Some, networks included, see fight game gaining from Tyson's loss

February 16, 1992|By Jack Craig | Jack Craig,Boston Globe

There are two people associated with boxing who interpret the removal of Mike Tyson as a boon for the sport. They are Kevin Monaghan of NBC, who negotiated bouts for his network before it dropped out of the sport last year, and Ferdie Pacheco, longtime TV analyst and pop psychologist of the hard sport.

Monaghan says if the end of Tyson also means the end for Don King, it will be a decent trade-off. Typically, the day after Tyson's rape conviction, King was still pressing Showtime to honor its contract, and King's one-third share of the take, to use Tyson as a TV analyst for last night's Razor Ruddock-Greg Page bout. Showtime came to its senses about 24 hours later and firmly notified King that Tyson was canceled. King then issued a press release saying Tyson volunteered to step away.

Monaghan is encouraged these days about a resurgence of boxing on the networks because of ABC's recent experience. "They have found a non-beer sponsor [Fruit of the Loom] and are making money. If I can figure a way to do it, NBC will be back, too," he said.

ABC has accomplished this by foregoing the typical $300,000 rights fees of last year, setting a $75,000 limit and scheduling three consecutive Saturdays of action. The network then enjoyed good fortune last weekend when middleweight James Toney's supposed easy mark, Dave Tiberti, staged a war and lost a disputed decision.

Toney had taken the fight on the advice of Jackie Kallam, his female manager, who decided a boxer's job is to fight, preferably on a network, sacrificing money in the short term for exposure. Perhaps male managers will follow suit.

There also is revived hope for boxing from the decision of Seth Abraham, the sport's kingmaker as boss of Home Box Office, to abandon long-term deals with marquee fighters and put an end to embarrassing mismatches. In the future, Abraham intends to schedule bouts based on merit. HBO already is negotiating a rematch between Toney and Tarbiti, which could have a negative impact on the networks because of HBO's much higher rights fees.

Monaghan's view that Tyson's conviction will have no real impact on boxing is based partly on cynicism. "Boxing is indestructible. Things have been darker than this before," he said, and noted that everyone in boxing with whom he talked during the trial thought Tyson was guilty but would be found innocent.

Pacheco bases his optimism for life after Tyson on the prominence that developed for other fighters after Muhammad Ali was forced to take a three-year sabbatical from the ring in 1970 for refusing the military draft. "Until then, Ali's light shined so strongly no one else could be seen," recalled Pacheco, who was the champion's physician until walking after Ali refused to quit.

"Boxing will suffer no more from Tyson than did the presidency from the resignation of Richard Nixon," Pacheco added. "If anything, boxing should be credited for keeping Tyson out of jail for a long time."

Pacheco's insights on Tyson if he enters prison are worth noting. It seems inconceivable now, but in 1979 and '80, Pacheco placed five bouts for his fighter, James Scott, on NBC at a New Jersey state prison, where Scott is serving a life sentence for murder.

Pacheco, who was analyst for last night's Page-Ruddock bout, is familiar with Tyson, partly from working two other Showtime bouts as a co-analyst. "He has a formless mass of aggression that is crying out for control, which he will get in prison," Pacheco said. "He will find guys as tough as he is. But he has to get through that first year of being challenged.

"If he learns to do time well, reads a lot and keeps in shape, he might come out at around age 29 or 30 a different guy and still fight.

"Tyson is bright. He would keep you in conversation if he thought you were interested in him intellectually, although he is a Jekyll and Hyde. If King has any residual heart left, he should try to help. He could, because he has been in prison himself."

But Pacheco says there is no chance Tyson will be allowed to fight while in prison, as did Scott. "James was an underdog and the money he made went to his family and the state to offset incarceration costs. And, believe me, murder is not viewed as bad a crime as rape."

Alex Wallau, ABC's boxing analyst, also finds Tyson a puzzle. "I think of him as a friend, but I have no idea why he was so self-destructive," said Wallau, who agrees with Pacheco that Tyson is bright. "Someone told me Tyson once told him he was terribly bored."

Because of that, Wallau is fearful of Tyson's capacity to deal with

prison life.

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