THE IDEA OF a career in prize-fighting came to me soon after a boxer named James "Buster" Douglas made $24 million for around eight minutes work.
Buster Douglas became my hero the evening he climbed into the ring against Evander Holyfield. I watched with a mixture of envy and fascination as a blubbery Buster -- apparently fresh from a training regimen devised by Dunkin' Donuts -- plodded listlessly for two rounds and then toppled to the canvas with all the subtlety of a piano dropping 30 stories.
All I kept thinking was: 24 million bucks. For eight minutes work. Heck, I could last longer than that against one of these bums.
Now I'm prepared to prove it. Besides, I'm 38, slow and about 10 pounds overweight, which makes me a perfect contender for the heavyweight title.
(By the way, if I were to characterize my ring strategy, it would be this: Don't get hurt. Stay away from the other guy -- the eighth or ninth row of the audience sounds about right. And try not to cry if you actually get hit.)
So if they gave me $24 million to face someone like, say, Mike Tyson, here's how the fight would probably go:
ROUND 1: Tyson comes out smoking. I come out running. Understand, I don't mean back-pedaling or dancing from side to side. I mean running. Tyson is wearing the traditional boxing shoes. I've got on a pair of Nike Air Pegasus. Tyson stands and scowls at me before the opening bell. I'm crouched and banging down the starters blocks in my corner.
Ding! The bell sounds. I begin taunting Tyson in a sing-song voice: "You can't catch me, you can't catch me . . ."
ROUND 2: Still running, running, running. Tyson is obviously frustrated. Winded, too -- I'm on a 6-minute-mile pace. He yells: "YOU DON'T WANT TO FIGHT!" You got that right, pal. Last fight I had was with my wife; at least until I stormed out of the house. If I won't mix it up with her (she's 5-4, 120), I sure as hell won't mix it up with you.
ROUND 3: Mother of God, Tyson almost landed an uppercut! Punch woulda torn the head off a water buffalo! I yell: "Hey, man, what's wrong with you? You almost hit me!"
He mutters an obscenity through his mouthpiece. A mouthpiece! Damn, knew I forgot something.
ROUND 4: Got a new strategy now: Wrap both arms around the ring post and hang on for dear life. Tyson grabs my legs, tries to drag me into the ring. The referee is yelling: "YOU GOTTA FIGHT!"
The hell I do. I got my money. A dead man can't spend $24 million. Ask Buster Douglas. He's no fool. Man got out of the ring while he still had a pulse rate.
ROUND 5: Talk about bad luck. The referee made them surgically remove my arms from around the ring post between rounds. Back to running now. Crowd is booing, throwing empty beer cups in the ring. They're tired of this track meet. Tough. They can get their own $24 mil.
ROUND 6: Gonna work on Tyson's mind now. Ali used to work on the mind. I yell: "Yo, Mike, what was the deal with Robin Givens? What a sweetheart! Who you gonna marry next, Leona Helmsley? The wicked stepmother in Cinderella?"
Tyson's in a rage now. He's snarling. Flecks of spittle cake his lips. Heh, heh.
ROUND 7: Uh-oh. Tactical error on my part. Tried the old "Yo, Mike, your shoe's untied" line and he didn't fall for it. Backup strategy: Run away.
ROUND 8: Got a new tactic: Hide behind the referee. At the same time, I yell: "HE'S SCARED OF YOU, MIKE! HE DON'T WANT TO FIGHT!" Tyson seems confused, doesn't know which of us to punch.
ROUND 9: Trapped against the ropes, I strap a rocket marked "ACME Co." on my back and power out of harm's way. Got the idea from an old Roadrunner cartoon.
Tyson seems surprised by this sudden burst of energy. He resumes chasing me, although with little success as I hit speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour.
ROUND 10: Tyson tiring visibly. I might not even need the ACME individual jet-powered shoe rockets.
ROUND 11: Tyson can barely stand now. He's gasping for breath. This guy'll drop like a sequoia any minute now.
ROUND 12: It's all over! Tyson crumples to the canvas in exhaustion. The referee tries to raise my arm in triumph, but it's no use -- both arms are locked around the ring post again.
At the post-fight news conference (delayed while another team of surgeons separates me from the ring post) I make this announcement: If the price is right, we'll fight Holyfield in six months.
Well, maybe not actually fight.