Sunday, February 11, 2007


He’s served time in prison for rape. He’s declared bankruptcy despite earning over $300 million in purses. He’s had his mansions and belongings sold at auction. He’s won and lost the heavyweight championship of the world – once regarded as the greatest prize in all of sports. Now, Mike Tyson is appearing as the star attraction in a travelling road show called "Mike Tyson’s World Tour".

Too bad there’s no such thing as carnival barkers anymore.

Despite his dislike for fighting in general, it’s the only real skill that Mike Tyson has ever had. He’s never had a "real" job. He’s never answered to a boss. He’s never had to submit a resume. He’s punched many people but he’s never punched a time clock. He sat around his Arizona home for a while trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life and then the idea for the tour presented itself.

They should call it the Mike Tyson charity tour.

He arrived in Ohio yesterday for the first leg of what he and his new associates hope will be a "world tour" consisting of four-round exhibition bouts that will be broadcast live on pay-per view. He’s softer and heavier now and he peers out from behind dark eyes blanketed with thick hoods of scar tissue. There’s no question that at age 40 we are witnessing a kinder, gentler Mike Tyson who was labeled the "baddest man on the planet" in the decade of the 80’s.

Tyson called it a career last June after being humiliated in successive bouts by Danny Williams and then Kevin McBride. After the McBride fight the world thought it had seen the last of Mike Tyson in trunks and gloves. But, the world should have known better.

After the upset loss to Kevin McBride, Tyson was humble and brutally honest about his future in the hardest game. "I realized I don’t think I have it anymore…I don’t got the fightin’ guts I don’t think anymore…I just don’t have this in my heart anymore. I’m just fighting to take care of my bills, basically. I don’t have the stomach for this kind of thing no more. I don’t have that ferocity. I’m not an animal anymore. Most likely I’m not gonna’ fight again."

Tyson, in his younger days as heavyweight champion, was known to smash tape recorders against walls, use profanity during live televised interviews and call boxing writers "alcoholics". He threatened to make heavyweight opponent Donovan "Razor" Ruddock his "girlfriend" and make him "kiss me with those big lips". Then of course there was the evening in Las Vegas that he made a snack out of Evander Holyfield’s ears.

Yesterday, however, the yet again reinvented Mike Tyson was smiling and gregarious as he appeared at J-Bella’s Italian restaurant in Strongsville, Ohio. "I'm not that Mike Tyson. I'm not 20 years old and I’m not going to smash anybody. That tyrannical, psycho guy, he's not going to appear."

The reason behind exactly why Tyson has embarked on this latest odyssey is crystal clear. An exasperated Tyson repeatedly alludes to the fact that he is millions of dollars in debt to various creditors including the IRS and that he would like to rid himself of the burden of the money that he owes. The hope is that his old reputation and his name will attract paying customers hoping to see a glimpse of the Mike Tyson they remember. Ringside tickets to see him on Friday night are going for $200 and the pay-per view price is $29.95.

Tyson has been training under the tutelage of former world champion and friend, Jeff Fenech, and he will face off against 335-pound heavyweight journeyman, behemoth Corey "T- Rex" Sanders in a four-round exhibition in Youngstown, Ohio. It’s tough to say exactly what the fans in Youngstown will be treated to when Tyson steps through the ropes again and that’s the major selling point and part of the allure that the backers of this tour are banking on.

Where all of this will lead is anyone’s guess. Certainly the novelty of watching a 40 year-old Mike Tyson in the ring is one thing, but paying to see him appear in four-round exhibitions that will be little more than a glorified sparring session is quite another. The old Mike Tyson was an extraordinary ticket seller and the public was attracted to his unpredictability, ferocity and violence. The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the site of many of his most remembered bouts, should be called "the house that Tyson built" much as Yankee Stadium is called "the house that Ruth built". In the long term, whether the public will pay to see Tyson the pacifist twenty years after his prime is a big question mark.

One observer standing at the back of the room yesterday at J-Bella’s Restaurant quipped that he doesn’t think it’s so bad that Tyson is being paid $250,000 for the four-round appearance. Making light of Tyson’s propensity to fade after a few rounds he laughed, "After all", he said, "Besides Butterbean, Tyson is the best four-round fighter heavyweight boxing ever produced."

As for Tyson, he has finally reached the point in his life where he is honest and candid with himself. He would like to not go the route of Joe Louis, who was employed as a casino greeter at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas years after his career ended. Tyson has flirted with a career in professional wrestling and the mixed martial art sports would love to have him be involved as either a spokesperson or combatant. There was even a rumor that made the rounds last year that he was considering a career in pornographic movies.

Wherever the road of life takes Mike Tyson next it seems the one thing he has decided on is that he won’t fight professionally again. These exhibition fights seem to be, at least for now, as close as he will allow himself to his old life. "I don’t have the desire for boxing anymore. I basically don’t care. I’m just in here in life fighting and trying to win."

At age 40, the consequences of a life lived fast and hard have caught up with him. Tyson knows better than anyone the sadness of his situation and the seriousness of the predicament that he finds himself in ten years after he was last known as the heavyweight champion of the world.

"I’m a little desperate", he quietly admits. "Boxing doesn’t define me, but I’m in dire need to take care of my life."

October 2006

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