by David P. Greisman
Mike Tyson does not want to do this. He has to.
Seventeen months ago, after quitting against an inferior Kevin McBride, Tyson spoke of retiring from boxing, of why the Sweet Science no longer fulfilled him and how interested he was in doing missionary work abroad.
“I just don’t have this in my gut anymore,” Tyson said at the post-fight press conference. “It’s just not in my heart anymore. I’m not trying to take anything away from Kevin McBride. We know his record, we know his credentials, and if I can’t beat him, I can’t beat [former 122-pound titlist] Junior Jones.”
“I just want to do something that has a more tangible effect for people,” he said.
But with last month’s official announcement of Mike Tyson’s World Tour, a proposed series of exhibitions commencing next month in Youngstown, Ohio, Tyson’s philanthropic preference has been delayed. Instead, the self-deprecating, self-aware former two-time heavyweight champion finds himself back between the ropes, fulfilling the desires of the voyeuristic public, the money-hungry promoters, the tax creditors – everyone except the man who wants to help others, though specifically with missionary work.
That Tyson will return to the ring should surprise none, despite his insistence that it was time to retire following the McBride loss. He is in debt, and a payday – be it from training in a makeshift ring at a hotel in Las Vegas to traveling the globe to play the role of freak show celebrity – is still a payday, and it’s better than wallowing in emptiness.
“I was a little overweight, smoking too much, and I started to get in shape,” Tyson told the assembled media at a press conference last week. “I was training in Las Vegas and 2,000 people a day were there…. The money I make isn’t going to help my bills, but I’ll feel better and won’t be depressed.”
Mike Tyson likely did not want to extend his career in 2005 either, when the promise of millions of dollars in debt relief meant facing off against the unheralded McBride. Despite starting off with the energy and effectiveness reminiscent of his youth, it soon became clear that Tyson was merely going through the motions.
With McBride bucking the odds by remaining on his feet, Tyson resorted to head-butting, biting and arm-twisting, tactics fueled by a lifetime of frustration.
As the bell sounded to signify the end of the sixth round, Tyson took a seat against the ropes – similar to the manner in which he rested while being counted out against Danny Williams – and referee Joe Cortez motioned for Tyson to get up. In his corner shortly thereafter, Tyson’s trainer Jeff Fenech stopped the fight, effectively ending Tyson’s career in everyone’s eyes but his own.
“My career has been over since 1990,” Tyson said afterward. “I look at my fans, they don’t love me, they don’t know me well enough to love me. They love what I do as a professional. They come to be entertained. I’m an entertainer. I’m a performer.”
Fighting against disinterest, aging and exhaustion, Tyson was no longer the young monster who earned the nickname of “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” neither after his deference to Robin Givens in the infamous 1988 Barbara Walters interview, nor following his defeats to Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Williams and McBride.
“I’m no ‘Iron Mike’ getting ready to conquer the world again,” Tyson told ABC News last month. “That’s not who I am. It just doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.”
But from the fans that live through him vicariously to the business interests and investors who profit healthily, Tyson is useful as a prop and as a promotional tool.
Tyson, of course, is the selling point for an Oct. 20 pay-per-view headlined by a bout against Corey Sanders – not the former titlist Corrie Sanders who knocked out Wladimir Klitschko, but the 300-plus pound behemoth who kayoed Oleg Maskaev in 2002 and then proceeded to lose four straight and retire.
If few imagined Tyson would lose to McBride, then even less know what to expect in the four-rounder with Sanders, a fight between two men who have been out of the sport – either mentally or physically – and have little to gain or lose.
“Whatever happens, if he starts winging, I’ll start winging,” Tyson said last week.
But in his ABC News interview, Tyson admitted that boxing brought out the side of him that, for years, he has tried to escape.
“I want to change,” he said. “I want to run away from that guy, but they want to pull that guy back out of me…. I don’t want to fight nobody. I’m just trying to make a buck without getting splashed, without hitting anybody. I’m just a simple man now.”
He is a simple man in a complicated situation, confronting his debt in a manner that brings no compensation.
Mike Tyson may not want to do this. But he has to.
The Contender Update
With a split decision victory, Grady Brewer beat Steve Forbes to win the second season of The Contender, Mark Burnett’s boxing reality show. The win gives Brewer – an aging junior middleweight mainstay who often played a divisional measuring stick but rarely came out on top – one final shot at earning a modicum of respect.
Forbes, meanwhile, will probably drop down from welterweight to junior welterweight, a weight class where his experience and boxing style can make an impact, especially as many of the major names have outgrown the 140-lb. weight limit.
On the televised undercard, Cornelius Bundrage stopped Norberto Bravo in the seventh round to take third-place honors. In other results, Walter Wright knocked out Vinroy Barrett in the fourth round, Freddy Curiel outpointed Aaron Torres in a six-round decision, and Nick Acevedo took a unanimous decision over non-Contender contestant Nurhan Suleymanoglu.
While a few of this season’s fighters may thrive off of the publicity garnered by the show, their talents – perhaps superior to the middleweights in the first season – may not make them as recognizable as the stars created on NBC in season one.
Nevertheless, the audience numbers for the ESPN run – given an assist by the number of repeat showings – should mean that The Contender will return for a third go-around, although what weight class it would be competed in is uncertain.
The 10 Count will return next week.