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Antics Show Tyson Hasn’t Changed

January 23, 2002

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People who expect the worst from Mike Tyson are never disappointed.

That’s why the question of whether Tuesday’s prefight fight was staged is irrelevant. Same for whether Tyson staged it to get out of the real fight. And it doesn’t matter, finally, whether reports that he bit Lennox Lewis on the leg turn out to be true.

The only thing that needs answering next week in Nevada is why state boxing regulators considered sanctioning this bout in the first place. A full licensing hearing at this point would be redundant.

Suppose for the moment that Tuesday was a stunt. Suppose what Tyson said afterward was the absolute truth, that both camps agreed in advance to a face off and that it was Lennox Lewis’ bodyguard who panicked, shoved Tyson and precipitated the melee.

He’ll get no argument here. Look at the evidence. Rusty as Tyson might be, does anybody believe he’d miss a bodyguard by a good couple of inches unless he was pulling the punch? And doesn’t the bite angle sound just a little too delicious?

Granted, getting cut on the forehead probably wasn’t part of Tyson’s plan. Ditto for WBC president Jose Sulaiman being knocked unconscious in the brawl when he hit his head on a table.

So go ahead, suppose the whole episode was loosely scripted, security was lax and that Tyson’s only motivation _ at first, anyway _ was to sell tickets. That’s Tyson’s story for the commissioners in Nevada and he’s sticking to it.

Now, if somebody can just explain what happened after that.

Explain what Tyson was doing after Lewis’ handlers bundled their fighter off to another room and Tyson had the spotlight to himself. Explain what he was doing by grabbing his crotch a half-dozen times and offering _ in the crudest language imaginable _ to initiate one of the spectators at the news conference into the joys of prison sex.

And this from a man who’s already served time for one rape and soon could be facing charges in a second, who bit Evander Holyfield’s ears and talked about eating Lewis’ children, who got a license to fight Andrew Golota in Michigan some 15 months ago by promising to take anti-depressants before the fight and tested positive for marijuana after it.

What Tyson is selling now is a freak show, not a fight, and Nevada regulators buy back into it at their own risk.

Five years ago, they pulled Tyson’s license after the bite fight. Two years after that, he pitched his circus tent on the other side of the ocean. Every fight since has been a bigger farce than the last one.

In his first bout back, Tyson tried to break Frans Botha’s arm. After that, in succession, he popped whoopee cushion Orlin Norris so late after the round-one bell that it was declared a no-contest; propped up feinting Englishman Julius Francis for a round and change; punched out a referee while chasing a pushover named Lou Savarese; frightened Golota into years of hypochondria; and squashed a Danish pastry named Brian Nielsen, who quit on his stool before the seventh-round bell and then announced he was moving to Spain because the taxes are lower.

The reason Las Vegas was willing to risk letting Tyson back into the ring isn’t a mystery. The town is about money, and nobody can make it rain in the desert like Iron Mike.

That’s why the spin doctors followed Tyson to the stage.

``It would be discriminatory to single out Mike Tyson because many other boxers have behaved similarly at other press conferences,″ said Sulaiman, who was treated at a nearby hospital for a concussion before being released.

``No pose offs or face offs are necessary,″ concurred Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada commission. ``These fights can sell on their own.″

Ratner blamed Tuesday’s fiasco on the security.

``I thought it was completely regrettable,″ he said. ``They had an incident when it didn’t need to happen.″

Fighting gave Tyson a false sense of control. Counseling and drugs haven’t dented his unpredictable fury. If Ratner and the rest of the commissioners think a few more uniformed guards in the arena will solve all their problems, they haven’t been paying attention.

Tyson never figured out how to navigate life outside the ropes, pinballing from fight to fight. The more attention he gets, the greater the chances become that he’ll take off and smash through the glass altogether.


Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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