Dating back as far as ancient Rome, the gladiators of that era displayed their skills within the confines of the Coliseum, the famed arena that stands even today. It was within those walls that sports and entertainment first intertwined and contests such as wrestling and boxing became forever linked with their beauty and brutality.
At Saturday Night's Main Event, within the hallowed halls of this millennia's most-famed arena, Madison Square Garden, two new-age warriors will step into the ring this weekend for a pugilistic contest. SmackDown's Matt Hardy, however, faces as difficult a task as they come, when he must stand toe-to-toe with boxing's four-time Heavyweight Champion of the World, Evander Holyfield, in a Boxing Match.
Originally, Hardy had accepted this challenge from Montel Vontavious Porter, intent on proving that he was better than the brazen Baller, and deserving of another chance at his United States Championship. With MVP being treated recently for a diagnosed heart ailment, both Superstars were allowed to name a surrogate; after Matt opted to stay in the fight, MVP -- despite allegedly receiving medical clearance for the contest -- used his star power and called in Holyfield as his replacement. With no formal training in the sweet science, Hardy will no longer compete against a familiar opponent and his biggest adversary. Instead, he must face a man known around the boxing world as "The Real Deal."
If the North Carolinian Superstar were to search the archives of sports-entertainment, he would find very little comfort in what may lie ahead. In previous Boxing Matches that pitted a sports-entertainer against a professional boxer, the fighters have always emerged victorious.
That is, with the exception of one draw, a June 1976 match-up between two legends from their respective backgrounds: Antonio Inoki, the famed Japanese grappler who faced every big name in sports-entertainment, including Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Andre the Giant; and "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali. Despite the stalemate result, the former Heavyweight Champion of the World's confrontation with Inoki in Budokan, Tokyo, remains the standard for boxer vs. wrestler, and resulted many of the confrontations remembered best by our fans.
Ironically, it was Saturday Night's Main Event in March 1986 that nationally showcased the first collision of the two worlds, when the iconic Mr. T duked it out with WWE Hall of Famer "Cowboy" Bob Orton. While Orton was considered one of the toughest Superstars of his era, he was no match for the bodyguard-turned-actor who portrayed Clubber Lang in Rocky III. Orton made it out of the first round, only to be knocked out in Round 2.
Perhaps the most famous meshing of sports-entertainment and boxing came one month later, on the biggest stage of them all. At WrestleMania 2, another WWE Hall of Famer -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper -- challenged Mr. T to a Boxing Match. The results were mixed for "Hot Rod"; Piper landed some early shots, even knocking his opponent to the canvas. But then Mr. T showed why he was so dangerous to reckon with, pummeling Piper for the next three rounds, until the frustrated Scotsman picked up and bodyslammed his Mohawk-haired adversary. Piper's actions resulted in a disqualification, giving T the "W".
Our fans and Matt Hardy likely both remember March 1999 confrontation between boxer and Superstar, when Bart Gunn took on Eric "Butterbean" Esch at WrestleMania XV. Gunn, the winner of WWE's "Brawl For All" boxing competition the year before, had been labeled by some (himself, mostly) as the toughest competitor in WWE. Butterbean, however, was a 400-pound boxing sensation who knocked Gunn out cold in 30 seconds, making it one of the most lopsided fights in the history of sports.
By not backing down from Saturday Night's Main Event Boxing Match with Evander Holyfield, Matt Hardy has already won part of the battle in the eyes of our fans. Unfortunately, that won't be enough against "The Real Deal's" tremendous punching power, greater reach and in-ring savvy that a veteran boxing champion is expected to carry. Plain and simple, to steal an old adage, if Hardy does not study history, he is doomed to repeat it. And making such a mistake against a dangerous "Warrior" like Holyfield may leave Matt in the one position he‘s unaccustomed to -- on his back, out cold. Regardless, even against overwhelming odds and with MVP using Holyfield as his surrogate for the fight, Hardy will not back down. He has the true spirit of a warrior, much like the men who once fought in the beloved Coliseum.