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Friday, February 21, 2003
I'm a celebrity, get me in the ring!

By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2

So what's the big deal about a little flu bug, anyway? Mike Tyson could get up from his death bed and knock out this Clifford Etienne character.

Etienne. Sounds like a cash machine outside a bank. But I digress.

Paula Jones and Tonya Harding
This isn't a fight against one of Bubba's girls. This is serious boxing.
Unless Tyson starts bleeding ink or goes Holyfield again, Saturday's main event doesn't figure to amount to anything to anyone. Except, of course, Tyson's ex-wife, who just bought a small island with her cut of his action. The way I figure it, Iron Mike will be stomping on Etienne's privates by the fourth round, if not sooner.

No, the real intrigue in Memphis will be on the undercard, where Tonya Harding's probation officer was nice enough to let her leave the state of Washington to chase her lifelong dream of kicking around tomato cans. Well, maybe not lifelong. But after the topless ice capades thing didn't get off the ground, anyway.

Harding, the Great White Trash Hope, versus Samantha "Daughter of Sam" Browning. OK, so I borrowed one nickname and made up the other one. You get the picture. In the immortal words of my man Flounder, "This is gonna be great!" I mean, we're talking epic. We're talking the Super Bowl of catfights. And I haven't even mentioned the 600-pound bearded card girl yet.

Have no doubt, this is no cheap publicity stunt, no made-for-TV Celebrity Boxing gig against one of Bubba's girls. This time, Tonya is as serious as a felony rap. She says she wants to be the bantamweight champion of the world. In fact, I hear she already has two more fights scheduled after this one. Not that we already know who's going to win or anything.

You talk about about dedication. If only Tyson were as dedicated to his craft as Tonya. While he has been out lounging around the tattoo parlor -- who did his face anyway, Ray Charles? -- she has been working her everloving Everlasts off. Those saddle bags around her hips the last time we saw her? They're ancient history thanks to a rigorous training regimen that started every morning with 20 laps around the trailer park.

According to reports, Tonya is packing 120 pounds on her 5-foot-1 frame, about 15 more than her figure skating days. It's all muscle, she says, and I believe her. I mean, if you think about it, a girl could break some kind of sweat hitting the heavy bag and throwing around hubcaps. But that's not the half of it. I couldn't confirm it, but I also heard she switched to Marlboro Lights and Michelob Ultra.

Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding dreams of becoming a champion again. Seriously.
You would think a major celebrity such as Tonya would be out on the town now and then, but she has kept a low profile since arriving in Memphis. Other than the time she was spotted on Beale Street wearing a "Somebody Went to Graceland and All I Got Was This Crummy T-Shirt" shirt, she has been in the gym sequestered in sweat. If she sees one more pay-per-view movie in her hotel room, she's going to lose money on the fight.

She could use a little work on her technique, of course, but you can see she has the makings of a great boxer. Thanks to her figure-skating background, she already floats like a butterfly and stings like an ex-wife. All she needs to reach the pantheon of the sweet science is a year or two of experience and a paternity suit. Oh, and that Louisville Slugger she keeps in her corner figures to come in handy some day, too.

What about that ridiculous exhibition against Paula Jones? Come on now, would you want to hit someone who had just had her nose sandblasted by a plastic surgeon? I mean, even Tonya has a heart. Take the Nancy Kerrigan incident. Talk about the media blowing things out of proportion. All she did was tell the boys to rough her up a little.

At 32, Tonya's future is, like Yogi used to say, all ahead of her. She's even trying to spruce up her image. She wants to put the jail cell, the DUI, the Penthouse pictures, the pickup in the ditch and the Nancy thing behind her. She says she wants to be a lady. And what better place to start than in a boxing ring?

What about her opponent, you ask? Truth is, we don't know much about Browning, except that she's 21, hasn't been in handcuffs for at least a week, and claims to be the unofficial Mississippi state truckstop champion. Who knows? Maybe she'll make Tonya break a sweat. She does, after all, have a trainer with the perfect boxing-trainer's name, Tommy Locastro. And she does like to hear herself talk, a prerequisite if ever there was one for a successful boxer.

In fact, Browning has been the clear-cut winner in the pre-fight smack-off. Tonya says she has turned over a new leaf, that she's going to think before she opens her mouth. Not Browning. Said the challenger, when asked about her chances against Harding, "She couldn't whup me with a hubcap in her hand."

Trouble is, this is boxing, where even bad publicity is good publicity. Not only boxing, but women's boxing, which can use every recognizable name it can get. That's why, one way or another, Harding wins this one and drives off in her pickup, presumably with empty beer cans on the floor, to the next undercard.

And what's to become of Browning?

"Thank you for choosing Burger King. Now make your order before I rip off your nostrils."

Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to Page 2.