NEW YORK -- They can dress it up any way they want, but they still can't take it out of the age-old boxing stereotype: Good Guy vs. Bad Guy, White Hat vs. Black Hat. Or, in this case, Hat vs. No Hat.
Yesterday's news conference for the latest "Fight of the Century" -- Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson for the undisputed world heavyweight championship at Caesars Palace Nov. 8 in Las Vegas -- unfolded along predictable lines. The promoters started out by calling Holyfield-Tyson the proverbial fight that needed no hype, and then proceeded to blatantly hype the champion, Holyfield, as the hero and the challenger, Tyson, as the villain.
And as you may have guessed, Tyson willingly complied with his appointed role.
Consider the first appearance of the fighters, which was preceded by taped highlights of their major fights. Tyson's montage was set to a pounding hip-lop beat, the knockout sequences liberally spiced with shots of Tyson sneering, smirking and grimacing. Holyfield's piece was accompanied by a woman singing about heroes and ideals and role models. When the curtain was raised, there stood the two fighters: Tyson chewing gum and slouching with his hands jammed in the pockets of his dark suit, a straw fedora on his head, Holyfield bareheaded and ramrod-straight in a gray double-breasted suit, his hands clasped politely behind his back.
Tyson dressed like a wise guy and had the lines to match. He said at one point that he had "no respect for any of them, including Holyfield," that this fight "don't mean ---- without me," and promised, "I'm sure your hot dog won't get cold," when asked how long he thought the fight would go.
And yet, he refused to answer any questions about his other problem, that being the Indianapolis grand jury that is right now deciding whether to indict him for rape, although he insisted that the ongoing investigation and possible trial would pose no distraction to his training.
"I know it disappoints some people to see me making so much money and winning my title back," Tyson said. "But nothing can stop this fight, unless I die, like in my car or something."
As usual, the "bad guy" was a lot more interesting than the "good guy," who steered clear of saying anything offensive. "I don't intend to look at a fighter to downgrade him," Holyfield said when asked his opinion of Tyson's most recent performance, a comparatively lackluster win over Razor Ruddock in June. "I expect when I fight him for Tyson to be at his best."
And when asked his opinion of Tyson's suggestion that Holyfield was just a bit player in his show, Holyfield danced around the issue and spoke of fighters "needing each other" until co-trainer Lou Duva finally reminded him of just who wears the title belt around here.
After the news conference, Holyfield was endlessly accommodating to the TV crews, while Tyson was rude.
Holyfield was everything a hero should be: polite, relaxed, smiling and modest, maybe to a fault. No wonder it is Tyson who is a 2-1 favorite. Bad guys may finish last in courtrooms, but they thrive in boxing rings.