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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
There is the sound of a computer, a slight surge in the crowd sounds and Murry shouts about how "14,000 seats are jammed full" in Boston Garden for this "dream fight." Then he introduces his colleague—"And here's a guy who can really tell you...Guy LeBow!" Hunched over his script and with the computer readouts handy at his elbow, LeBow launches into rat-tat-tat lingo, the ripe and raucous prose of fight announcers from radio immemorial: "Tonight—probably two of the most legendary men to ever don a pair of gloves! If courage is a part of greatness in the ring, they've got that! If it's ability to punch, they've got that! If it's speed...." The pace of the hokum picks up. There are interviews with Nat Fleischer, Jack Kearns Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio. All pick Greb to win. Zale picks himself, saying: "Well, I tell you, I've always felt this way: anybody who I've fought I figured I could win. No matter who it was. I never had a doubt I couldn't handle'em...." There are four breaks for commercials before the fight begins. (Woroner guarantees 12 breaks no matter how long the fight and makes up for short-bout problems by expanding pre-or post-fight palaver.)
There are many stop-and-start delays as Woroner and LeBow muff words or paper rattles near the mike. At last there is the buzzer and the bell for the first round. As Harry Greb, dead now for 42 years, rises from his stool, an excited Guy LeBow cries out, "This is my first look at Harry Greb...." The fighters begin to mix it up at an intense pace. Greb hits Zale ferociously from the start, cutting his mouth before the first round is half over, but LeBow flubs a word or two and says, "Sorry about that. From the top." Four or five times the first round is repeated, and at the end of it Zale is bleeding badly—with all the retakes he has probably been hit 85 times by now. Guy LeBow is streaming sweat and he is a bit pale; his lips are glistening from the moisture built up during his rapid-fire delivery. Only Harry Greb is fresh and lively.
LeBow looks up from his script and explains, "I'm still trying to get the rhythm, the tempo of these fellows. It takes a while to pick up the feel of their patterns." And Frank Linale says knowingly, "He's like a great trumpet player. It takes a little while to get his lip warmed up."
In the second round Zale's mouth is bleeding freely, and LeBow tells his audience that Tony must be careful now because swallowing blood can "make for a sick stomach situation." They have to do that round over three times or so because saying "sick stomach situation" very rapidly without blowing the pronunciation is enormously hard to do. But LeBow is in the swing of the fight now; he has the tempo, and where it has taken well over two hours to cut the prefight show and the first two rounds, the rest will smooth out and go more quickly. But it does take its toll on LeBow, who does not eat anything for several hours before a taping session. "These middleweights throw so many more punches than the heavyweights," he sighs. "They're so much quicker. I nearly passed out after just two rounds of one fight." But he is all right now. And though the outcome of the Greb-Zale fight must remain a secret until it is broadcast on November 18, suffice it to say that Zale was in trouble early, although Guy LeBow was getting stronger with every word.
It is LeBow's high-tension re-creation, plus the immense air of realism added by sound effects, that make Murry Woroner's artificial fights good entertainment. As far as being anything particularly significant as a final alltime settlement of a million alltime barroom debates over who was the alltime greatest, Murry himself admits: "We'd be nuts if we said this was the be-all and end-all of everyone's arguments. All we've really done is start more arguments." True enough. (One such argument happens to be with Muhammad Ali, who recently filed a $1 million suit against Woroner Productions on grounds that he had been defamed because the NCR 315 made him a loser to Jim Jeffries.) Indeed, Murry says quite candidly, "We didn't even necessarily settle the championship of the NCR 315 for all time. If we'd had differing pairings at the start of the tournament, we might well have had a different champion—just as you would in a real tournament. It wouldn't always be Marciano."
So even in the rigid world of analytical engines, the truth is no more than an arbitrary assortment of data, arbitrarily judged. But be it for truth or controversy, the football series is already in the works, and Henry Meyer II is murmuring about "fumble factors" and weather conditions. "My Gospel," he says, "the variables are fantastic."
The marriage of mythical competition and computers is hardly past the honeymoon stage, for Murry Woroner is thinking hard. Could Bobby Jones beat Jack Nicklaus? How about the 1932 Yankees vs. the 1967 Cardinals? Bill Tilden vs. Jack Kramer? A world soccer tournament in multiple languages? "And we could do more than sports," cries Woroner. "Much more. Wars! Hitler's Germany against the Roman Empire! Napoleon versus Alexander the Great! How about election campaigns? George Washington versus Franklin Roosevelt! Abraham Lincoln against George Wallace! And debates? Socrates takes on Karl Marx! Thoreau against Jean-Paul Sartre! Why not? Why not?"
Why not, indeed? Although Murry Woroner has not thought of it yet, certainly he will realize there is just one choice for the alltime finale for alltime tournaments: Jehovah wrestles the Devil! The winner gets the cherry and all the whipped cream in Lake Erie.