Would belt for Tyson be good or bad thing?

Posted: Friday, June 07, 2002

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- His life is a soap opera played out on a world stage. Hated by many, loved by others, Mike Tyson answers to everything from convicted rapist to savage biter.

If he beats Lennox Lewis on Saturday night, he'll be heavyweight champion again. And a lot of people in boxing can't decide whether that's good or bad.

Tyson is one of the biggest attractions in sports, but don't confuse him with Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or look for his picture on a box of Wheaties.

Badness sells, and the two-time former heavyweight champion is as volatile outside the ring as he is explosive inside.

''I live in a different world than they do,'' Tyson said. ''I don't have anything to sell. I'm Mike Tyson.''

Because he is, Tyson will make some $20 million to fight Lewis in a bout that could be the richest ever.

It's not because he's done much in the ring lately, where Tyson has fought with little interest against washed-up fighters. His act plays out like a World Wrestling Federation script, and people can't wait to see the next scene.

''The reality is that people like the misfits and the guys who do all these crazy things,'' said Emanuel Steward, the trainer for Lewis. ''I don't even feel Mike Tyson deserves to be fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world.''

Tyson almost didn't get his chance. His brawl and bite of Lewis at a January news conference nearly derailed the bout, and he had to dodge two new rape accusations to get his shot at becoming heavyweight champion a third time.

If he wins, he has a chance to get out of a reported $15 million in debt and keep living his lavish lifestyle. If he loses -- and oddsmakers make it 2-1 he will -- some fear a life already lived on the edge could spiral out of control quickly.

''He's going to revert back to what he was doing before. Somebody is going to kill him or he'll do something and spend the rest of his life in jail,'' said Tommy Brooks, who trained Tyson for his last five fights.

Even Tyson's longtime adviser, Shelly Finkel, is disturbed by the thought of Tyson's life after boxing.

''I'm scared of some things he's done,'' Finkel said. ''I worry about him.''

Tyson acknowledges as much, though he is unrepentant.

''I'm just a dark guy from the den of iniquity. I've been there all my life,'' he said. ''I'm a dark, shadowy figure.''

Tyson's two previous reigns as heavyweight champion -- separated by a three-year stint in an Indiana prison for raping a beauty pageant contestant -- were tumultuous but always intriguing.

He's fought with women and wives, been accused of sexual assault more times than he can count, punched a promoter in London and bitten Evander Holyfield's ears.

His rape conviction and prison stay seemed only to increase his popularity, judging from the $25 million he got after his release to fight a talentless heavyweight named Peter McNeeley.

People pay to see a spectacle, and Tyson usually provides it.

''People watch Tyson for the Jerry Springer factor,'' said Teddy Atlas, who once helped train Tyson as an amateur and also works as an ESPN commentator. ''They watch for who he's going to hurt or who he's going to assault. If he loses like an inadequate fighter who isn't good enough anymore, it'll be all done for him.''

If it is, those who make money off boxing will suffer.

Although Lewis is the heavyweight champion, there's little doubt who the attraction is in Memphis, where the television stations breathlessly report the bout as ''The Tyson fight,'' barely mentioning Lewis.

The fight is expected to lure more than 1 million households to fork over $54.95 to watch, making it one of the biggest pay-per-view events in a sport that has suffered in the last decade in popularity.

Tyson was in four of the top five pay-per-view fights, with his second bout with Holyfield -- ''The Bite Fight'' -- drawing a record 1.99 million households.

''Mike is probably one of the most compelling sports figures in history,'' Showtime executive Jay Larkin said. ''He's also one of the most recognized people on the planet.''

Tyson's attraction comes at a price. Some argue his criminal acts and gangsta lifestyle demeans the sport and keeps other boxers from gaining popularity.

With Tyson in the picture, only Holyfield and Oscar De La Hoya have proved they can sell in the lucrative pay-per-view arena.

Despite the bites, Holyfield wants to fight Tyson again for millions. De La Hoya doesn't want him anywhere around.

''He's a circus act and he's killing boxing,'' De La Hoya said. ''He's disgusting. It's sad and depressing. There are so many good boxers and he ruins it for everyone.''

Promoter Bob Arum goes even further.

''He's the biggest disgrace in the history of boxing,'' Arum said. ''There's never been an insane fighter at the top of boxing.''

They're certainly not paying to see Lewis, whose credentials are much stronger than Tyson's. Lewis' reserved demeanor and cautious attitude in the ring don't translate into Tysonlike appeal.

Lewis, though, sees his chance to clean up boxing and get rid of Tyson.

''It's very important for historians and my legacy, getting rid of the last misfit in boxing,'' Lewis said.

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