Friday, February 23, 2007

Baby Joe

Part of Western New York exhaled a bit on the night of Feb. 22.

Baby Joe Mesi didn't die during a boxing match.

That's a little blunt, but true. Mesi is Western New York's representative in the world of heavyweight boxing. His career has been a fascinating one, filled with some odd and unexpected turns.

Mesi came out of the amateur ranks as a good but not great prospect. He slowly worked his way through the heavyweight division, with the emphasis on slowly. Mesi won every bout, but he sure took his time about fighting anyone who might be a challenge to him. He also had an odd period of time when he was promoted by Sugar Ray Leonard, featuring a rather messy divorce.

Still, Mesi was a drawing card in his home region, pulling in five-figure crowds. Mesi also came across as being articulate, handsome and genuine. Yes, he's white, and as promoter Don King once said about someone else like that, "He's got the complexion to attract attention."

Then came disaster. Mesi was in control of a fight three years ago against Vassiliy Jirov when he was knocked down in the final rounds. Doctors discovered that Mesi had suffered two brain bleeds during that bout. The Nevada boxing commissioner decided not to issue Mesi a license, since brain bleeds should not be trifled with. There was some sadness there, since Mesi was on the verge of a major payday -- probably in Buffalo -- and a shot at one of the many heavyweight championships. It must have been tough to be so close to a dream and have it taken away.

But Mesi continued to fight, this time for his right to fight. The jarring part about that is that practically no one in the general public understands why someone would take up boxing unless they had to do so for economic reasons. There are easier ways of making a living that getting punched in the head. That's particularly true for Mesi, who seemed tailor-make for a career as a boxing commentator on television. The well of good feelings for Mesi contained wishes that he get out of the sport after being lucky at least once.

Mesi won a legal battle for the chance to fight again, and has taken on a few nobodies -- and that's being kind -- in under-regulated locations that will give him a license to fight. On Feb. 22, the location was Chester, West Virginia. That night's opponent was George Linberger, who hadn't fought in more than a year and hadn't missed a chocolate cake in more than a week. Timber! It took two minutes, and Mesi was done with his night's work.

Watching a Mesi fight these days is an odd experience. His current class of opponent offers no threat to his health, more or less, but we still hold our collective breathes at the opening bell. His fans still want him to do well, but they are afraid of what one punch, lucky or skillful, could do. They can't bear to watch, but they can't look away.

What's more, it's tough to know what the end game for Mesi is. He doesn't figure to get that big money bout that once was at the end of his rainbow, especially since he has so few options for fighting locations. The sanctioning bodies would get ripped for allowing Mesi to fight for a championship, considering his health history. And if you aren't going to win glory or riches in the ring, what's the point?

Even so, Baby Joe Mesi soldiers on. After all, fighters fight. Perhaps he'll win a few more bouts, then lose a couple against decent fighters and get out of the business with his faculties intact. That's not much of a best-case scenario, but it sure beats the alternatives.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Did you see it coming?

I'm a big fan of unusual career paths, and we seem to have an all-time winner in this department.

That's right, the story of Anna Nicole Smith.

Let's see if bulletpoints do some of her life's highlights any justice:

* Was an unknown stripper in the Southwest who vaulted into a small level of fame when she became a Playboy Playmate of the Year.

* Appeared in the third "Naked Gun" movie with, among others, O.J. Simpson. Not sure if that was his last film, but it was close.

* Married a man of incredible wealth who, by the way, was more than 50 years older than she was.

* When said wealthy 89-year-old guy died, took a case involving the estate all the way to the Supreme Court.

* Starred in a reality show that at least a few dozen people watched, and also did a few soft-core pornographic videos.

* Had a baby a few months ago, and no one seems to know who the father is. (Old school NBA fans can insert a Shawn Kemp joke here; more recent NFL fans can use Willis McGahee for target practice.) The birth came around the time her 20-year-old son died.

If you are playing "Six Degrees of Separation" at home, Anna is the connection from O.J. Simpson to William Rehnquist.

Add all of this up, and it's a lot of incidents in 39 years of living. This puts her ahead of someone like Paris Hilton, who is well-known for no apparent reason. Smith's weight has done an impression of an accordian over the years, and she may have had some other personal addictions. So when the end came for Smith, it seemed only appropriate that it came in a hotel under odd circumstances.

It would have been easy to guess that Smith's demise would be overcovered by certain parts of the media, and it would have been right. Nancy Grace responded with her usual tactful modest coverage (BREAKING DEVELOPMENTS!). My particular favorite came when MSNBC pulled Rita Cosby back from, well, somewhere -- Had she been sent to the minor leagues? Made part of a witness protection program? Given a show on the CW? -- to anchor segments on the story.

Granted, the news machine runs 24 hours a day, and it needs constant feeding. And, no one expects people to watch hours of coverage on all-news channels about the federal budget -- that's why we have C-SPAN (among other reasons). Still, Smith seemed to have a desperate need to be famous. She seems to have succeeded more now than she did when she was alive.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Baby it's cold outside

There are all sorts of reasons to not to like local television news broadcasts, and not just because you might work for the competition. Here's another:

Live shots.

Here's yet another example. My part of the world has been hit by a cold spell lately -- we're not exactly alone in that. One of the local stations wanted to do a report on the 11 p.m. news about the weather's effects on the community. That's fine.

The anchors threw it to the reporter, who introduced a taped package. Guess where she was? In one of the hard-hit areas, so that she could tell us first-hand what conditions are like? No, she was in front of the studio. She might have been literally 50 feet from where the anchors are. So the reporter was told to go out the front door and do an introduction in the cold.

Does this make any sense? Wouldn't it be easy to have the reporter sit next to the anchors and introduce the report? Is anyone supposed to be impressed that the station can beam a signal all the way from the front door to the control room, without anyone tripping on a cord?

Next time, oh news director, keep the talent warm. Otherwise, hope her medical insurance payments are up to date so she can be treated for frostbite.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Buffalo-only Top Ten

My wife was staging a party on Groundhog Day at work, and needed a cute way to invite the staff. She enlisted me to come up with a Top 10 list for it, so I got to work. You won't get some of the jokes if you aren't from Western New York, but I felt like preserving them for my local reader(s).

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Groundhog Day in Buffalo
1. Holiday is first sign that this cruel winter is finally ending.
2. We guarantee that no tree debris will be left on party site.
3. It's easier than driving to Punxsutawney.
4. Only five more months to the start of Bills' training camp.
5. Much less egg nog served now as compared to Christmas parties.
6. Construction in front of airport is a year closer to completion.
7. "Woodchuck Day" hasn't made the calendar yet.
8. Not like we can spend the afternoon shopping at Bass Pro.
9. Groundhogs eat insects and leaves, leaving good stuff for us.
10. Hard to find an open spot for a United Nations Day party.

Between this and National Gorilla Suit Day, it's been quite a week.