Bump into Jonathan Ames these days, and he may well offer to let you feel his biceps, a not-so-small part of the nine pounds of muscle weight he’s gained in recent weeks. His secret? “I’m a reincarnated Jewish boxer from the Lower East Side,” he says, “and I’m training by eating herring.” But if Ames smells more of perspiration than of pickled fish, it’s because his real secret is Gleason’s, the legendary Brooklyn training gym where “the Herring Wonder” is spending five mornings a week with trainer Harry Keitt (featured in the documentary On the Ropes) in preparation for a boxing match that should at least be good for some laughs.
The self-described “George Plimpton of the colon,” whose “comic autobiography,” based on his New York Press columns, will be published next spring by Crown, Ames will challenge retired performance artist David “the Impact Addict” Leslie in a four-round bout on November 10 at the Angel Orensanz Foundation. Why is a bowel-obsessed columnist stepping into the ring against a man who hasn’t thrown himself off a six-story building or tried to fly a rocket over a mountain of watermelons in eleven years? Neither fighter has a ready answer. Perhaps the “box opera,” as Leslie calls it, is a symptom of the male malaise illustrated in Fight Club. Then again, maybe the “vanilla thrilla,” as Ames dubs the bout, is just the product of two weird guys’ need for attention.
Though Ames’s 1-1-0 record looks good against Leslie’s 0-2-0, boxing fans will tell you to look at their opponents. Ames’s knockout win came against a boxing fetishist he met through a phone-sex line, while Leslie (top photo), who spends five afternoons a week at Gleason’s with trainer Neil Ferrara and outweighs his opponent by a good 20 pounds, dropped one match to eight kung-fu fighters and the other, a 1987 exhibition bout on board the Staten Island Ferry, to no less than Riddick Bowe. But for Leslie, losing doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think: “I get great joy in getting hit really hard!” he exults.
Ames, who currently resembles a wiry Woody Harrelson, may just provide his opponent with the joy he seeks. And though he says he isn’t modeling himself after any of boxing’s greats, some of his pre-fight rhetoric says different. “I’m gonna wear him down, pare him down, tear him down, and leave him without a care him down,” he says, perhaps slightly punch-drunk after a tough workout. “I’m gonna gloat like Madame Butterfly, I’m gonna stink like a herring. I could kick Brad Pitt’s ass!”