11/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Gladiators

When the presidential contenders face off in Nashville it is a confrontation that seems hardwired into the DNA of man since the dawn of time. We call it a debate. But it's far more. It's a bloodsport. Two warriors meeting in battle. Mano a mano. Duel to the death. Gladiators at the Coliseum in Rome.

The modern version of the gladiators is boxing. And the parallels between a boxing match and a presidential debate is most clear in the words we hear afterwards. Which candidate needs a knockout. Who landed more punches. Who took more hits. We might as well be reading the sports section.

I hate boxing. I've never really understood why it's considered a "sport." But the boxing analogies make sense. I think that the styles of the two combatants in this election conjure up a fantasy match for the ages. Muhammed Ali vs. Mike Tyson.

Obama is Ali. Light on his feet. Graceful. Dancing around McCain; almost floating above it all as he lands punches.
McCain said that Obama doesn't understand strategy but it's pretty clear he understood Ali's famous strategy of letting his opponent flail away and weaken himself -- I'm not sure what it's called in politics but Ali called it Rope-a-Dope.

McCain is Tyson. Coiled power. Hostile. So angry he cannot not even look his opponent in the eye or glance in his direction.
I watched on a giant screen the night Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear. That was the last fight I will ever watch. And I truly think, during the first debate, if he could have, McCain would have bitten off Obama's ear. He is that intense. He is that angry. And now he has become that desperate.

Outside the ring, the lives of the two former champions offer insights into their character.

Ali was filled with confidence, and had the courage to follow his convictions. Ironically, he didn't talk tough; he often talked in rhymes. Poetry from a gladiator. His quickness with his fists was a means to an end, not the end. Despite his glories inside the ring, his brilliance transcends the ring. Outside it, he is a man of charisma, a gentle man. A man not feared, but loved -- who reached out his hand in friendship.

Ali's life and reputation stand as a testament to his legend -- larger than life, despite his talent as a fighter, he is best known as a man of peace.

Tyson is a man's man. All power and muscle. Quick to lose control. No softness or gentleness visible, he relies on his fists to do the talking. You know he is tough, like some immovable object. The rage boiling below the surface spills over even outside the ring. The volatile temper impossible to disguise. His strength comes from his desire to be feared.

Tyson could take the hard hits. But unlike Ali, he could not roll with the punches. He remains a man of war -- never finding peace. His anger swallowed up his career until the trajectory of his life made him a tragic figure.

As the world knows, Ali inspired, while Tyson imploded. I'll be thinking of those former champions of the ring when the modern American gladiators meet in Nashville. A match for the ages.