Cardella: Shadow Boxing

Chris Rock was sucker-punched. Sucker-slapped, actually, no term in boxing’s lexicon for a blind-sided open-handed hit. But let’s be honest here, OK? After we’ve exhausted the faux outrage, that incident is the only thing we’ll remember about this Oscars award show. Boxing hadn’t seen anyone blindsided so badly as Rock since Jack Sharkey turned to complain to the ref only to get knocked out by Jack Dempsey. Dempsey did not use “The Slap.” Sharkey reportedly coined the phrase, “We Wuz Robbed,” after that bout. True in spirit if flawed grammatically.

Here’s how I think the entire fiasco will end. Smith and Rock will be coaxed into a three-round rematch. In Atlantic City. The only city that is shameless enough to hold the bout (Even the powers to be in Vegas will reject the offer). All proceeds to go to Ukraine. Get Michael Buffer to do the PA work if you must. By the way, who was working security on Oscar night, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s family? In the end, Will gets big bucks to make a biopic about Sugar Ray Robinson. And Chris gets new material for some high-priced gigs where he doesn’t have to resort to insult or raunch.

I got to thinking about myself. Something my wife Fran believes is my favorite pastime. Not that I was an especially toxic male, but I did have a few fights in my lifetime. None of which I can ever remember winning. Let me ruminate over my little-known pugilistic endeavors. I exchanged fisticuffs with a kid in an elementary schoolyard. I believe he was for Harry Truman and I was a Thomas Dewey man. My opponent was a trumpet player of sorts. He had the uncanny ability to disturb every cat in the neighborhood while practicing endless riffs on “I’ve Heard That Song Before.” The fight was stopped with me behind on points.

I was assaulted by a group of guys during a violent session of “Pink Belly.” Never got to throw a retaliatory punch. I don’t remember the circumstances around the assault. The object of the attack was wrestle your prey onto the ground while the other kids pulled up his shirt and slapped his bare belly. Hence the term “Pink Belly.” I’ve always felt the roots of the game were homo-erotic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The closest I came to actually winning was when I was blocking a guy during a game of two-hand touch football, blocking out. Joe — that was my opponent’s name — was positioned on the line opposite me. After several hours of pounding on one another, we came out of one play exchanging blows. Neither of us being particularly skilled, we waited for the other guys to break up the fight. I may have shouted, “Hold me back,” several times. When no one intervened, we simply stopped fighting. And that, as they say, was that.

I don’t remember any of my friends being adept at street fighting. But I think my biggest surprise was when my father admitted that he had one professional fight and got knocked out. Till that confession, I’d considered my father indestructible. But not so. Dad told me he abandoned any thought of a professional boxing career after that loss. I felt kind of embarrassed for him as he told me about that fateful match. He tried to smile while telling me the story. Apparently, the fight had lasted only seconds when he got hit by what he called a “haymaker.” Thereafter, he confined his boxing exploits to shadowboxing me in the living room. And when he saw how unwilling I was to mix it up, he stopped even the shadowboxing. The thing that got me about his inglorious boxing career was that Dad had a tattoo of a boxer on his right arm. Why the hell would you get a boxer tattooed on your arm if you got knocked out in your only match? Wouldn’t that just remind you that you weren’t good enough? Maybe that was the point of it? I never asked.

There was something scary about the Oscars slap beside the blow Smith struck. Why was it so easy for Smith to walk onto the stage and approach Rock? Where were the security guards? It was as if everyone thought the whole thing was part of the act. We realize now, in the aftermath of the incident, how vulnerable a performer is on stage. And then, no doubt because of his celebrity status, Smith was allowed to return to his seat after he was first asked to leave. That can’t be allowed to happen again. Not at the Oscars or if it should happen at the Helium Club in Philadelphia. I think that’s why Smith must suffer something short of taking away his award. Even if he is only barred from attending the Oscars for one year.

Here’s a tip for the Academy, if you’re going to invite comedians such as Chris Rock or Ricky Gervais to host your show, then warn the easily offended to stay home or toughen up. It’s supposed to be an awards ceremony, not an industry roast. Why bite the hand that feeds it? Perhaps in that regard, Will Smith did us all a favor.