INDIANAPOLIS -- Don't breathe that sigh of relief so quickly, Evander, Riddick, Ruddock, George, Larry and the rest of you heavyweights. Mike Tyson will be back to terrorize your world before most of you can retire.
Tyson was sentenced yesterday to six years of jail time for the rape of Desiree Washington. But under Indiana law, Tyson gets a day cut off his sentence for every day of good behavior. That means Tyson, who will turn 26 on June 30, could be out before he is 29 years old. Gulp.
Muhammad Ali was about to turn 29 when he resumed his career in 1970 after three years of exile. George Foreman was resting at his ranch in Marshall, Texas, when he was 29, contemplating a return to the ring in another 10 years or so. Larry Holmes had just turned 29 when he won the heavyweight title in 1978. Jack Dempsey was at the height of his career at 29 and Rocky Marciano won the title from Jersey Joe Walcott on his 29th birthday. Current champ Evander Holyfield is 29.
Not a bad age to be for a heavyweight.
In the meantime, boxing will continue, a little sadder and a lot less exciting, without Tyson to kick people around anymore. The game probably will enter a period of post-Ali-type doldrums, with the title passing from Evander to Larry to George to Riddick to Ruddock and maybe back up the line again. Possibly
C heavyweight will emerge from the Olympics, maybe Brooklyn's Shannon Briggs, or maybe some promoter with deep pockets will induce a Cuban such as Felix Savon to defect, or maybe some unknown kid off the streets of Bed-Stuy, like Tyson once was, will come along to provide a quick fix. But the boxing public will know that it is just a waiting game.
Of course, Tyson could be back even sooner than that. If his latest hotshot lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, can succeed in getting him an appeal bond at a hearing this afternoon, Tyson could be out of jail tonight. How long do you think it will take for Don King to arrange for Tyson to be licensed somewhere, to find Tyson a match and a site to house it (remember Donald "Free Mike" Trump?), and to set up a pay-per-view television network to generate the revenue? Probably a lot sooner than it will take Razor Ruddock to turn 29, which occurs Dec. 21.
Of course, if the appeal gambit fails and Tyson is forced to serve his term, the rest will be up to him. Can he keep himself together for three years, stay out of jailyard troubles and earn an early parole? Will he keep himself motivated and in shape so his return to society and boxing will be that much easier?
The betting must be that he will. He already has overcome tremendous odds to achieve what he has, and at 25, what else does Tyson have to look forward to than the resumption of his career and the rebuilding of his reputation? A Tyson who returns to the ring after three years in prison will be a more powerful box-office draw than he ever was. And the boxing public, which will have been in a prison of bad fights and boring fighters, will be happy to welcome him back.
By the time Tyson gets out, Holmes might be 46 and in the third year of his second title reign. Foreman's age (46) could match his waistline, and he could be in the 90th fight of his career. Holyfield, who has said he will continue on to 1996, could still be hungry for the one big payday that eluded him when Tyson went away. And Riddick Bowe might just be months away from a very important birthday for heavyweights -- his 29th, which comes up Aug. 10, 1996.
Sounds like a great date to hold a heavyweight title showdown.