Today begins Joe Bruno's last big bout.
The former state Senate majority leader and one-time Army boxing champ is due to appear in federal court for the start of a trial that will aim a spotlight on Albany's shadowy pay-to-play culture and that may land the 80-year-old behind bars.
Prosecutors say Bruno, who is retired from the powerful Senate post he held for more than a decade, traded his influence for $3.2 million in commissions and gifts from people with business before the state.
Bruno has pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts of the federal "honest services" law, which gives prosecutors the authority to secure corruption convictions without proving any quid pro quo.
He has also denounced the years-long probe by the US Attorney's Office as a political witch hunt.
The trial, expected to take weeks, promises to provide a rare glimpse into Albany's world of get-rich politics and favor trading.
"This will be seen as another example of why voters across the state are unhappy with what goes on in the Capitol," said Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff. "That's not new news, but it certainly could have many unpleasant returns for elected officials currently in office."
Over the summer, in a similar case, Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Queens) admitted accepting more than $1 million in secret consulting fees from hospital officials whom he had promised to help.
For 13 years, Bruno, a folksy Republican from Troy, reigned with the governor and the Assembly speaker as "the three men in the room" who set the state's agenda.
Renowned for his sleek suits, youthful vigor and silver hair, Bruno cast himself as a man's man, as well as a farmer. He once rode a horse through a black-tie gala sponsored by Albany reporters.
Last year, before unexpectedly resigning, he piloted the cab of an 18-wheeler around the Capitol to protest state fuel taxes.
And in 2007, Bruno punctuated his fierce rivalry with then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer by mocking him as "fancy, dancey, prancey."
The witness list in the case against Bruno includes the names of more than 100 lobbyists, former state officials and union bosses.
The prosecution says Bruno introduced union officials with state ties to an investment firm and a brokerage house that paid him fat consulting fees in return.
Bruno is also accused of taking large payments from three businessmen who dealt with the state, though exactly what he got in return is not specified.
Bruno's legal team includes Washington-based white-collar-defense guru Abbe Lowell, who has represented the likes of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. If convicted, Bruno could get up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.
Asked last month how he felt about that, he replied, "I have a lot of confidence . . . that a jury will decide our innocence."