Published: July 27, 2004
Heavyweight boxing may be wallowing in mediocrity now Lennox Lewis has retired but perhaps the best comment on the state of the business is that Mike Tyson’s increasingly sporadic appearances retain a bizarre, enduring appeal.
The former champion is 38 and looks it – but the thousands who turned out to witness a brief workout on the pads with trainer Freddie Roach in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, did not seem to notice.
They welcomed perhaps the most controversial sporting personality of his generation as if he belonged in this mid-American city, which has, after all, a soft spot for the giants of the sport.
Tyson worked out, before Friday’s scheduled 10-round fight with Danny Williams, the former British and Commonwealth champion from Brixton, in an open air ring on Fourth Street just off Muhammad Ali Boulevard. As well as Ali,
Louisville has produced three other world heavyweight title-holders: Ali’s friend Jimmy Ellis, the ill-fated Greg Page, who is still recovering from brain injuries suffered in a fight upstate in Lexington three years ago, and Marvin Hart, who was champion 100 years ago.
“Louisville, are you ready to see Mike Tyson?” screeched the master of ceremonies. Not satisfied with the response, he repeated it three times. Then he switched tack to help out the army of street vendors. “Be the first one on your block to wear the official Mike Tyson T-shirt!” he bellowed.
Elderly women and small children gathered around the security fencing waving small, cheaply printed banners that said: ‘We Love You, Mike.’ Not a women’s rights demonstrator in sight. Not a disapproving dignitary to be heard. Tyson arrived in his trademark black boots, a black hood over the top of a grey Louisville shirt, bowed to the crowd and gave them a bashful, bemused smile
It is two years since Tyson was demolished in eight rounds by Lewis further south in Memphis. Since then his ring experience has been confined to a 49-second knockout of Clifford Etienne in February of last year.
Tyson’s financial woes have been well documented. He admits he is financially poor, yet wants us to believe he has reached a new level of contentment by his enforced discovery of the simple things in life. Not long ago he was extolling the virtues of taking his own garbage out and claimed he was living in a two-bedroomed house in Phoenix. Yesterday he suggested that was not entirely true. “I still have a couple of Rolls-Royces in the garage, but they’re for sale,” he said.
Roach also says the former champion is no longer taking any of the medication prescribed for his mood swings of a few years ago.
Tyson has always had a confessional streak but now seems anxious to acknowledge his failings. “I was reckless and irresponsible,” he said. “I was so destructive I was on a collision course with myself.”
The checklist of his anti-social behaviour is topped by his 1992 conviction for rape and deviate sexual conduct that led to his incarceration for three years in Indiana, which is just across the Ohio River from Louisville. Then we have the 1997 ear-biting of Evander Holyfield which cost him his boxing licence for 18 months. There has been a failed drug test in Detroit and a road rage incident in Maryland when, following a minor traffic bump, he kicked an elderly man in the groin, which led to another brief jail term.
At the moment he is still doing community service for an early-morning altercation with two men, who were allegedly abusive, outside and in the lobby of a hotel in Brooklyn.
For now, though, the people of Louisville are gathering in fascination and Tyson, benign and friendly, is enjoying the hospitality.
By Bob Mee in Louisville, Kentucky