by Cliff Rold
Saturday night, in front of a packed house at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida, former Heavyweight Champion of the World “Iron” Mike Tyson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Boxing fans will recall his induction to the west coast World Boxing Hall of Fame along with Julio Cesar Chavez, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and Bennie Briscoe in 2010. They will also recall his induction into the more notable International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in Canastota, New York in 2011. Tyson was again joined by Chavez, as well as Kostya Tszyu.
With boxing covered, Tyson mirrors fellow 2011 IBHOF inductee Sylvester Stallone. Just as Stallone was inducted in a special category (Observer) for his contributions to the fight game beyond the squared circle, so too will Tyson be honored similarly this weekend.
Tyson will be joined by luminaries in their field as distinguished as he was in his.
He’ll be joined by Edge, Mil Mascaras, the first African-American World Champion in his field Ron Simmons, Yokozuna, and the immortal Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen.
Mike Tyson, welcome to the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame Class of 2012.
Some fight fans may not realize it, but for Tyson it’s an honor well earned. On the eve of what has become a massive annual stadium show, Wrestlemania; in the shadow of the heavily promoted clash between The Rock and John Cena on Sunday; Tyson will be recognized for his critical contribution in giving the WWE (then WWF) rebirth and, ultimately, a place as the only real game in town for the theatre that is the wonderfully absurd world or professional wrestling.
While Tyson has made various appearances with WWE in the years since 1998, it was that year that made all the difference.
WWE was losing the ratings, and revenue, wars against Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, but they had a new weapon. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had emerged from 1996-97 as the star they could build a future around. He was moving merchandise and selling tickets, but he needed that next something special to push him into the mainstream consciousness.
Mike Tyson was that something special.
It began with a famous interview segment on WWE Monday Night Raw on January 19, 1998. Tyson was introduced to the crowd in Fresno, California, (your faithful scribe in attendance) and fans wondered what his role would be at Wrestlemania 14. Before they could find out, the sound of shattering glass brought the theme music for Austin into the arena and the gregarious Texan was ready for his moment.
Some choice words and a pair of middle fingers led to a shoving match and a ton of coverage. The picture of Austin flipping off Tyson could be seen the following day in USA Today. The footage played on newscasts around the country.
Sure, it was all conveyed with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
But it was conveyed.
Tyson’s role would eventually be revealed as that of special outside-the-ring referee for Austin’s main event title match with Shawn Michaels. It was the same role played by Muhammad Ali at the first Wrestlemania in 1985.
Over the ensuing weeks, viewers would be led to believe Tyson had allied with Michaels to screw over the fan favorite. At the March 29, 1998, pay-per-view, Tyson continued to play the hostile until the final seconds when he crawled into the ring (the regular referee had been knocked out earlier…that happens sometimes in wrestling) and slapped his hands to the mat.
1-2-3. Enter the Austin era.
Tyson, who had been booed by the fan throughout the build, raised Austin’s hand and even got to deck a truculent Michaels in post-fight festivities. At a post-event press conference, Tyson revealed he and Austin had been allies all along.
But of course.
The spectacle of it all got a ton of press too.
Within weeks, the WWF was outgaining WCW in television ratings and, with Austin heading the ship and a new crop of talent built behind him, the company rose to new heights. By 2001, WCW was out of business.
Tyson’s short stay wasn’t the reason for all of that (read the book “The Death of WCW” for a tale of incredible corporate mismanagement of a million-dollar product). It was though a critical lynchpin. The numbers don’t lie.
Tyson, then the pay-per-view king of the world despite moments like the bite heard round the world less than a year earlier, brought his cache to wrestling and helped to make a difference of almost 500,000 buys from Wrestlemania 13 to Wrestlemania 14. The boost to Austin gave the wrestling industry it’s biggest star since Hulk Hogan’s 1980’s heyday and was an important part of the foundation allowing for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to grow from wrestling’s number two man behind Austin to feature film mega-star.
In that sense, it’s fitting for Tyson to be inducted the same weekend The Rock finally comes back to Wrestlemania. There is a symbiotic link between the two and that era. It’s also fun to be reminded of the historical link between the sport of boxing and the entertaining world of wrestling. Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Joe Frazier all played parts in the latter after their days as fighters were done. Floyd Mayweather got involved to great success just four years ago on he verge of short-lived retirement and then resumption as a pound-for-pound player in the sweet science
Some shook their heads. Others just smiled. There is a kinship between the outlets, and also with mixed martial arts, even if it’s not always embraced. At its best, wrestling is great fun and, while outcomes may be fixed, the athletes involved perform impressively.
It’s not easy to do a huracanrana folks.
Tyson was a part of that fun then and will be again this weekend.
He’ll even be inducted by Michaels.
One guesses they’ve laid that old grudge to rest.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Garcia Outworks Smith: http://www.boxingscene.com/roberto-garcia-soundly-outpoints-antwone-smith-home--50973
The End for El Terrible?: http://www.boxingscene.com/tijuana-sunset-garcia-likely-closes-final-morales-chapter--51022
New Champs at 140, 122: http://www.boxingscene.com/new-champs-140-122-review-ratings-update--51063
Updated Division Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--51096
Cliff’s Notes… As an additional note on Tyson and wrestling, he was almost involved in Wrestlemania 6. It’s never been fully revealed what he might have been doing there. Was he going to go Ali-Antonio Inoki and do some sort of match with Hogan? Would he have been a special referee for the epic Hogan-Ultimate Warrior showdown? Buster Douglas denied the world it’s chance to find out, but at least got a nice gig in Tyson’s place as a special referee for Hogan-Randy Savage on an NBC Main Event special…Congratulations to the Klitschko Brothers for being selected by the BWAA to receive this year’s honors for “Honesty and Integrity.” Love or loathe their fighting styles at times, the Klitschko’s make incredible contributions outside the ring and are a model of class and professionalism all fighters can mimic…Word is the Sato-Sor Rungvisai battle at 115 on Tuesday was a corker. Hope to have it reviewed by next week…Jose Sulaiman pleads for Erik Morales to retire? Hey, Jose, you first…Dmitry Pirog versus Daniel Geale is a great idea. The winner will deserve Sergio Martinez in a big way…Game of Thrones and Mad Men are back. The world is good.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]