In Orlando, Fla., the Associated Press reported, Vincent Medina had all he wanted of Edgar (Mad Dog) Ross by the sixth round. They were also Keeping Boxing Alive in Oklahoma City, where one James J. Beattie, 245 pounds, of St. Paul, Minn., knocked out . . .

It couldn't be. Still, how many 6-foot-8 James J. Beatties could there have been out of St, Paul lately? How old would he be now, that handsome tower of roseate flesh that trembled and wept after a five-round abuse in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on a hot midnight in 1963?

"Thirty-three," said Jim Beattie, "and I've finally grown into this bid body. I'm faster and stronger than ever, doing it right for the first time. You could say I want to reap some profit from the same turf I fertilized 10 years earlier . . .

"Well, not really. I came back from Oklahoma with a couple of hundred. Boxing is a lark now, in a way. But I've matured; I've gathered some acumen."

One of Webster's nuances of acumen suggest what the fight crowd calls street smarts, and James J. Beattie should have them. In the 14 years since he answered an ad that sought a White Hope, he says he has been a drunk, and into "just about everything but heroin."

Beattie has been twice unfrocked as a boxer, once voluntarily, and three years ago, he was a 300-pound blob. Briefly he was an actor in The Great White Hope.

"Did I cry night?" Beattie asked of that first professional defeat at Saratoga. "Maybe I did. I had a broken bone in my foot and couldn't train, but they told me it would be a quick kayo because the guy couldn't take a punch."

The guy was John Barrazza, a broad-shouldered, flat-topped citizen of Toronto. "The press releases," recalls journalist Landon Manning of the Saratogian, "didn't mention his name." Like Luis (Toro) Vega coming to meet Sugar Ray Leonard, Barrazza was an appurtenance, an adjunct. This, on the card with your champion Emile Griffith and old survivor Holly Mims, was the coming-out of James J. Beattie chattel of Kid Gallahad, of 51 amateurs and three-Tripple-E shoe, conqueror of 51 amateurs and three pros, the latter by first-round knockouts.

Four gentlemen assembled at the bar of a Manhattan restaurant had determined to harness a force to dethrone Sonny Liston. They advertised in newspapers across the country: all expenses and $10,000 a year for the contender while they readied him for greatness. Out of Paul Bunyan country came James J. Beattie, as congruous to the planned destiny as anything central casting could have sent over.

He was a handsome, almost pretty kid and his monster credentials were in order. In a summer with the circus, the press releases said, 30 men had accepted the challenge to last two rounds with Beattie. "They all went to bed early," the flack said, including "some of the biggest Sweders and Norwegians in the Northwest."

"Nah, not 30," Beattie said last week. "Maybe 10, 12."

From ringside it seemed that John Barrazza gulped when he saw the pink expanse of Beattie. The Canadian, barely above six feet, "was outclassed at the outset," reporter Manning observed, and could not find his way inside Beattie's long, pawing arms until the fourth round. Then it got bloody. John Condon, Madison Square Garden publicist, thinks he remembers a ring breaking under Beattie's weight.

Whatever the details, it was a TKO in the 34th second of the fifth round. Beattie went down and appeared helpless. The doctor gave him oxygen in the dressing room and sent him to the hospital for overnight observation.

"A year latter," the mature Beattie says, "I beat Barrazza."

And, two years later, "in about my 25th fight," he ran into James J. Woodie, who did not stand 6 feet, in Madison Square Garden. "Beattie couldn't fight a little bit," said Bob Waters, boxing reporter of Newsday, "but Woodie really had his number."

"I ran out of gas and he stopped me, a TKO," Beattie recalls. "They took my license away. Said I was physically unfit, lacked stamina."

But there are always other states, other boxing commission, other standards. "I started again in Minnesota in '68," Beattie said. "I did not aspire to much success, but I got fit. I went seven rounds with Buster Mathis, got stopped. Later that year I was fighting Tommy Fields. With 32 seconds to go in the 10th round I was so far ahead I couldn't lose, and he cold-cocked me with a straight right. I was 25 years old and I quit."

Then there was life insurance, stocks, tax shelters and money. Then the treatment at a place called Eden House in 1973.

James J. Beattie is now executive director of Nexus, a federally and state funded halfway house for convicted felons, some as young as 16. "It is a therapeutic community," Beattie explains, "for hard-core criminals: burglars, car thieves, addicts. We are their alternative to prison. I have a staff of 16 in a 100-bed facility.

"Minnesota is a pioneer in corrections."

So what was a nice guy like him doing, punching out Ernie Smith of Dallas in the third round in the 200-seat Ramada Inn East Convention Center in Oklahoma City on the night of Feb. 1? "He could make $1,000," said promoter Pat O'Grady. But he did make $500, out of which he paid sparring partners.

"I left boxing with an identity, "Big Jim'," Big Jim said. "There still could be light at the end of the tunnel, you know. I think I'll have Rodney Bobick (Duane's chubby little brother) at Metro Sports Center in Bloomington (Minn.) on the 24th. I promote fights, too.

"I still could make that heavyweight elimination they're having. You never tell."

Meanwhile, there's Nexus, with half its 100 beds occupied.

The day after that Saratoga debacle a man from a New York newspaper wrote that James J. Beattie was a decent and bright young man, capable of doing something more demanding, something better, than fighting, and that he should. And now he is. But the sirens still call, from the dim light at the end of the tunnel.