This commentary piece appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.
Headline: Canseco exposed in ring
By Ed Odeven
YOKOHAMA (May 31, 2009) — Several months after Mike Tyson nibbled on Evander Holyfield’s ear during an unforgettable heavyweight championship bout in the summer of 1997, I attended one of his training sessions in Phoenix.
I considered it a good excuse to leave ASU’s Tempe campus for a few hours. And it was an outing jam-packed with autograph seekers, pen-wielding journalists and plenty of cameras and microphones within an arm’s length of the fearsome fighter.
Nobody can deny the fact that a Tyson training session attracted more interest – and morbid curiosity – than a typical afternoon boxing workout in those days.
Fast forward to last Tuesday. And there I was at Yokohama Arena with one of my colleagues from The Japan Times, mixed martial arts fanatic Kaz Nagatsuka, for another event that, well, falls into the same category.
Former baseball slugger Jose Canseco, a well-known figure for his tell-all books about Major League Baseball’s rampant steroid use in the 1990s and 21st century, made his MMA debut on the Dream 9 Super Hulk program. Nobody would call it must-see TV – or a must-attend event for that matter. But with a night off from newspaper desk duties and some time to spare, I thought, OK, I’ll check it out.
Canseco, 44, had entered the ring as a boxer in the recent past, but never faced the task of throwing punches, landing kicks and negotiating his way around the square circle against an opponent like the 7-foot-2, 330-pound South Korean kickboxer named Hong Man Choi, his foe in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Two days earlier, Canseco showed up at a Nippon Professional Baseball game in Yokohama. He was on the field during the pre-game festivities and took nine swings against pitches thrown from ex-Japanese and big league pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki. After that, he was ready for some, ahem, real work.
He carried a baseball bat into the ring during his much-hyped entrance.
He was the one that got bashed.
Canseco’s “work day” lasted nearly as long as Mike Tyson’s title defense against Michael Spinks in 1988 – 91 seconds.
After 77 seconds, the fight was stopped, with Choi having a field day smacking the defenseless Canseco with a slew of punches before the referee declared the fight over.
It started out, however, with Canseco playing the part of the aggressor, a flashback to a baseball slugger eyeing a fastball on the first pitch of his at-bat and taking a home-run cut on the first pitch.
Unable to maintain this approach, with either his wobbly kicks or slow punches, the former ballplayer began roaming around the ropes. At one point he clutched his right knee. He hobbled a bit, looked dumbfounded a bit and confused, too. (Who wouldn’t under the same scenario?)
It was a long 77 seconds, the longest 77 seconds of Canseco’s life.
“I have no idea if I’ll do this again,” Canseco said in the post-fight news conference. “I’ve gotta get my knee better before I commit to anything like this.”
Canseco, however, didn’t lose the ability to unleash a few well-timed observations.
“That’s a big man,” the 1988 American League MVP said of the 28-year-old Choi, who is known in fight circles as the “Techno Goliath” or the “Korean Monster.”
“I ran into one of his left jabs and that almost knocked me out. You have no idea how scary it was facing a man that big.”
Canseco didn’t blame his advanced age for his lack of competitiveness. Instead, he pointed to chronic knee pain as a factor in his bad performance.
“I hurt my knee back home real bad but I didn’t want to disappoint the fans,” he said, citing the option of not fighting (he wanted a paycheck) or gutting it out and entering the ring against the big fellow. “I knew that at some point during the fight my knee was going to give out and once I was down I knew I wasn’t going to get up. He’s just too heavy to move.”
So Canseco returns to the United States after a prime-time work shift against a giant. Godzilla, sources say, wasn’t impressed with his performance, but nobody expected a breakthrough performance by the Cuban-born ex-ballplayer. Why would they?
He writes books, appears on TV talks show and gets busted for trying to bring fertility drugs across the border from Mexico into the United States. Not exactly the type of figure you’d call a devastating fighter.
He’s got too many distractions to be a one-man wrecking crew in the ring.
Actually, he needs a new hobby.