After a boxer wins the heavyweight championship, he finds himself transported to another reality where he must fight again in the Night Gallery story “The Ring with the Red Velvet Ropes,” reviewed here.

Season 3 Episode 10—aired 1/7/73

“The Ring with the Red Velvet Ropes” **

Teleplay by Robert Malcolm Young • Story “The Ring with the Velvet Ropes” by Edward D. Hoch
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Gary Lockwood as Jim Figg
Chuck Connors as Roderick Blanco
Joan van Ark as Sandra Blanco
Ralph Manza as Max
Charles Davis as Hayes
Ji-Tu Cumbuka as Big Dan Anger
James Bacon as the Second Reporter
Frankie Van as the Referee

“The Ring with the Red Velvet Ropes” begins strongly with a premise straight out of The Twilight Zone, setting us up for a moral payoff which never comes. Heavyweight boxer Jim Figg (Gary Lockwood, one of the two astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey) has just won the title. As his manager is shooing away the press from the dressing room, the man who Jim just defeated, previous champion “Big” Dan Anger, appears to him, his face beaten and swollen, and tells Jim that he’s no more the champion than he, Big Dan, was, suggesting something about the fight may not have been on the up-and-up.

Jim is disturbed by this cryptic comment and disturbed even more so when his manager returns and informs him that Big Dan was taken straight to the hospital after the bout for surgery, meaning he couldn’t have just spoken to Jim.

Jim’s manager tells the newly-crowned champ to hit the shower. When he emerges from the shower, he finds that he is no longer in the arena’s dressing room, but rather in what seems to be an opulent hotel suite. An attendant hands him a towel and seems to expect Jim’s presence. Jim questions the man but can get no answers as to where he is or what’s going on.

Jim suspects he’s been kidnapped when the attendant informs him that he is the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Roderick Blanco and he meets Sandra Blanco (Joan Van Ark, quite sexy), who is similarly evasive as to the reasons for Jim’s being there. She tells him he must fight her husband, a former champion.

Roderick (Chuck Conners, looking menacing, but at times given lines that make him seem ridiculous), takes Jim to a ring of fire where he explains that no one has ever defeated him. Jim just plays along.

Asleep before the bout, Sandra visits Jim in his bedroom, telling him to lose to Roderick, suggesting that it would be better for him that was. No one yet has defeated Roderick, but she thinks Jim has the ability to do so, yet she urges him to lose. He replies that he’s never thrown a match and he’s not about to start.

That match takes place in an eerie private scene where Sandra and the other house staff watch. The bout goes many rounds, and though one would imagine Lockwood and Connors had the physical ability to box for the screen, director Jeannot Szwarc gives us shot after shot of their bout in closeup, suggesting that stunt doubles did most of the fighting, diminishing the impact of this scene. As good as Szwarc was directing this series, here, he’s not at the top of his game.

The match finally ends with a knockout in favor of Jim Figgs. The referee announces. The champion is dead. Long live the champion.” The silent house staff rise from their seats to honor the new champion. Figgs looks down at Blanco’s beaten, swollen face, much like Big Dan’s from the previous bout, but here the similarities end. Blanco’s face and body wither and decay and he becomes a skeletal corpse on the boxing ring’s mat.

“Who was he,” Figg wonders in astonishment. The attendant answers, “he was the real champion,” having first won in 1861—over a century prior. He’d defended his title successfully ever since, until this bout. It now becomes clear that Jim will replace Blanco as the “host” who must attempt to defeat each successive champion.

This story is hugely disappointing given its start. It makes no attempt to explain the supernatural element in it. Namely: why is any of this happening? What is this attempting to say about Jim’s fight or boxing in general? I have no idea and apparently neither did Robert Malcolm Young, the scriptwriter, or director Jeannot Szwarc. Another third season dud.

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