This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
There was a big heavyweight fight last weekend. Big in one more regard than it was a qualification bout toward the World Boxing Council title. I'm looking at a picture of the weekend's two fighters right now. Samuel Peter, the Nigerian Nightmare, beat James Toney. And these photos are BIG, as in big rolls of blubber folding around the tops of their trunks. I'm not being rude here. This is not thin bigotry. I never begrudge a football lineman or shot putter those 30 extra pounds of girth. Those athletes have the perfect builds for the skills required of them. But a boxer, even a heavyweight boxer, has to be light on his feet, agile, razor-quick. Picture all the greats through history. Joe Louis, Floyd Patterson, Ali, Frazier, Foreman--and we're not talking Foreman the past-his-prime grill pitchman now. The hey-day Foreman was chiseled like a Greek statue.
Both Samuel Peter and James Toney looked more like teletubbies than boxing champions for this fight. And the truly appalling thing is that boxing journalists mentioned during the bout that both were fitter than when they last flat-footed around the ring together in September. Peter boasted that he had the discipline to skip Christmas dinner, which helped him weigh in Saturday night eight pounds under his last fight. That means he now tips the scales at a hefty 249 pounds, and he's only 26 years old. Come on, you Nigerian Nightmare. Surely you can muster up a bit more respect for both yourself and your sport and somehow carve out at least a semblance of a waistline. Or maybe you're planning on converting to sumo wrestling down the road. Boxing reporters, perhaps tongue in cheek, noted that Toney too looked more fit and toned than his last outing. Yet he climbed into the ring at a blubbery 234 pounds. I defy any athlete to go 12 hard rounds and demonstrate the skills of what has been called The Sweet Science, with a middle as rotund as Toney's.
These guys are symptomatic of boxing's sharp decline in popularity over the last 30 years. We've lost interest because of the Don King-orchestrated multiple-title belt fiasco. We've lost respect because these heavyweights want the money, want the show, yet fall pitifully short of the athletic ideal of all sports, to fulfill one's ultimate potential. Even 60-plus year-old Sylvester Stallone knew that fight fans and movie buffs deserved his whipping his body into rock-hard champion form for his sixth installment of Rocky. Actually, besides Sly's getting in fighting shape for the film, Rocky #6, Rocky Balboa, is perfectly dreadful. The only clever, uplifting scene runs over the closing credits where dozens of Philadelphia visitors mimic that original Rocky jog up those museum steps, each doing his own triumphant dance at the top. There are little kids, hip-hop teenagers in ski caps, middle aged women, old guys. It's a delightful nod to the Rocky spirit, the poor kid from Philly who chased and captured an impossible dream.
There's a kid in Philly right now who's lived a parallel Rocky dream. Actually, he's not a kid, and he's not from Philly. But he is the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Garcia, the oldest guy on the team at 37. An undersized quarterback for his era at 6'1", 200 pounds, Garcia was long the runt of the football litter. He played for a mediocre San Jose State team, couldn't beg his way into the 1994 NFL draft, was banished to play in the forgotten football land of Canada and, despite finally making it to the 49ers and impressing there, bounced through another anonymous, down time with the Browns and the Lions. But Garcia has the tough-guy, anti-pretty boy, Rocky mentality. He doesn't talk much, serves his teams as they need him and this season wound up saving the Eagles in fairytale fashion. If Garcia leads his Eagles past the Saints this weekend, maybe he'll get off the charter plane once back in Philly and dash, a la Rocky, up those museum steps.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.