Published: July 29, 2004
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Amazing as it might seem at this advanced stage of his turbulent career, Mike Tyson still is capable of surprising people with unexpected behavior.
At the news conference here earlier this month
to announce his pay-per-view matchup with former
British Commonwealth heavyweight champion
Danny Williams, Tyson was, well, downright civil.
“I was shocked,” Williams said of Tyson, who at 38 claims to have toned down the sociopathic act that stamped him as boxing’s most notorious head case. “I came in expecting him to be shouting and screaming at me. I expected him to be growling. But he smiled and gave me a hug. I was totally shocked.”
So what happened to the Tyson who had a penchant for mistreating women, grabbing his crotch in public settings, slinging profanities and, in one infamous media gathering gone awry, biting a chunk out of Lennox Lewis’ left thigh? Has he slinked away, never to be glimpsed again?
Perhaps. Or perhaps not. The litmus test is when the bell rings tomorrow night in Freedom Hall,
and there will be professional justification for Tyson to toss off the binds of propriety that he
“My life has been a total waste. I was addicted to chaos and that’s why I’ve had a very difficult time settling into the person I am now. But I really love what I do, and I also would like to pay all my bills. I have a strong internal fortitude when I’m really interested in doing something. Like when I have my mind made up to make a fool of myself, I’m very successful at doing that. If I have my mind made up to make a success of myself, I’m very able to do that as well.”
During his long foolish stage, Tyson blew a reported $300 million fortune, allowed his boxing skills to atrophy through disuse and disinterest, and managed to topple into a $38.4 million canyon of debt. Even with the $14 million he received to settle his lawsuit against his former promoter, Don King, and the $8 million he will make for the Williams bout, Tyson acknowledges that almost all of the money he once used to splurge on mansions, jewelry and luxury automobiles has been earmarked, pardon the expression, for the Internal Revenue Service (to which he owes $18 million) and second ex-wife Monica Turner Tyson ($9 million).
The ambitious fight schedule envisioned by Tyson’s adviser, Shelly Finkel – seven bouts in 3 years – was crafted for several reasons, not the least of which was to restore the two-time former heavyweight champion to financial solvency.
For his part, Tyson is convinced a return to wealth and glory is only a few victories away.
“If I fight for a year, I’ll get something like $80 million,” he predicted. “If I fight for a year, I’ll break every record of any athlete making money in any sport. All I have to do is fight.”
But there are those who wonder if Tyson hasn’t been so diminished by rust and age that he never can be more than a shadow of what once was. He hasn’t plied his trade since his one-round destruction of Clifford Etienne on Feb. 22, 2003, and has logged only 27 rounds that counted since 1997 (two of his nine bouts in that period were ruled no-contests). Since 1988, Tyson (50-4, 44 KOs) has pulled out of 12 fights after tickets for those bouts had gone on sale.
“I’m just not afraid of him,” said Williams (31-3, 26 KOs). “He’s 38, he’s only fought for a few rounds in the last 2 years, he hasn’t been training for 18 months. He just isn’t the Mike Tyson I loved watching years ago. That guy doesn’t exist anymore. I can beat the guy who does exist now. I’d say he’s 40 percent of what he used to be. I believe he’s ready to be taken.”
Tyson, for once, refused to rise up and take the bait. Although he said he doesn’t know “if I’m too immature” to deal with ongoing issues in his personal life, he insists he no longer feels the need to work himself into an enraged froth because an opponent publicly doubts him.
“We’re going to fight anyway, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re mad at me or what I say about you,” he said.
“Look, I’m trying to be a decent man. I’m not trying to talk bleep. I want to get Nike commercials. But come on, man, [Williams] is not going to do anything to me.”
Even if Tyson the fighter is not so far gone as Williams believes, others question whether Tyson the volatile personality ever can truly get himself under control enough to even be granted more chances to ply his trade.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher expressed dismay when his state’s athletic commission decided to grant Tyson a license to fight without consulting his office. Fletcher opined that Tyson’s latest comeback launch is “not a fight that I would have promoted, and it’s not a fight that I will attend.”
Fletcher is hardly alone in his distaste for Tyson. Before his 2002 drubbing by Lewis in Memphis, Tenn., Tyson’s search for a state that would welcome him was met by multiple rejections. Even an apparent recent victory, when Larry Hazzard, who heads the New Jersey State Board of Athletic Control, granted Tyson a license, was rendered virtually meaningless when Gov. McGreevey mandated that the fighter be excluded from such state-owned facilities as Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall and the Meadowlands.
“The governor doesn’t think Mr. Tyson has the temperament to engage in good sportsmanship,” said a McGreevey spokesman, Micah Rasmussen.
It is not an unreasonable assumption. As recently as June 2003, Tyson was involved in another of the image-tainting incidents that have largely served to overshadow his accomplishments in the ring. He was arrested for an early-morning brawl with three autograph-seekers in a Brooklyn hotel lobby; even though Tyson claimed to have been provoked, his loose grip on a hair-trigger temper cannot be overlooked. Remember, this is the guy whose reaction to a fender-bender in 1998 was to pummel two terrified middle-aged motorists.
There also are the vulgar and boorish comments Tyson made in a televised interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren in May 2003 in which he called Desiree Washington, the woman he was convicted of raping in 1991, as a “slimy bitch” and a “lying, reptilian, monstrous young lady.”
Tyson has not backed completely off those remarks – “People are not convicted for what they do, but for what people think they might do,” he said – but he claims he is more worried about others’ perceptions of him, particularly his five children.
“I say to myself, ‘What would the kids think?’ ” he said. “So, no more swearing, no more bad words.”
Can an aging, nice-guy Tyson again rise to the top of a diminished heavyweight heap? Or does he need rage to fuel the fire that once roared within the ropes but is widely presumed to have been reduced to a few glowing embers?
One of Tyson’s favorite books is Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” whose principal character, Edmund Dante, speaks of the quest for revenge that keeps him going.
“Don’t rob me of my hate, it’s all I have left,” Dante says.
It remains to be seen what’s left of Mike Tyson.
By BERNARD FERNANDEZ