurting—but not from the thrashing he was getting, from the pain of humiliation: he wanted to do better, he was begging for every fiber in his bloated 47 year old frame to do better, but he just couldn’t, it just wasn’t there anymore; he had become an old man right before our eyes. After the fight his excuse was just as pathetic: "I wasn’t hurt, I was dazed.”  

"I was dazed all through the 80s," fired back a triumph Bonaduce.

The Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) and Todd Bridges (Different Strokes) debacle was a surprise too. In a vote conducted on Fox website a week earlier, most voters had given the Ice Man the edge:

Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice)                     (3460 votes): 60%

Todd Bridges (Willis on “Diff’rent Strokes”)  (2225 votes): 39%

Number of votes: 5685

But this poll was decidedly wrong as was Vanilla Ice's promise to "knock-out" Bridges. Vanilla had done his training under the tutelage of UFC fringe contender David 'Tank' Abbott, a man, who judging from his UFC bouts, knows as much about boxing as  Pee Wee Herman does. This was borne out from the beating his man got. Bridge pummeled the Ice Man from pillar to post. And although His Ice-ness was game (his was the only bout to go the full three rounds), no amount of dropping over, pin wheeling, and drunk stumbling saved him from Bridge's roundhouse rights, straight jabs, and clobbering rights. The Ice Man was totally humiliated, his bad boy rapper image shot all to hell. Asked after the fight where he picked up such daunting pugilistic skills, said Bridges, "Muhammad Ali came to the 'Different Strokes' set once." No comment as yet from the Ice camp; none really expected. What could anyone possibly have to say to the world after a butt-kicking like that?

                                            Tale of the Tapes: 

Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice)           Todd Bridges (Willis on "Different Strokes)

Nickname: "Bi-Polar"                            Nickname: "Mad Dog"

Age: 32                                                   Age: 36

Height: 6’0                                             Height: 5'11

Weight: 183                                           Weight: 180

Reach: 38”                                             Reach: 37"

On to the main event—or the "Trailer Trash Thrilla" as one ringside wag called it. By now the crowd was lathered-up real good. No one's telling where Dick Clark got this audience from (one of these happy fools had a sign that spelled "Tonya" “Tayna") but that they were as happy and ruckus as a rent-a-crowd is paid to be was of little doubt. Web bookmakers from their corporate headquarters in Antigua had called Harding the 1-5 favorite (meaning you'd win $1 for every $5 bet). The respective weights of the two ladies may never be known inasmuch each exercised the female prerogative to shield these delicate numbers from the public (so why did they have them weigh-in in the first place?). Here are the stats they did allow:

                                               Tale of the Tapes:

 Tonya Harding                                Paula Jones

Nickname: "TNT"                           Nickname: "The Pounder"

Age: 31                                           Age: 35

Height: 5’1¾                                   Height: 5’2½

Reach: 32”                                      Reach: 33"

 Ring commentator "Boom Boom" Mancini immediately let it be known he thought Paula Jones—a woman with absolutely no athletic credentials—stood a chance against the treacherous ice queen because, "She [Paula] once went toe to toe with the most powerful man in the world." Yeah, well, at least Tonya knew how to get into a boxing ring. When Paula's trainers split the ropes for her, she paused as if she had no idea what she was supposed to do next. After this was cleared up, the two pugilists advanced to the center of the squared circle—Tonya, with the deadly intensity of a back alley rough and tumble artist; Paula, giggly and silly, as if she’d just inhaled a bellyful of helium. Also, because of Paula’s recent rhinoplasty the ladies were wearing full-face protective gear. Tonya’s augmentation surgery needed no support at all, though. To her credit, Paula was reasonably completive at first, but then, oddly enough, she began employing a tactic none of the old pros could make any sense of—each time Tonya popped her she'd turn and hide behind the referee. "That's not good," said Mancini shaking his head in bafflement, “not good at all." Meanwhile, Tonya was growing stronger and meaner by the second. It seemed the saucy little kneecapper had found her true element; her ferocity was growing in direct proportion to Paula’s increasing disorientation. The second round was all Tonya’s, and later on several boxing pundits were heard to observe they thought she displayed skills superior to 90% of the professional female boxers in the lists today. By the end of the second round the bout had turned into a complete rout. Paula had been to the canvass twice and looked terrified.  Tonya's corner man pressed for the kill: “Throw straight punches and you'll knock the b---h out!" Paula quit at the beginning of the third, but such was Tonya’s ferocity she popped her an extra one to her head for good measure. The crowd booed at this.


"She did well," Harding said after pulling off her gloves and checking to make sure her candy apple red fingernails weren’t damaged. "I gave it my best shot," said Jones, reaching for her face to make sure her new proboscis wasn’t damaged. As to future bouts, a Bonaduce-Buttafuoco showdown seems imminent. After the first fight, Buttafuoco made a snide remark concerning Bonaduce's pugilistic skills causing the red man to shriek back at the Long Island adulterer, “You're not so tough when your girlfriend isn't shooting anyone, you b---h!"

So where’s Don King when we need him?

Eric Landers

Sidebar 1:

Danny Bonaduce (Danny on The Partridge Family ): Arrested in September 1985, after Los Angeles police find 50 grams of coke in his sports car; arrested in March 1990 at a Daytona Beach crack house, after police find coke on his person in the form of wadded-up $20 bills. "Why does anybody get into drugs?" he later said. "I had a lot of time on my hands. I started recreationally, and next thing I knew, it was the focus of my life."