MIKE TYSON doesn’t have the stomach for boxing any more. The fighter who once labelled himself the baddest man on the planet should have no further part to play in the business which gave him so much.
Tyson’s disgusting performance in the MGM Grand Garden on June 28, 1997 will earn him at most a $3m fine from the Nevada State Athletic Comission.
That’s chump change for a man who has grossed around $105m in less than two years.
He may also face a substantial suspension, although his profuse and apparently sincere apology on Monday – his 31st birthday – may have spared him a life ban.
Whatever his eventual penalty, the real price Tyson has paid is in credibility, not simply now in the anger of the moment, but for however long boxing survives and is remembered.
There have been disqualifications before, but no offence has been as vicious, as thuggish, as cowardly as this.
For those who have been on Planet Zog all week, Tyson was thrown out of his WBA heavyweight title challenge against Evander Holyfield at the end of round three, for biting Holyfield on both ears.
Referee Mills Lane, who stepped in when Mitch Halpern withdrew following a protest from the Tyson camp, seemed to be viewed in America as having taken some kind of firm stand.
In fact, he was incredibly lenient. When Tyson chewed a piece out of Holyfield’s right ear and spat it out with about a minute left in round three, the champion bounded up and down in agony, frustration and outrage. With the ear horribly disfigured and pouring blood, Lane somehow decided to let the fight go on.
After a break of around four minutes, he tried to keep a lid on the situation by deducting two points from Tyson, one for the bite and one for shoving Holyfield in the back after the champion had turned away.
Even when Tyson deliberately bit Holyfield’s left ear in the next available clinch, Lane allowed the round to end, then ruled the fight over.
“Disqualification is the biggest penalty in boxing, and I thought it over,” said the vastly experienced referee, whose main living is made as a judge in Reno. “I did what was right. You play the hand you’ve got and you do the best with the card. One bite, maybe. It’s bad enough, but two bites – that’s the end of the search.
“I told him ‘One more time and you’re out’. You’ve got to take a position, some time, somewhere, and that’s it.”
Frankly, it wasn’t good enough. What if Holyfield, having gone on, had lost concentration and been knocked out? Where would the whole of boxing have stood then? By disqualifying Tyson, Lane at least put the blame where it should lie. But if Tyson had won, effectively by using these tactics, then boxing may not have survived the scandal.
Rules are there to be enforced. He of all people should know the importance of that, even in the white heat of a Tyson-Holyfield rematch. Surely, in the light of this, administrators will persuade referees to take a firmer grip.
Holyfield was ferried to the Valley Hospital in Las Vegas to have the piece of ear stitched on. He is said to need plastic surgery following an unsuccessful operation. Paramedics said the missing chunk was about half an inch wide.
“I was beating him anyway,” said the 34-year-old champion, who also accused Tyson of attempting to break his arm. “I just praise the Lord it’s not worse. I felt my ear had fallen off.
“It’s an easy way to get out of the fight. You get yourself disqualified.”
Later, Holyfield’s head trainer Don Turner was asked if he had seen anything like it before. He paused and then said: “In Harlem.”
And co-trainer Tommy Brooks was almost as disgusted by Tyson’s raging-bull antics after the fight was over when he tried to attack Holyfield through a melee of ring officials and policemen, saying: “I had a lot of respect for Mike Tyson before this. No more. I can’t believe what I saw.
“He had Evander in the ring, one-on-one, man-to-man, and he didn’t do anything. Then, when all those people were in there, then he wants him? Come on. That’s nothing but bully stuff.
“Things like that happen in the street, but they have no place here. It’s just disgusting. Completely disgusting.”
Tyson and his camp made much of the second-round clash of heads which left him with an ugly two-inch gash over the right eye.
He claimed Lane’s view of the head clash as accidental, and therefore his decision not to deduct a point from Holyfield, had forced him to dispense with the rules.
This was one of the lamest, most pathetic excuses I have heard from any so-called sportsman, anywhere, at any time.
And it served only to reflect and reinforce the siege mentality which has emanated from Tyson and his camp since his release from jail in 1995.
Tyson’s apparent rage when he realised he had been thrown out was ridiculous. The man knew what he was doing. In the old days fighters got themselves disqualified by hitting low, but the supposedly more civilized and sophisticated rules our sanctioning bodies have foisted upon us now force men who are punched in the genitals to box on. Deliberate head butts get point deductions, if referees notice them.
And so Tyson chose this way out. And even then he had to do it twice.
Some have also pointed out that his attempt to leave his corner for round three without his gumshield was further evidence of his intention. Maybe, maybe not. It may have been a coincidence. But whether or not he was wearing a mouthpiece, he bit. End of story.
Of course he had to make a show. He is alleged to have shoved a security guard during the in-ring melee, and was then pelted with debris and spat on as he left the arena.
Some have speculated that he may face criminal prosecution because of the violence and illegality of his assault on Holyfield, his mild attack on the officer, and possibly even an incitement to riot charge, in view of the mayhem that occurred in the MGM hotel and casino afterwards. I make no secret of the fact that I fled through an emergency exit, along with Glenn McCrory and Ian Darke, as people stampeded, claiming guns were being fired.
More than 20 people were said to have been hurt, although police said later they found no evidence of gunshots. MGM security staff said there were fights in the building which spilled outside and into other casinos.
Eventually, when Tyson emerged from his dressing room, he attempted some kind of justification.
“He butted me in the first round and the second round. No one warned him. What can I do? This is my career. I got children to raise. I have to retaliate.
“Listen, Holyfield’s not the warrior everyone says he is. He’s not rough. I’m ready to fight. He didn’t want to fight.”
When pressed further by the excellent Jim Gray of Showtime TV, Tyson simply could not, or would not, see that he had just acted in a manner way beyond any laws laid down by anybody since John Broughton first attempted to instil some discipline on the sport more than 250 years ago.
“I addressed it in the ring,” he said, bleakly treading deeper into the mire.
“I have got to go home, and my kids have got to be scared of me. Look at me! Look at me!”
This bizarre outburst from a man who had been considered, at one point in his amazing career, with the best heavyweights in history would not have washed with any four-round trier on the club circuit. Fighters, whatever their status, understand that cut eyes caused by clashes of heads, even those which are deliberate, are a hazard of the trade. As the current cliché goes, they come with the territory.
Fighters get cut. End of story. They don’t bleat about what their families will say when they get home.
Predictably, nauseously, Tyson’s co-manager John Horne tried to justify his employer’s act. He’s not worth quoting, but he served to reinforce the long-held impression that Tyson is surrounded by people whose perspective is wrong-headed.
Promoter Don King appeared shocked and chastened. King has many critics in this often murky business, but this time I felt some measure of sympathy for him. This is a bizarre, unclean business, but King does work hard for his money, and Tyson’s act, so far beyond anybody’s control, had just dug a huge hole in the profits, not only this show, but the general marketability of boxing.
King’s business is too strong to be ruined completely by the misdemeanours of a single fighter.
But for Tyson, what does the future hold?
When he went home and closed the door on his business associates, maybe even those select, sycophantic few who purport to be his friends, on his new wife, and his dearly-loved children, what kind of man did he see in the mirror?
Was it the child, the innocent son of a drunken mother and absent pimp of a father? A boy who craved love, and who may have been so different if he had received it?
Was it the street-thug old before his time?
Was it the teenager who found himself under the visionary, desperately obsessed charge of an elderly trainer bent on one last champion?
Was it the man who descended into a personal hell with the death of Cus D’Amato and Jimmy Jacobs and the unfathomable chaos of his marriage to Robin Givens, followed by defeat by Buster Douglas?
Was it the man who was dehumanized in an Indiana jail cell, where he languished for the rape of Desiree Washington?
Was it even the great young fighter who destroyed a generation of heavyweights in the second half of the 1980s? Or was it the disgraced coward?
Did he stare at himself and see a fighter who abused his privileged right, who twisted and corrupted the only professional activity which had given him relief from the torment of being alive?
And what will he do now, assuming the Nevada Commission do not eventually ban him for life, and assuming that the authorities do not lock him up?
Whatever his managers say to the contrary, Tyson wants no more part of Holyfield.
He may genuinely want to box again, but against whom? At what level?
If he hated the media for the portrayal of him in the past, what he is likely to experience now is the open contempt of his public. If they turn out to see him now, it will be in the hope that he takes a hiding. And such is the perversity of his mind that he may wish to punish himself by taking one.
Frankly, I don’t know whether this undignified, insecure man will be able to cope, inside or outside boxing.
As for Holyfield, his place among the heavyweight greats is secure.
For the week leading up to the fight he was almost serenely relaxed. He used his role to promote his faith, working out every day in the media tent and answering with craft and courtesy any questions put to him, and never losing an opportunity to bear witness to his religion.
At one point he launched a ‘Holyfield Warrior’ youth initiative scheme with a Gospel-style, all-singing, all-dancing ceremony which, to put it mildly, left the gathered hacks of the world somewhat startled.
And plainly, throughout the week, he knew he was the man in superior psychological as well as physical shape. At the final Press conference, Tyson, who for years has traded on intimidation, averted his gaze.
At the weigh-in, it happened again. And in the stare-down during Lane’s instructions in the ring, Tyson blinked and looked down. It looked for all the world as if the 11th round battering he had taken last November had destroyed his self-belief.
As he walked restlessly around the ring, before the start, it was not the fearsome prowl of old. He looked a dull-skinned, ageing athlete. Meanwhile, before his walk to the ring, Holyfield sang hymns of joy and celebration of the spirit in his dressing room.
Holyfield had come in at 15st 8lbs, heavier than ever, while Tyson had slimmed down four pounds to scale exactly the same. But the contrast between them could not have been greater.
Whereas Tyson’s pre-fight analysis had been stubbornly unintelligent – “I just want to fight, that’s all, I’m in great shape” – Holyfield knew the score.
“He might be faster than me, he might hit harder than me. But I can take his. He can’t take mine.” Don Turner had predicted: “Tyson’s character will let him down. He used to move his head, but when he’s moving his head, he can’t punch. Eight inches of movement, and he’s got to start all over again. And he don’t have the patience for that. It’s character.”
Holyfield came straight out and jabbed Tyson off balance. Tyson, perhaps trying to remember what Richie Giachetti had tried to help him do, attempted to work his own jab, and then threw a left hook, but Holyfield ducked it. Inside the first minute, Lane warned them both for rough stuff in the clinches.
Tyson missed with right hands, and looked sluggish, almost worried. Holyfield made him miss, and twice landed countering right hands over the top. Tyson found himself being shoved back, and had to launch attacks off the back foot.
Holyfield seemed to shake his composure further with a left hook to the body and left hook to the chin, and although Tyson did connect with a straight right to the head, the crowd rose to the champion with rolling chants of “Holyfield, Holyfield …”
The champion’s dominance continued in the second. Tyson did try to jab, did attempt to feint, but was out of range. He used his shoulder, and then suddenly complained bitterly when they cracked heads inside. He dabbed at his eye, but Lane ruled it an accidental clash. Holyfield leaned on Tyson and bulled him around.
Tyson landed occasionally with left hooks, but Holyfield countered and physically imposed himself by gripping his shoulders with both gloves and marching him backwards. He also landed a jab and left hook, then shoved him off again.
Again, Lane told them to tidy up. As the bell ended, Holyfield was in control, and as they pushed the swab into Tyson’s cut, he yelled in pain.
Slow out for the third, and sent back to have his mouthpiece put in, Tyson responded with a fast, venomous start. In short spurts he can still fight as well as any man in the world, and Holyfield had to tuck up and concede ground. He kept his chin down, countered and thought things out, and gradually Tyson’s storm began to subside.
Tyson landed a left hook, and then used the forearm inside. He tugged on Holyfield’s arm in another clinch, and it became fiercely physical. But then Holyfield began to open up again, and he let go a four-punch combination that showed Tyson what kind of man stood in front of him.
Tyson blasted in a right hand and left hook, as well as a solid jab, but again they had little impact … and then came the bulldozing attack and clinch, which resulted in the first, more appalling bite.
The fight was effectively over in spite of the four-minute delay, the two-point deduction, the second bite and the bell to end the round. Tyson had opted out of the fight, and it was simply a question of when referee Lane would accept the fact.
Already the reaction was inevitable. The lines were forming in the minds of a thousand headline writers: Iron Mike had turned into aluminium, the Fight of the Century had become the Bite of the Century, the Real Deal had become the Real Meal. Boxing was on the front pages again … and once again it was for the wrong reasons.
Eleven years ago, Mike Tyson did boxing’s image enormous damage with his juvenile comment about trying to drive the tip of Jesse Ferguson’s nose into the base of his brain.
Now he might have dealt it an even more savage, and entirely unjust, blow. The old game’s reeling again. And it has never seemed less like a game.