SUSPENDED NFL bad boy Pacman Jones made his pro wrestling debut on Sunday night. Shortly after boasting to Ron (the Truth) Killings that "I don't talk the talk, I walk the walk," the cornerback was taken from the arena on a stretcher. But his employer, the Tennessee Titans, who took Jones to court to keep him from wrestling, can rest easy: The "beatdown" took place off-camera, so it's unlikely that Jones ever put himself in harm's way. What the Titans may not realize is that there is a long and honorable tradition of athletes moonlighting in pro wrestling. O.K., a long one.
ALEX KARRAS VS. DICK (THE BRUISER) AFFLIS, 1963
The Buildup: Wrestler Afflis and Lions DT Karras already had a bout planned when they got into a scrap in Karras's Detroit bar. Patrons joined in, the action spilled into the streets and the cops were called. The Bout: The two finally got it on in front of 10,000 fans at the Detroit Olympia later that week, and Bruiser won in 11 minutes.
MUHAMMAD ALI VS. ANTONIO INOKI, 1976
The Buildup: Ali agreed to fight a Japanese pro wrestler in Tokyo (above). There had been a script, which called for Inoki to win, but that went out the window when Ali gave away the ending to reporters. The Bout: Unable to use karate chops and flying kicks, Inoki resorted to sweeping leg kicks and, on one occasion, headbutted Ali in the groin. Ali, wearing gloves, threw about a half-dozen halfhearted punches in the boring, 15-round draw. (The undercard, at Shea Stadium, had better action: Andre the Giant threw boxer Chuck Wepner out of the ring. "He was going to throw me into the press section," said Wepner. "I said, 'Naw, not there. It's going to hurt me there. Throw me on top of the pitcher's mound.' So he ran over to the other side and threw me onto the mound.")
WRESTLEMANIA II BATTLE ROYAL, 1986
The Buildup: A who's who of meaty football players, including William (the Refrigerator) Perry, Harvey Martin, Bill Fralic and Jimbo Covert, took part in a 20-man free-for-all, which featured just about every wrestling star of the day. The Bout: The last footballer standing was relatively scrawny tight end Russ Francis, whose father was a pro wrestler in Hawaii. Francis finished fourth; Andre the Giant won.
KEVIN GREENE VS. STEVE MCMICHAEL, 1996--97
The Buildup: Greene, who wrestled as part of Ric Flair's posse for years during his NFL career, was once the tag-team partner of McMichael, a former Bears DL. That pairing went south when McMichael took a bribe in the form of a cash-filled metal briefcase—then hit Greene with the case. The Bout: In their showdown McMichael had another wrestler try to hit Greene with the case again, but Greene ducked and McMichael got hit—and pinned. ("I knew the briefcase was going to figure in," said Greene. "I just didn't want to get hit by it.") Earlier Greene's mother, Patricia, had hit McMichael with her purse.
KARL MALONE AND DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE VS. DENNIS RODMAN AND HULK HOGAN, 1998
The Buildup: A month after they met in the NBA Finals, the Mailman and the Worm faced off in the ring. Rodman told Jay Leno, "I don't know how he's going to beat me in the ring when he can't beat me on the court." The Bout: He came close. Wearing purple leather pants—picture Prince's badass cousin—Malone slammed Rodman, but Hogan pinned Page.
DAVID ECKSTEIN VS. A.J. PIERZYNSKI, 2006
The Buildup: The faux feud between the scrappy shortstop and the cantankerous catcher boiled over when Pierzynski and Dale Torborg tore up a children's book Eckstein had written. They settled it like men: by having proxies duke it out in a fake fight. Lance Hoyt represented Eckstein, while Torborg, the son of former big league manager Jeff, grappled for Pierzynski. The Bout: Hoyt won after Eckstein hit Torborg with a chair. "Spring training is almost here," Eck said. "I just needed a little extra batting practice."