Lorenzo Zanon, Jody Ballard, Stan Ward and Fred Houpe. Don't the names carry the ring of glory? Of course not, silly. These clowns are professional boxers whose skills are microscopic. Come Wednesday night, they'll be on television, getting hit in the face a lot, and they'll give us one more reminder that boxing, once a sport, is now a flaming farce.

The Futile Four are stiffs imported with the idea they'll fall into a faint at the sight of gloves tied on Ken Norton, Jimmy Young, Ron Lyle and Larry Holmes. The National Broadcasting company will try to smuggle these fights (2) into our living rooms at 8 o'clock, and it is our obiligation to decency and sensitivity to knock on neighbors' doors and throw a brick through the picture tube of any set tuned to this trash.

Now, that's not fair: no, it isn't. Those eight fighters could be out on the streets, getting into trouble. Look at Bert Lance. Instead, they're working for a living and who are we to knock them for taking NBC's money? So even if The Futile Four come unprepared for battle against four of the best heavyweights available (to damn with faint praise), we should leave them alone and give credit for this farce where credits is due: to Don King.

King is the boxing promoter whose hair literally stands on end, as if his finger were eternally plugged in to [WORDS ILLEGIBLES]. Some of the formative years of his life were spent in a penitentiary. He'd [WORDS ILLEGIBLES] On the outside, he hustled and one day became a fight promoter (shows you what hard work can do). He put together some Muhammad Ali fights, including the George Foreman match in Zaire, and even was written up kindly in Sports Illustrated, a magazine whose average subsriber owns 2 1/2 yachts and gets a tan from Nieman-Marcus.

King was in the papers a lot last winter. With $1.5 million from the American Broadcasting, King created the "U.S. Boxing Championships." Soon enough, the smell caused little old ladies in Dubuque to say something's wrong here, and investigators, tracing the scent, found there was. Fighters' records were faked, their rankings were rigged, managers were paid off by fighters who believed they had to do it to get into the tournament.

So the tournament was stopped and two weeks ago ABC made public a report on its investigation of itsef.

No criminal wrongdiong was found.

Surprise, surprise.

Nor did ABC find King guilty of any direct involvement in the tournament's irregularities which were called unethical, but not illegal. The worst thing King did, ABC said, was give $5,000 to a Ring Magazine editor who then supplied records later found to be falsified) used for ranking fighters.

Naughty boy.

Oh, yes. The Sports Illustrated man who wrote so kindly about King was fired when the magazine found out he took money from his subject.

All this was good for loads of laughs, as any farce should be, but the real giggles came when you realized that ABC, in its report, never, said that anyone at ABC ever questioned King about tournament's organization. They just gave this guy with the electric hair $1.5 million and said to go it. He did.

And he still is. Only now he's working for NBC, which made a deal for Wednesday night's four-fight card even before ABC revealed its report. While no one expects any shenanigans in this promotion, it doesn't need any to be a piece of comedy ranking up there with the time the high school football coach drowned in the chicken soap on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."

It's Norton, a legitimate contender with a 33-4 won-lost record, against Zanon, an Italian, who is 20-21, if we believe records of anonymous fighters anymore,

Young, who may be the next champion, is 21-5-2 and his opponent, the helpless Ballard, is 24-3.

Lyle, strong and willing but nothing else to recommended him, takes a 34-5-1 record against Stan Ward, a California who is 8-0-2.

And Holmes, a tall, strong, aggressive fighter who might be the best of them all, will make his record 25-0 with 13 knockouts by dispatching Houpe, whose 12-1 record is distinguished a 10-round loss to Duane Bobick (who lasted but 58 seconds against Norton this spring).

Speaking of fistic funnies how about the one from Madison Square Garden? The Garden says it is upset with Muhammad Ali because he isn't training hard enough for his Sept. 29 bout his Earnie Shavers. After all, the Garden is paying Ali $3 million and it says he ought to get into shape.

It wouldn't say that to make people believe Shavers had a chance against an out-of-shape champ, wouldn't it?

The Garden wouldn't want people to buy more tickets, would it?

Hah-hah-hah.