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SBJ/June 3 - 9, 2002/Opinion
Another Tyson fight? Thanks, but no thanks
Published June 3, 2002
Although it's been rumored that I've covered every major fight since Cain rendered Abel hors de combat, when it comes to the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight in Memphis on Saturday, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, "Include me out."
This is not to be taken as an anti-boxing stance, merely an anti-Tyson one. I'm not turning my back on the sport, as Howard Cosell did after the Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb mismatch in 1982 — a fight so one-sided that Cobb, who couldn't have caught Holmes with the aid of a taxicab, at one point threw his hands up in the air and, turning to referee Steve Crossen, hollered, "You're white, help me!"
Instead, I'm boycotting this fight because of my love for the sport and because of what Tyson has done to demean it.
In the strangest association since Professor Rorschach toppled over his inkwell, Tyson has become, at least in the public's mind, the poster boy for boxing, even though he is no more its representative than Count Dracula is for the Red Cross' annual blood drive. Still, his association hurts the whole sport, as witnessed by a recent ESPN/Denver Post online poll where the question "Is it time to ban boxing as a pro sport?" placed under a picture of Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear, generated 2,272 responses, with almost 40 percent of those responding answering in the affirmative.
Nor is this about my being a moral guardian — of anything. My stance has nothing to do with Tyson's out-of-the-ring behavior. Boxing has never recruited its participants from the debutante line at the local country club. Few of those who box could be, by any stretch of the imagination, described as altar boys in search of a service.
Remember Harvey Korman's famous soliloquy in "Blazing Saddles"? The one where, playing Hedley Lamarr, he ordered his deputy, Slim Pickens, to "get me an army of the worst dregs ever to soil the face of the West. ... I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, buggerers, bushwhackers, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, muggers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, train robbers, bank robbers and ... Methodists." Well, I'm sure if you ran through the roster of those who have fought, going all the way back to shortly after Adam first heard the rush of the apple salesman, you'd find at least one of each of the abovementioned.
But almost all of those who turned to boxing turned their lives around, as did middleweight champion Rocky Graziano of "Somebody Up There Likes Me" fame. Speaking in New Yorkese, peppered with "dems" and "doses," Graziano would say of his less-than-exemplary "yute": "I never stole nuthin' unless it began with a 'A' — 'A' car, 'A' truck, 'A' payroll ..." And then, in a telling indication of just what the sport meant to him, would add, "If it wasn't for boxing, I woulda wounded up electrocuted at Sing Sing."
Tyson has not been one of those who has redeemed himself through boxing, instead bringing the sport down to his level.
It's not a level I wish to be associated with, nor have associated with the sport I love. And therein lies the reason I will not cover Mike Tyson: his behavior within the four squares of the ring.
Bottom line, boxing is little more than legalized assault. What distinguishes it from something that would get its two participants arrested were it a common garden-variety back-alley brawl and elevates it to the level of a sport are its rules and regulations — in much the same way that rules and regulations make NASCAR a sport rather than just plain ol' speeding.
The difference between boxing and out-and-out assault can best be illustrated by the recent fight between Richard Grant and James Butler in New York, where, in a fight to benefit the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — not incidentally, held in front of a large crowd of policemen — Butler, after losing the decision, punched Grant in the face with his bare, ungloved hand and was promptly arrested for his efforts and charged with assault.
It is those rules and regulations of boxing that Tyson has habitually declined to uphold, neither adhering to them nor having any use for them. His violations are like an in-the-ring rap sheet and include such crimes against the senses as biting (Evander Holyfield), hitting an opponent while down (Buster Mathis Jr.), hitting a referee (Lou Savarese fight), hitting an opponent with this elbow (Bruce Seldon), head-butting (Holyfield II), attempting to break an opponent's arm (Frans Botha), hitting after the bell (Orlin Norris), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Now some indulgences are accorded in the name of human nature. But Tyson has exceeded any and all excuses for behavior in the ring, its rules having about as much effect on Tyson as a fig leaf at a nudists' convention. And where once, in his early career, he was a human trash compactor, now he has become a trasher of the sport and all it's supposed to stand for.
Put them all together, and when the pay-per-chew starts on Saturday and the ring announcer intones, "Let's get ready to nibble," I'll be as far away from Memphis as I can get, up in Canastota, N.Y., at the Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where I'll be surrounded by some real boxing monuments — the likes of which will include Marvin Hagler, Alexis Arguello, Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith, Aaron Pryor, Carlos Ortiz, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers and many, many other greats — rather than watch that monumental boor, Mike Tyson.
If I feel an urgent need to visit the home of Elvis on Saturday, I'd rather satisfy it by going to Cleveland to see the home of Elvis Grbac than Memphis to see Graceland.
Bert Sugar is a longtime boxing writer and a columnist for SportsBusiness Journal. A similar column previously was published in The Glasgow (Scotland) Sunday Herald.