Jeff Hargis doesn't spend a lot of time studying the figure-skating industry. But the former kickboxing champion, who has trained boxers for the last 12 years, knew of Tonya Harding and her bad-girl, trailer-trash image when he took her on as a client a month ago.
'I had the impression that most people have, from what I had read, but I didn't find an angry redneck,' says Hargis, who will be in Harding's corner for her pro debut Feb. 22 in Memphis, Tenn. 'I found an athlete and a competitor, a human being with emotions who has had her feelings hurt several times by the media. Somebody who has had some indiscretions like the rest of us but wanted to pick up and move on.
'The Tonya I know is very cooperative, very receptive to constructive criticism. She is her own worst critic; that's the biggest problem we have. She gets frustrated at herself and loses focus a little bit.'
Hargis' take on Harding's progress: 'She's already above average. She has great upper-body development and transfers energy real well. I have been surprised with her body structure. Typically, the longer, leaner fighters have the better jab; she has a tremendous jab. She has great aptitude in picking up technique and footwork. I think she can be a champion in 12 to 18 months.'
• Hargis and Harding are in a state of denial about the fallout over the Nancy Kerrigan knee-whacking incident nine years ago, its effect on the two skaters and the popularity of their sport.
Hargis: 'The Kerrigan situation has been worn out for years. Let's be honest: That brought Kerrigan's name out to places it never would before. It also brought a lot of publicity to the sport. For all the bad things that took place there, it brought both of them to where they are in life.'
Harding: 'And now look at the sport of figure skating. It became No. 1 there for a long time. É It is kind of a Catch-22. É You say, yeah, if people didn't remember, where would I be?'
The truth is this: While the assault on Kerrigan boosted short-term interest in figure skating, it also produced a black eye that the sport, and Harding, may never live down.
• Harding recently completed a movie shoot in Oklahoma. Gary Busey and ex-heavyweight champion Leon Spinks co-star in the film, tentatively titled 'In Her Honor.'
'My brothers and I run a restaurant,' Harding says. 'A boxer and his girlfriend are regulars there, and the girlfriend dies. At that point, he has lost everything in his boxing career. He comes back and wins in her honor.'
No word on the release date, but watch for previews at your local cinema.
• Harding is all about boxing these days.
'I skate once in a while just to keep in shape and see if I can still do it, but I am not doing much right now,' she says. 'I don't want to take the chance of tripping on the ice, hurting myself and jeopardizing my boxing. My heart will always be in skating, though. If I have the opportunity in between things to do an ice show or an appearance, I would do it.'
• Steve Forbes, the former International Boxing Federation 130-pound champion, is in Portland training with Ray Lampkin. Forbes plans tuneups in March and April for what he hopes is a title shot in July.
• Joey Harrington's agent, David Dunn, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Dunn got swept under with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by his former partner, Leigh Steinberg.
• A.C. Green, Richard Washington and Karen Gaffney will be honored Saturday as inductees at the third annual Oregon Multi-Cultural Sports Hall of Fame dinner at Mucho Grande Restaurant in North Portland. For information, contact organization president Thad Spencer at 503-221-0288.
• If you have the Golf Channel, you might have already seen the new commercial promoting the Champions Tour: Man and woman sitting in front of the TV. Man wants to watch the Golf Channel; woman wants otherwise. Suddenly, outside the door, in a takeoff of Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining,' is a golfer hacking a two-iron through the wood.
'Heeeere's Bobby!' says Bob Gilder, poking his head through the opening, his hair butch-waxed, his eyes deranged.
'OK, OK, you can watch the Golf Channel,' the woman says.
Gilder shot the spot at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., in December.
'It only took five takes to beat the door to a pulp,' says the Corvallis golfer. 'It's not easy to hit a small square in the door with a two-iron. It was fun to do. I didn't know what to expect. I'd never done anything like it before.'
• The Seattle Mariners are changing their tune about territorial rights to Oregon as the drive for major league baseball here gathers steam.
Two years ago, M's President Chuck Armstrong said, 'We would love to have a true rival.'
Last week, Mariners Chairman Howard Lincoln noted that the team controls broadcasting rights in the Northwest region, which includes Oregon.
'Major League Baseball defines our area to include Oregon, and we broadcast into Portland and other parts of Oregon,' Lincoln said. 'This is a decision Major League Baseball has to make, and not something we are going to get involved in, but certainly we have a lot of fans down in the Oregon area.'
One estimate is that 30 percent of the team's fan base comes from Oregon. Speculation is that the M's would ask for some kind of financial inducement if Portland got a team.