The heavyweight championship fight between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson scheduled for Nov. 8 should be postponed immediately, unless and until Tyson is cleared of the rape charge that was filed by an Indianapolis grand jury yesterday.
Period. No ifs, ands or butts, fondled or otherwise.
It is a tough thing to call for the scrubbing of a fight that truly had the potential for greatness. But the integrity of the heavyweight championship of the world -- once the most prestigious title in sports -- and the future of boxing must take precedence over the latest "Fight of the Century." Holyfield-Tyson should happen, of course, but not under the cloud that will engulf it if Tyson steps into the Caesars Palace ring in Las Vegas as an accused, rather than acquitted, rapist.
What's wrong with Tyson coming forward and saying, "I'm so confident of my innocence that I am willing to postpone this fight that I have waited so long for, until after I have been vindicated? Then, I can fight without the stigma of a criminal trial hanging over my head and without a stain on an event that should be a showcase for my sport."
If Tyson is truly innocent, such a posture can only add to his stature. Instead, with he and promoter Don King insisting that they will go through with the fight as scheduled, it's more like, "Let's get the money while we still can." Remember, there's $15 million in it for Tyson and King.
The same grubby feeling comes from the folks at Caesars Palace, who have sold out all 15,800 seats to the fight and stand to reap a windfall at the gate and in the casino. And TVKO, which needs a blockbuster fight to hoist it out of the hole dug by its $19.95 dog-of-the-month pay-per-view boxing shows, certainly wants the fight to happen.
So instead of doing the right thing and saying, "Whoa, fellas, why don't we hold off on this until next year, when everything is cleared up?" they are hiding behind the constitution and repeating "innocent until proven guilty" so often that it sounds like a mantra. They, too, don't want to miss out on an event that might just produce $100 million in gross receipts.
And forget about the Nevada Athletic Commission, which could invoke rule 467.887, which allows it to suspend the license of any boxer "arrested on a charge involving moral turpitude," but won't because Tyson-Holyfield means big bucks and sold-out hotels on the strip.
Tyson certainly is innocent until proven guilty, and deserves the same benefit of the doubt afforded any defendant. But what if the fight goes on as scheduled and Tyson wins -- and then goes to jail, taking the heavyweight title with him? That would leave a shadow over the sport that nothing could erase. What an injustice to Holyfield, who might get a shot at a vacant title but would never get the chance to reverse his loss to Tyson. And what an injustice to boxing, already on the ropes with sponsors and the public for a constant series of mismatches, bad decisions and scandalous back-room dealings, to have its greatest performer serving a long stretch behind bars.
The way to avoid the whole rotten mess is simple: Someone must step forward, either Tyson or promoter Dan Duva or TVKO or Nevada, and say, let's wait until this whole mess gets straightened out, for the good of everyone involved. Freeze the whole division -- don't allow Holyfield an interim fight and keep Tyson the No. 1 contender -- until after the judicial process has run its course. Push the fight back six months and pick it up again with a clean slate if Tyson is cleared, or with a new challenger if he is convicted. Sure, it is taking a big chance, but if they force this thing to go off as planned and it comes out bad, it could be the one black eye boxing does not recover from.
That is the prudent thing to do, but when it comes right down to it, boxing people always go for the cash first. Prudence, justice, law, right and wrong -- those things are for suckers. Over and over again in boxing, one thing takes center stage. That one thing, of course, is greed.