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Please, Tonya, no tomato cans

Team Tonya's Traveling Circus will march on, though the ringmaster isn't sure where next the tents shall be pitched.

'We don't have anything lined up yet,' says Brian Young, Tonya Harding's Mississippi-based boxing promoter. 'We have offers from several different parts of the country.

Young said he expects to have a site and date 'in the next 14 days.'

Terrible Tonya should have knocked out neophyte Emily Gosa last week at the Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City. Trainer Will Massie had flatly predicted a KO but seemed only mildly fazed by his boxer's four-round decision.

'The other girl should have been knocked out,' Massie says. 'Tonya wore herself out the first two rounds. It was OK. It could have been better. We will go back to the gym and take it from there.'

Gosa, who works in a Sulligent, Ala., pawnshop and took the fight because 'it will pay for my divorce,' was recruited by Young sidekick Tommy LeCastro on barely more than a moment's notice. Her fighting experience was 'just (in the) back yard,' LeCastro says. 'You know, like sparring against girls and guys with your hands up.'

LeCastro acknowledges that he didn't want to pit Harding against a real boxer.

'It's hard to match Tonya, with the experience she's got,' LeCastro says. 'If you threw her in against somebody who was a good amateur with 40-some fights, she'd get killed.'

Therein lies the problem. The public won't take Harding seriously unless her handlers do, and unless they put her in the ring against a legitimate opponent.

Since Harding's loss in her debut in Memphis, Tenn., in February, Young has been careful to match his protŽgŽe with tomato cans incapable of an upset. Young's Prizefight Promotions has signed Harding to a four-year contract and can't afford to have her lose as it parades her around the country, offering fans the sleazy appeal of a circus geek.

Harding could thrive for a while as the 'heel,' the fighter the public loves to hate. The majority of those who paid good money to witness the Lincoln City spectacle sipped cocktails and laughed at and booed Tonya as she failed to put away Gosa in the final two rounds. If that hurt Harding's feelings, she wasn't letting on.

'Whether people like me or not, they bought the tickets and are paying my salary,' Harding told reporters.

LeCastro, incidentally, says he will continue to train Gosa. He says Harding wouldn't go for a rematch.

'You know why?' he says. 'She'd lose.'

•ÊMeanwhile, Harding's former boxing manager-trainer is planning to take her to court.

Jeff Hargis' attorney, David Collins, has prepared a breach-of-contract lawsuit that he says probably will be filed in a Tennessee circuit court by today.

'Jeff holds an exclusive contract with Tonya for management and training services,' Collins says from his Nashville office. 'She sent him a letter saying he was fired but gave no reason. We will be asking for monetary damages. I can't tell you the exact figure, but it is substantial.'

Harding says she fired Hargis last month and hired his assistant, Massie, as her trainer. Hargis served as Harding's trainer through her first three pro fights. Massie trained with her and worked in her corner in last week's victory over Gosa at Chinook Winds Casino.

'She can't fire me,' Hargis says. 'I am not an employee. She has a four-year contract with me as manager and trainer. We will see what happens in court.'

The Nashville-based trainer says he would be willing to renew his working relationship with Harding, 'but I don't think she's interested.'

Harding did not return phone messages relayed to her by Massie.

'She said to tell Jeff he is on the waiting list,' Massie says.

Hargis says his dispute with Harding included her insistence to train out of a motel suite in Vancouver, Wash.

'That is not conducive to a sound training environment,' Hargis says. 'It is time for her to start learning how to box.'

Hargis says he objected to Harding's affinity for night life, which he says interfered with her training. He laughed when told that Harding claims she is satisfied with her progress after four pro fights in five months of training and was glad she didn't break her nose against Gosa, as had happened in her previous bout.

'At this point, she is still going the distance with a novice, a Paula Jones-type fighter, and that's disappointing,' Hargis says. 'To Tonya, her new training regimen kept her from getting her nose broken again. To the rest of the world, an ability to throw punches would better keep her from getting her nose broken.'

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..