Tyson fight back on; opponent unclear

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2003

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Just when it seemed Mike Tyson's world couldn't get more bizarre, he outdid himself.

Faced with an uncertain future and the reality of throwing away a reported $5 million-plus payday, Tyson woke up in a better mood Tuesday and pronounced himself ready to fight after all.

A day before, Tyson backed out of Saturday's bout against Clifford Etienne. Now, though, Etienne says he doesn't want to fight, leaving the former heavyweight champion in need of another opponent.

Tyson boarded a chartered jet Tuesday to Memphis, Tenn., according to promoter Gary Shaw, and is ready to face whoever is in the ring against him Saturday.

''Mike told me he wants to fight, and we're here to fight,'' trainer Freddie Roach said after the plane landed.

Earlier in the day, Roach said he told Tyson that he didn't think he was ready for the fight but would stand behind him. After landing, Roach sounded more confident despite Tyson missing time in the ring.

''It didn't help at all but in a couple of days we can get the timing back in,'' Roach said.

''He's ready to fight. I don't care who they put out in front of him.''

While Tyson's mood swings are well known, Etienne had a little fit of his own.

''I'm going to show him I don't have to live by Mike's rules,'' Etienne said.

''I think he has mental problems, but Mike has to live with that.''

Etienne's manager, Les Bonano, said he tried to talk Etienne into fighting, but the boxer was adamant. ''He's not going to fight. It's official,'' Bonano said. ''But in this world, who knows?''

Proving that an opponent is just an opponent, however, promoters said they had four fighters lined up to replace Etienne.

''If I were him, I'd be jumping for joy that he's fighting a Mike Tyson who hasn't trained for days,'' said Tyson's manager, Shelly Finkel. ''I think you'll see him fight. If not, we have others to take his place.''

Finkel said Tuesday night that Etienne was still officially Tyson's opponent and hoped it would stay that way.

The 36-year-old Tyson's erratic behavior took another soap operalike twist Tuesday when he said he was feeling better and wanted to go through with the fight. The night before, Tyson said he wasn't 100 percent and didn't want to risk not being his best.

''In the world of Mike, it's normal,'' Finkel said.

Tyson might have been influenced by the unhappiness of Showtime executives who had a big weekend of programming built around him and the possibility the network might drop the fighter from its stable. He also faced losing a return match with Lennox Lewis that would pay him millions more.

Although Tyson was said to have flulike symptoms over the weekend, his recent run of odd behavior began a week ago, when he went out and got a large tattoo on his left temple. He then missed three straight sparring sessions, leaving Roach waiting at the gym without explanation.

Tyson reportedly wanted more money for the fight. He was to make somewhere between $5 million and $10 million, far less than the $20 million he pocketed for losing to Lewis in June.

Tyson owes his ex-wife $6.5 million in future earnings as part of their divorce settlement.

''He woke up today and said he wanted to do it,'' Finkel said. ''He felt good enough so he could go to Memphis and beat this guy.''

Etienne hadn't been expected to present much of a problem for a fit Tyson. The former champ was a 7-1 favorite against a fighter handpicked by promoters for his willingness to stand in front of Tyson and trade punches.

Bonano said his fighter was up all night thinking the fight was canceled and said he now wasn't mentally prepared to fight. But Etienne would have made his biggest payday ever: nearly $1 million.

While Etienne pulled out of the bout, Tyson went to the charter terminal in Las Vegas, where he, Roach and a sparring partner were to board a private jet for Memphis.

Tyson's handlers waited days for him to give them some sort of signal on his willingness to fight. They decided to cancel the bout after the boxer missed a flight to Memphis for the second day in a row Monday.

After the fight was called off, Showtime executives decided to move an undercard headed by Olympian Jeff Lacy to Bally's hotel-casino in Atlantic City and televise it along with some interviews with Tyson and Etienne in place of the main event.

''We actually pulled off an amazing logistical task in 24 hours,'' Showtime boxing chief Jay Larkin said. ''I assure you this is not a publicity stunt. We went to astounding gymnastics to pull this off.''

Once the most fearsome heavyweight around, Tyson has shown little inclination to fight in recent years and has lost three of his last nine fights, two by knockout.

Tyson fought an average of only five rounds a year in the last 5 1/2 years -- and eight of those came while he was taking a beating in his fight against Lewis.

But Finkel said Tyson remains a big attraction.

''In the crazy world of Mike Tyson, one thing you have to know is Mike Tyson will always be in demand,'' Finkel said. ''He's still a star -- he's the star. He won't be hurting for places to fight.''

Brian Young, one of the local promoters, said 10,700 tickets had been sold for the fight, but that ticket sales dried up over the weekend as speculation mounted that Tyson would not fight.

Young estimated he would lose about $1.4 million if the fight was canceled.



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