Twat? Shaqzilla versus MegaMan? 


Thirty-seven-year-old NBA all-star center Shaquille O'Neal just got traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, hitching his 325-pound club car to the bullet train that is LeBron James' career. And James — eager to respond to the Cavs' early exit from last year's playoffs — was thrilled to learn that a fellow freak-of-nature was joining the James Gang for a title run.

Big news, right? But that particular basketball diary is not what has captured the vivid imaginations of Internet sports junkies across the globe. What really has people talking, Tweeting, tapping and texting is something far more intriguing: Shaq has picked a fight with a 7-foot, 2-inch, 340-pound kickboxing Korean. That was after he poked a figurative finger into the chest of one of the most revered knockout artists in pay-per-view history.

"Hong Man Choi … I'm coming for you," boasts O'Neal on a viral video blowing up the net. "I'm gonna retire next year … in two years. I'm coming for you. Do I look like José to you?"

Choi, himself a relative newcomer to MMA with a 2-3 record, is one of several oversized monsters on the PPV and premium-cable sports circuit. In May, he beat down baseball legend and curious MMA combatant José Canseco, who lasted just over a minute into the Dream 9 Super Hulk Tournament match May 26 in Japan.

For Shaq, it all started when he called out former Ultimate Fighting Championship Champ Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. The nonsense began with one of Shaq's many Tweets to his many twits: "I just got thru wrkn out john burkes Gracie orlando, 11049 w colonial blvd Wow what a wrkout,chuck lidell here I come," Shaq twatted. And that was followed up by the now-famous series of videos featuring the big fella in MMA training action and in full-on boast mode on YouTube.

"We'll fight anybody … I'll even fight him `points to life-size cutout of Liddell` … after I fight the big boy that knocked out Jose Canseco." So, to recap: Thanks to high-tech communications, Shaq essentially told someone to meet him outside in the parking lot. In a couple of years.

OK, we'll bite — can O'Neal actually fight? What kind of game does Shaq have? (Please don't say Shaq Fu.)

"He brings it real strong," hyped Shaq's trainer Jonathan Burke during an appearance on ESPN's First Take. "He brings such a strong energy and desire to win and he's so competitive." ESPN, eager to cash in on the head-swirling possibilities, pressed on, begging Burke to tell us what training Shaq was like. "Running into a brick wall or wrestling a grizzly bear," he pumped. "It's challenging because of his physical size and dimensions."

Apparently, the Diesel has been quietly training and learning the various forms of MMA during his downtime at Burke's Gracie Orlando Gym, located in Ocoee, where O'Neal lives during the off-season. Burke specializes in "6 Levels" training methods. That's right, B-ball's original backboard-breaking Superman has been punching, kicking, wrestling and grappling his way through a variety of combat disciplines, including Brazilian jujitsu, muay Thai and traditional boxing. If you are a true competitor like Shaq — he's won four championships, after all — at some point you're going to want to show off those skills.

Need proof? The viral videos show Shaq in action, although some of the short clips are more LOL than OMG. But he certainly seems to be doing the work, regularly lifting mere mortals off the ground with his powerful legs.

"The knees that he's learned to throw with the 6 Levels training is through the roof. My chest cavity still hurts," Burke said during his ESPN interview, slipping in yet another plug. "He's got a strong jab … he's phenomenal at the rear naked choke." But Burke assured us that the big guy is truly best at "inflicting pain."

Thank you, P.T. Barnum with a black belt.

Fortunately for LeBron and the Cavaliers — who'll pay Shaq around $20 million next season — Old Superman's NBA contract keeps him from doing stupid things like participating in the world's fastest-growing sport (called "human cockfighting" by Sen. John McCain). Those contracts do, however, allow you to make godawful movies and landfill-clogging rap CDs. Where's the justice in that?

So naturally technology is to blame for all this nonsense. Isn't this proof that we are way too in touch with each other? In the past, common sense, smart management and sound public relations kept celebs from saying stupid things to the media. Now, you think it, you type it and it's gone — in Shaq's case, immediately out to more than a half-million people. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Why MMA? Although only sanctioned in 37 states, MMA has become the proving ground for the manliest of semi-retired athletes who still have something to prove. What washed-up warrior wouldn't love to get those competitive juices flowing again? Surely others are looking for the big payday, to cash in on their notoriety. And you can't blame them — salaries top a million dollars for some of these bloody battles.

No doubt every tough-guy former pro with good knees and access to cable television sees the countless hours of MMA programming on TV and brags that they could kick this or that guy's ass — until they realize that mixed-martial artists train ridiculously hard six to eight hours a day.

Burke, apparently Shaq's other sports agent, was pressed by ESPN about whether there really is any serious talk about a fight with either the Asian giant or the Iceman in the works. "Stay tuned," Burke Barnum-ed. Until then, we'll have to settle for schlubs showing up at Burke's doorstep, wanting a piece of the big guy and getting it, and for Burke dutifully offering up the video on his website.

"The guy from Twitter came in and wanted to get in our octagon," said Burke. "So we put him in and we're posting our video this week. … All the fans are gonna get a chance to watch it and vote. Every week … Shaq wants to post a new fight, because we're getting barraged with challengers."

Oh, we can. And will. Imagine.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

More by Mark Padgett

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