Bill Clinton takes center stage of the octagon on Harpo’s back-back stage, microphone in hand. His eyes follow two figures walking in shadows.
The studio audience turns with Clinton, following his gaze. Bruce Buffer stands near the octagon door, warming up for his trademark call.
“Let’s get readEE; LET’s get REAdee; Let’s GET READEEEEE.” He practices in a high voice.
Clinton slowly raises both arms in a raise-the-roof motion, hands pointing number one, then snaps them toward the shadows and drops into a ready stance.
Michael Buffer cuts lose with, “ARE YOU READY TO…?” the last word lost in the roar while Oprah skips through the octagon door and takes a lap around Clinton before she finds her spot.
Jonathan Franzen walks through the same door, composed and purposeful, gets a fist-bump from Clinton who lifts a hand for silence like a middle school teacher conditioning a new class.
Instant quiet for the former Commander in Chief.
“The never imagined, most outrageous-match-ups ever conceived come to you from Chicago, my kind of town,” he says to the screaming audience. “The first ever Mixed Gender Mixed Martial Arts match.”
“In 2001 they had their differences; in 2010 they settle them. Tonight, Oprah ‘Roundhouse’ Winfrey faces Jonathan ‘Don’t Hit Me I’m Wearing Glasses’ Franzen in a much-anticipated meeting in the octagon.”
Clinton’s words raise the frenzy in the crowd, much like his book ‘My Life’ did when it came out.
He waves John Irving over in his referee’s shirt and steps back. Clinton loops his arm under Irving’s so he can speak into the microphone while holding the fighters by the wrists.
“You know the rules,” he says. “You’ve received your instructions.”
“I’m not hitting a woman, I don’t care where it is,” Franzen says. His fighting shorts have a picture of James Frey’s face on one leg, his on the other. “This won’t settle anything.”
Oprah jumps in place, shuffling her feet, shaking her arms. Irving pushes the microphone away.
“Settle down, Jon,” he says. “Oprah, do you want to tell him, or should I.”
Oprah breaks a sweat, nods to John Irving. “You.”
“Okay, listen, Jon, you’re not going to hit Oprah. You don’t want to hit Oprah. No one wants that. Look over at her spot, just outside the cage. See the man?”
Franzen squints in the bright spotlights.
“Don’t let him see you look. That’s Steadman. Here’s the deal, we start the match and you two circle, tie up, I’ll break you apart and you keep moving. It shouldn’t take Steadman long to climb over the top and get in here to save his girlfriend. Right, Oprah?”
She nods, her teeth covered in a blood-red mouth guard.
Michael Buffer walks through the octagon door, taking the mic from Clinton on the way out. He and John Irving perform a duet, “LET’S get READEEEEEEEEEEEEEE to RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE.”
All that’s left in the blinding lights are Oprah and Jonathan Franzen.
“Have you been practicing?” he asks.
“I talked to a few guys. Let’s circle toward Steadman. Push me up against the cage and knee me in the guts. I’ve been doing crunches so don’t worry.”
“I’m not hitting a woman.”
“You’re kneeing me. Listen, Franzen, if you want to get out of here with both ears intact, just do what I tell you. Let’s go Muay Thai.”
“Knee me in the guts you pansy.”
She reaches down and pulls Franzen’s knee into her stomach and falls against the cage.
“Ugh, Steadman, he landed one right in the old uterus.”
“You bastard,” Steadman screams. He climbs over the top of the cage and drops to his feet in a fighting stance beside Oprah. “We’ll so this together, babe.”
Franzen backs up from the duo when Oprah turns on her boyfriend.
“Like we’ve done so much together, right honey?”
She lands an overhand right to the side of Steadman’s head. He staggers and falls.
Franzen drops his hands at the sight of Oprah delivering a flying knee to the laid-out Steadman’s chest, a clear death-blow to the heart.
“How much longer am I waiting on you? Not much,” she says.
John Irving moves in while Oprah lands a flurry of punches on the unconscious man. He pulls her off while she’s still swinging and pushes her toward Franzen.
Before she stops swinging, one of her punches drops Jonathan Franzen.
Oprah shakes her head as if waking from a dream, blinking, looking at the three men in the ring, at the medical team coming through the octagon door. She kneels by Franzen.
“Jonathan? Jonathan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you. It was never supposed to be you. I know you’d never hit a woman, Jonathan. I’m sorry,” she says.
He opens his eyes and lifts his head enough so the crowd can see he’s okay. “One word, Oprah. Re-match. I’ve changed my mind.”
“Then you’ll still come on the show like we planned?”
“Only if we do it in the octagon.”
John Irving kneels beside them.
“I’ll be here.”