FURRINERS IN JAPAN
Green fur: good. Brown fur: bad. That was one of many lessons learned from last week’s MLB tour of Japan. To give locals the full American experience, the powers that be brought along the Phillie Phanatic, whose ungainly boogie to the strains of “Kung Fu Fighting” (a Chinese art, mind you) earned rapturous applause. Anaheim’s rally monkey, by contrast, met with politely baffled silence. (Both the Green Monster and the San Diego Chicken, as seen on TV, are big in Japan—how phrightening.) Also big on this trip were Barry Bonds and, more mysteriously, Bernie Williams, the only Americans to receive audible cheers when they batted. “The whole thing is pretty spiritual, especially the sake,” enthused Williams. Biggest of all, however, was 600-pound sumo wrestler Konishiki, a/k/a reliever Mike Fetters‘s cousin, who stopped by for a photo op with a deferential Bonds. (Hey, if beat writers weighed 600 pounds Bonds would be nice to them, too.)
On the field, the U.S. players looked rusty against the Japanese All-Stars, whose ace, Koji Uehara, struck out Bonds thrice in one evening. (His Surliness was pitched to throughout the seven-game series, which America won 4-3.) But the talk of the town—for English talkers, anyway—was shortstop Kazuo “Little” Matsui, just a year away from free agency, whose bat and speed have been likened to Alfonso Soriano‘s. (His snazzy plate music? The theme from Bruce Lee‘s Enter the Dragon.) Hideki Matsui (no relation) went 4-for-27 with no home runs, hardly an auspicious omen for the slugger dubbed “Godzilla,” for whom the Yankees are cutting payroll (and employee dental plans—shame on George) so they can sign him this winter. Still, the band of the rising sun ran away with the first three games, prompting a reporter to ask MLB team skipper Art Howe, “Do you feel like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down?” For a man about to face managing the Mets, the cliff must surely be preferable. —J.Y. Yeh
When crazy shit happens in boxing, the response from those inside the sport is usually “Well, that’s boxing.” It’s a rationalization, but somehow it makes sense. Some things in the sport defy explanation and probably aren’t worth the scrutiny anyway. Nonetheless, when media darling and knockout artist Tokunbo Olajide got knocked out last month by a lightly regarded fighter in the first round of an NYC fight show of which Olajide was the headliner, the usual response just wasn’t enough, because Tokunbo Olajide had seemed almost too good to be true.
A handsome and intelligent 25-year-old with devastating power in both hands, the junior welterweight Olajide (17-1, 15 K.O.’s) is also an aspiring musician who plays trumpet and has performed at the Brooklyn Conservatory and at Hunter College. He was shattering the “dese-dems-dose” stereotype. “People try to pigeonhole fighters,” he said before that fateful bout. “You get things from people like ‘You’re very intelligent for a boxer.’ To me, that doesn’t sound like a compliment; it sounds like to me that I’m the smartest of a dumb bunch. That’s like saying, ‘You’re intelligent for a black man.’ If I can continue tearing that down a little, then that’s a good thing.”
He was going to be a hell of an ambassador for the sport. Unfortunately, that didn’t help him on October 13, when he fought Epifanio “Diamante” Mendoza, an unheard-of Colombian with a record of 15-0 (15 K.O.’s) and a late replacement for Nicolas Cervera, who fell out because of visa problems. Sampson Lewkowicz, Mendoza’s promoter, made sure his fighter was kept out of sight beforehand by sequestering him in a Bronx gym. With 30 seconds remaining in just the first round, the Colombian pitched a left that caught the top of Olajide’s head and followed it with a right to the temple. Olajide smiled to his trainers as he plummeted towards the canvas, injuring his ankle in the fall. Just like that, it was all over.
Thirty minutes later, Olajide reappeared on a stretcher, with a sheepish grin on his face. “These are things that happen in this strange sport of ours,” he told reporters. “Sometimes you end up on the wrong part of it.” The future champion, the guy to root for, he had just gotten knocked out in the first round of his own show. Now that’s boxing. —Mitch Abramson
SPREADING THE FIELD
As we’ve noted before, every NFL game is actually two games: the one played on the field, and the one played in Las Vegas. Below, the league standings as viewed in the gambler’s alternative universe, where each team’s win-loss record is calculated against the spread, based on the America’s Line figures for the Friday preceding each weekend. (November 18’s post-press-time Monday-night game is not included.) Bonus tip: So far this season, the underdog has won 57.5 percent of the games.