Joe Palooka has come out of retirement for one more fight _ or several.
The beloved comic strip featuring a big-hearted boxing champion ended in 1984 after a run of more than 50 years. Now boxing announcer Joe Antonacci has acquired the trademark rights to "Joe Palooka" and is resurrecting the character as a mixed martial arts fighter.
With help from a comics writer and artist, Antonacci, a Ridgewood, N.J., native, is pushing a new Palooka series, with two fresh strips already published online and a hard-copy version expected to be available within months.
Created by Wilkes-Barre, Pa., native Ham Fisher, the daily strip once appeared in more than 900 newspapers and was among the most popular comics of the 1940s and the most successful sports-based strip ever.
Antonacci's version has been updated to reflect the growing popularity of mixed martial arts, with planned cameos by real-life Ultimate Fighting Championship stars.
But Antonacci, who read "Joe Palooka" as a boy, said the message remains the same.
"In a way, it's similar to what Ham Fisher tried to do," he told The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre. "My Joe Palooka character is a guy with a heart of gold, who gets into trouble and gets out. It's family-friendly _ the character is not full of gratuitous violence or sex or cussing."
Fans already appreciate Palooka's ring reemergence, overwhelming Antonacci's stand at a recent convention.
"If it's popular and God blesses us with a good reception, we're going to keep doing this," said Antonacci, who also does some of the writing for Joe Palooka.