Norman Mailer V. Ryan O'Neal: the Author Unveils His Sunday Paunch

updated 01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

By the stats, the light heavyweight in the dark trunks looked overmatched. He was 56 years old, a 5'6" 180-pounder with a 73-inch reach, a build like a brick guardhouse and a hard right. In the white trunks was 6'1" and 185 pounds of 38-year-old Irish gristle with two good hands and a three-inch edge on reach. Of course, Norman Mailer's only titles are literary (even if he did spar José Torres to a draw on the Cavett show once), and Ryan O'Neal's knockout in The Main Event was art, if that. Still, Torres, the ex-light heavyweight champion, thought it would be an interesting amateur card and brought his two friends together at his Gramercy Park Gym in New York recently. "Norman has the Mailer ego, and Ryan is a typical Irish tough guy," Torres said. "Ryan is younger, stronger, in better condition and better-looking. But then Norman is a genius."

For the 15-minute three-round sparring match, Mailer was accompanied by his sons Michael, 15, and Steve, 13, as seconds. O'Neal, in case he didn't manage to score a knockout, brought one along: cornerperson and current companion Farrah Fawcett. The Golden Boy of Malibu and the Brooklyn Heights Bomber have both trained with Torres, who has been a technical adviser to boxing movies (Main Event, Fat City) since he quit the ring in 1969. The psychological advantage was clearly O'Neal's. "They met at the gym last year," Torres explained later. "Afterward Norman told me, 'This is the first time I fell in love with a man.' " Thus distracted, Mailer landed only a couple of halfhearted blows ("Ryan let him," tattled one ringsider). Though there was no ref and no decision, the consensus went to O'Neal. "Ryan could have easily beaten Norman up," says Torres. "Norman could whip Sly Stallone in one round, but not Ryan."

Torres nonetheless insists that Mailer is no palooka. "There isn't another 56-year-old writer who could beat Norman," says the trainer with a chuckle. "He can knock out guys like Truman Capote." Mailer may yet have his chance. Torres is arranging an all-celebrity boxing night for next June in Madison Square Garden, with O'Neal and Mailer among the participants. The Tiny Terror of New Orleans is yet to be heard from.

From Our Partners