Ali, Ali

Aug 19, 2003 8:02 AM

"Fish cough."

"No word in the English language rhymes with month."

"You have to play ping pong for 12 hours to lose one pound."

Them’s the facts, folks. It’s some of what you can learn under the caps of Diet Snapple iced tea. Been drinking a lot lately. Looking for a winner.

Come on, you do it, too. Admit it. You expect your next fortune cookie to give you the winner of the seventh at Del Mar.

Me, I’ve been seeking sugar-free assistance to determine if Laila Ali is worth laying 11-2 next Saturday against Christy Martin.

All I get are things like, "All porcupines float in water."

Is that an omen? Does that mean "float like a bee, sting like a porcupine?" Well, it could be the answer. Laila, after all, is an Ali. And at 10 years younger, about half a foot taller and naturally at least 25 pounds heavier, she has major advantages over the fighter once regarded as best in gender.

But minus $5.50? We’re not talking Muhammad Ali here. Besides, her father seemed to do his best work when an underdog (see Sonny Liston and George Foreman), when he had something to really prove.

The daughter has already proved she is not an Ali in name only. When she first came on the scene, the natural suspicion was that she was cashing in on her father’s name. But she went about it the right way, staying in the gym, learning the fundamentals before going for the bucks. She has improved and improved and improved to the point where she may well be the best woman, pound for dainty pound, in the game.

That used to be Martin, but she was taken the full distance by Mia St. John, a Playboy spread, saying later she was worried about getting paid (and at last report, she hadn’t). She’s smaller, slower, older, but one thing we know about the Coal Miner’s Daughter. She’s tough.

"I think a lot of people are looking at the size and not really taking into consideration the experience," said Martin.

She’ll be attacking. Ali knows that. She has a jab that rivals her father’s old stick. Her trainer, Roger Mayweather, notes that she does something her old man seldom did, punch to the body. It all adds up to Ali ”” Crack, Snapple and Her Pop.

"She ain’t gonna make it past five," says Ali, who obviously learned a few things from her dad’s press banter.

I’m not so sure about that, though. Martin has noticed, and we made mention it a few weeks back, that Ali has this awful tendency to close her eyes in the ring. That could be a sign of fear. That’s one thing Martin can capitalize on. The eye of the tiger is usually open.

I believe Martin is tough enough to give Ali some early trouble. Ali, after all, had no amateur background and is only 15-0, with 12 KO’s, as a pro. Martin, facing smaller and weaker, has built a 45-2-2 record with 31 KO’s. It may take a while for Ali to find her best rhythm, at which point, somewhere in the middle rounds, Martin will begin to break down.

I’m not sure Ali, after some rough early moments, will risk going for the gusto. She might decide to coast behind that beautiful jab and slick foot movement. If there’s an over-under, "over" may be the play.

Let’s check the bottle caps. "There are more than 61,000 pizzerias in the United States." Maybe, but how come there’s not a decent one near me?

Art Manteris, the friendly old linemaker from the Station Casinos, expects some real action on this bout, which will be shown on pay-per-view from Biloxi, Ms. "You’ve got the two best women who ever lived going at it," said Manteris.

The two best women who ever lived? He ought to keep such opinions under his cap. Mary, mother of God, or Joan of Arc or Billie Holiday, maybe Myrna Loy (just showing my age), might be ahead in the WBC rankings.

Okay, let’s get back to the parameters of boxing and while I’m not sure either contestant this week could have beaten Jackie Tonawanda, who campaigned a quarter-century or so ago as the "Female Ali," they have only Lucia Rijker arguing loudly that they are not the two best women fighters around now.

The great British writer Graham Houston, like many others, says this is "the biggest women’s fight in history." But just wait until Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton go at it.

"Great taste."

"Less filling."

My last Snapple cap informs that "a jellyfish is 95 percent water."

Does this mean someone’s going in the tank?