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Why Tyson Won’t Fight Bowe: Somebody Could Actually Get Hurt

September 9, 1996

Mike Tyson’s latest fiasco didn’t do anything for boxing, though it did help restore some faith in the neighbors. It turns out about 100,000 fewer of them coughed up the $39.95 pay-per-view fee to see him tip over this tomato can than the last one. In this racket, that passes for real progress.

For the record, Saturday night’s victim-for-hire was Bruce Seldon. Or so it appeared. A hard body with a frail chin, Seldon was supposed to be the WBA champion and supposed to have a jab that could keep Tyson at bay long enough to break a sweat. But the guy who actually showed up to fight had nothing and besides, he spent so little time without his face glued to the canvas _ 109 seconds _ a positive ID was impossible.

A glancing right hand on the top of his head set him down the first time, then a left hook a short while later sent him sprawling to that soft spot on the mat he had been eying since stepping between the ropes. While Tyson debated whether to shower, a restive crowd began chanting ```fix, fix, fix″ at Seldon, and promoter Don King went about business as usual. Which is to say, he quit defending the current fiasco and started hustling the next one.

That would be the Nov. 9 fiasco, in which Tyson is scheduled to fight Evander Holyfield. That was a fight people actually anticipated once upon a time _ five years ago, to be exact. It was postponed initially when Tyson pulled out with a rib cage injury. By the time that healed, Tyson was fighting charges of rape that resulted in a three-year prison term.

Now, Tyson is intent on making everybody else pay, taking his time, steering clear of Riddick Bowe, the one fighter who could actually ruin this slow march toward mediocrity. Instead, he tries to build a gate by sparring with Holyfield.

``The only thing stopping me from being the champion is just time,″ said Holyfield, who just happened to be at the post-fight news conference and close enough to Tyson to be heard. ``See you Nov. 9.″

Tyson glowered back. ``I’m going to like this. I’m going to have a good time this fight.″

If that turns out to be true, he could be the only one who does. The maxim in boxing is that the public doesn’t pay for fights, it pays for fighters. If that’s true, the public has now paid Tyson $80 million for what amounts to a 17-minute, 20-second aerobic class.

Peter McNeely was the first bozo King put in front of Tyson. The only reason he’s walking around today is because his manager stopped the fight before McNeely used his face to take another imprint of Tyson’s fist.

Buster Mathis Jr. was next. To no one’s surprise, he fought a lot like Johnny Mathis, and by now, has probably launched a singing career with what King put in his pocket for staying vertical for three full rounds.

Then there was Frank Bruno, who crossed himself a half-dozen times on the walk from the dressing room to his corner. His prayers were answered _ assuming Bruno was asking for nothing more ambitious than a chance to spend the money he made for entering the ring in the first place.

And that’s precisely the problem: There is plenty of money to go around and plenty of pugs who will happily take it to let Tyson tattoo them.

Seldon got $5 million for his 109 seconds of work, and despite Showtime’s estimate that 100,000 fewer households bought that fight than the Bruno fight, the network is still saying 1.3 million paid $39.95 for the dubious pleasure.

At that rate, Tyson has a dozen more profitable fights before he’ll actually have to come up with an entertaining one. That’s why the Tyson camp paid $4 million to No. 1 WBC contender Lennox Lewis to step aside so Tyson could fight Seldon.

Holyfield is nowhere near the fighter he was a few years ago. His last fight was a fifth-round TKO of Bobby Czyz, who either fights or announces fights, depending on which pays better at the moment.

The last guy Holyfield fought who was worth the time is the same guy who dispatched Seldon as fast as Tyson did. That is Bowe. He’s been the only credible opponent since the day Tyson walked out of prison. But he won’t get a shot until the audience for every other fight has dried up.

Because in a fight like that, somebody could actually get hurt.