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Much like the proverbial rose, a toughman contest by any other name is still a toughman contest. Last Friday night in a tent beside the Casino Magic gambling complex in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in a single-elimination, 15-bout slugfest billed as The People's Choice World Heavyweight Superfights, a mixed bag that included two former world champions, three ex-convicts, an ex-cop from Romania, at least one recovering drug addict and an 18-year-old Canadian who didn't know he was fighting until 35 minutes before he put on the gloves, rewrote the script of Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Before the fat lady sang, 3,799 pounds of the good, the bad and the ugly battled for more than four hours in three-round shifts—or less. They were fighting for a top prize of $1 million, although the actual sum turned out to be $830,000 less than that because, promoters said, the original financial backers had pulled out.
Still, it wasn't bad money for Tony Tubbs, the 35-year-old former WBA champion who won the requisite four fights, defeating Daniel Dancuta, the aforementioned Romanian cop, in a slow-motion final. In his last legitimate outing before this tournament, Tubbs had been knocked out in one round last August in Boise, Idaho, by Jimmy Ellis, a mediocre club fighter.
To a purist, the tournament was not boxing, but where else could you see 40-year-old Bonecrusher Smith, an ex-WBA champ and erstwhile prison guard, battle Lester Jackson, a 278-pound former inmate at Sing Sing? After that bout, Smith defeated Marshall Tillman, an alumnus of Angola (La.) State Prison, who had just beaten Jason Williams, who was two months out of a California prison.
Smith's downfall came against the 22-year-old Dancuta, who confided that he hoped to remain in the U.S. "I've waited a long time for my freedom," he said.
"A lot of guys in this tournament can say the same thing," someone suggested.
A swarming fighter with an 8-1 pro record, Dancuta had first mugged Derrick Roddy, a 17-0 boxer out of Kansas City, who was selected via a 900 number. Tournament promoters gave fans a choice of seven boxers, with the winner rounding out the 16-man field. From that slate of nonentities, Roddy emerged as the People's Choice. Unimpressed, Dancuta stopped the PC in the first round.
After that, Dancuta got a walkover when Craig Petersen, an Australian, was medically disqualified following his first-round victory over veteran Smokin' Bert Cooper. "I can't remember anything after the first round," Petersen told his mother, Alana, back in the dressing room.
"Where are you?" asked Mom.
" Australia," Petersen replied.