Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 11

March 14-20, 2002

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Tangling with Tyson

Friends, Romans countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do live after them …
— Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, 1599

Mark Anthony, as I recall from high school sophomore English, spoke those words — and to Mark, though I don’t remember too much about him other than he was a cohort with Brutus in Caesar’s murder — I might lend an ear. But to Mike Tyson, not over my dead body. I’d watch my leg, too, if he were around.

Mike can be cannibalistic, especially when it comes to ears. He has been known to munch on them when plying his trade in the boxing ring. That’s just one of his evil miscarriages of social behavior, as we all know.

So, it is with interest — no, make that disgust — that I note the District of Columbia is trying to figure a way to set up a deal that will bring the convicted rapist, ear gourmet, alleged leg biter and who knows what else to Washington for a championship fight.

Talking Trash
Money, world attention, tourist trade and such are the motivations among those who urge finalizing the licensing of the former world champion in the District to make it possible for the carnage to be held thereabouts. Understandably, a growing number of the citizenry isn’t as enthused about hosting Mischievous Mike in their city.

Though boxing has pretty much become an unsavory blood-and-guts sport, somewhere a line must be drawn. And what better place to draw it than between ear-chewing Mike Tyson and any boxing ring anywhere. Methinks if Washington wants to go in concert with Baltimore to host the Olympics, the city should wait until then to bank on the tourist bucks.

While waiting and hoping for approval of their much-publicized Olympic bid, those hoping for an invasion of visitors willing to spend big bucks in their fair city could promote less bloodthirsty sports: say bullfighting, cock fights, pit bulls squaring off in the streets — hell, even a match of gladiators. Maybe even tossing some criminals into the arena to face off against hungry lions. What’s the difference?

Mischievous Mike’s proposed big fight is still in the talking stages, but already there has been more scrapping than in the Dempsy-Tunney heavyweight brawl of “long count” fame that took place at Soldier’s Field, Chicago, before 104,943 spectators Sept. 22, 1927.

Curious and Curiouser
I wasn’t a year old when the Manassa Mauler lost a sure KO in his bid to regain the championship by choosing to ignore the referee’s warning to go to a neutral corner as Tunney lay decked on the mat and pretty much in la-la land for well over what would have been a count of 10. But as I grew up and followed boxing in the sports pages, everybody was still talking about that fight.

Some still talk about it, but taking it’s place as the topic of the most curious match ever was one involving Tyson. While being battered about, he chose to chew on an ear of Evander Holyfield to get a little instant energy, much as a backpacker would by gobbling gorp to fuel his body while ascending Mount Everest.

It didn’t work. Mike lost the fight and was banned from the sport for a year. And since, it turns out, that current world heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, who Iron Mike seeks to challenge, claims that he was bitten in the leg by the latter during their much-publicized press-conference brawl in New York earlier this year.

The press affair called to build interest for a showdown between the two sluggers in Las Vegas erupted into a wild melee. What would have been the richest ($150 million) boxing match in history went down the drain as Nevada state boxing officials promptly denied Tyson’s request to renew his lapsed license.
Mischievous Mike

“The evil that men do live after them.” The words Shakespeare put in Mark Anthony’s mouth also hold true for Mike Tyson. Cannibalism will forever remain his legacy. But, then again, maybe not. He is still with us and continuing to say and do the unimaginable.

Whether in or out of the ring, Mischievous Mike gets pugilistic. And he has a mouth that does even Muhammad Ali one better. But he goes beyond threatening his opponents; reporters covering his press conferences are vulnerable, as are all others who might ask the wrong question or suggest his elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.

Here we’ve got a 35-year-old brawler whose storied career has been marred with incredible acts in and out of the ring, a now-blubbery, ear-biting bully who served 1,095 days in prison for the rape of a Miss Black America contestant some years back, telling the world he deserves to have a license to get back to work, to make money — and to ruin what little is left of the image of boxing as a sport.

Go-Go-Go for the Brawl
If that isn’t incredulous enough, we’ve got a bunch of greedy cities and boxing interests vying for the privilege of hosting him in his comeback efforts. Some states like Nevada say no dice, but places like South Korea, Manila, Johannesburg and Beirut like the idea. Detroit expressed an interest. And then we have that city within an hour’s drive from here that appears go-go-go for the brawl.

Tell you the truth, I don’t want to be an hour’s drive from this guy who Nevada decreed is “mentally unfit” to fight in Las Vegas, where just about anything goes. I don’t want to be on the same planet with him.

Incredibly, the D.C. Boxing Commission granted Iron Mike a license for the proposed fight at MCI Center come June 8, deeming him fit in body and mind. Even more incredibly, Mayor Anthony Williams is in the Tyson corner. He likes the idea of all that money and attention coming to Washington: Think of the business that would come to the restaurants and hotels hit so hard since September 11. Who says money doesn’t talk?

There are voices of dissent, some concerned citizens who prefer a better image for their city, women’s groups as well as others who think there’s still a chance for boxing to remain a “sport.” But few seem to be listening to them. They think of a packed MCI Center.

Joe and Max
This writer tends to think more about when boxing was a sport, back to June 13, 1935, when as a boy I heard via radio the Cinderella Kid, one Jimmy Braddock, win the heavyweight title from boxing’s clown Max Baer — only to lose it in his next fight with Joe Louis.

Back then, the villain of the sport was one-time champ Max Schmelling, but only because he was from Germany when our planet was in turmoil. He whipped Joe Louis in their first encounter, then hit the deck in the first round of a rematch. But a villain, no way. He refused to be a Nazi, and after the war became a successful businessman. When the Brown Bomber hit the skids in the ’50s, Schmelling provided financial support to the man who humiliated him (and Hitler) more than 25 years earlier in Yankee Stadium.

They don’t make boxers like that any more, nor is the sport like that any more.

Come to think of it, maybe Tyson should get his big fight. It could hasten the demise of boxing itself.

Enough said …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly