Tyson still weighs heavily on boxing

MIKE LITTWIN

June 21, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

LAS VEGAS -- You don't wanna be like Mike.

Tyson, I mean.

He came to us on the little screen from the Big House the other night, upstaging the he-ain't-heavy, he's-the-former-heavyweight-champ championship fight.

There was news value from the show -- not from the fight -- as Tyson ripped his prison guards, his prosecutor and nearly everyone but himself.

Here's what Mike Tyson had to say about Mike Tyson: "I happen to be totally in love with myself." So, as it turns out, someone does want to be like Mike.

But the important news -- earth-shaking news, really -- was that Tyson said he considered himself to be a "normal" guy. Not a jealous guy. Not a sweet-talking guy. Not the kind of guy who likes to run around.

A normal guy.

Imagine.

Now me, I would have thought on a normalcy scale of 1 to 10 that Tyson is just ahead of G. Gordon Liddy, who does not register at all. I would have thought Tyson is to normal what Ross Perot is to poor.

We don't want to hear the entire laundry list of Tyson's questionable behavior beyond what has put him in prison, but this is the same guy who has been accused of abusing his ex-wife, fondling half the contestants of the most recent Miss Black America contest and even, apparently, of trying to take liberties with a daughter of Bill Cosby's.

Normal?

Maybe not. But there was one undeniable, if inadvertent, truth to be gleaned from Tyson's surprise appearance from prison. It's that the boxing world misses him.

Now that says a lot about the boxing world, doesn't it? But it's true. Most of its charismatic figures -- Leonard, Hearns, Hagler -- are gone or almost gone. In the heavyweight division, they have to reprise a George Foreman or a Larry Holmes, and now, just watch, they're going to try to sell us a Foreman-Holmes match. Call this chapter: In which the seniors tour comes to boxing. Al Geiberger and Chi Chi Rodriguez may meet on the undercard.

If Tyson were champion, there would be no 42-year-olds in the ring. You might remember what Tyson did to Holmes four years ago. You don't get dumb when you get old. You just get slow. If you were slow against the old Tyson, you were an accident waiting to happen.

And as long as Tyson is in prison -- it's going to be a while -- Evander Holyfield is never going to be recognized as a great champion. Right now, he'd settle for a good champion. Right now, in the aftermath of a very uncompelling win over Holmes, he's known as the guy who can't put away a grandfather. In fact, the only thing that makes a Holyfield fight sellable is the conventional wisdom that virtually anyone has a chance against him.

Holyfield now will be obligated to take on the young guys in the division, none of whom has yet to flash any signs of greatness. Riddick Bowe is expected to get the first shot, sometime in the late fall. Razor Ruddock, who lost twice to the post-Buster Douglas Tyson, is expected to fight Lennox Lewis, with the winner getting a title shot.

If Holyfield beats these guys, we still may not know what kind of champion he is. If he loses, we may have a pretty good idea, however.

Tyson, for reasons good and ill, dominated the division like no one since Ali. He had the fearsome and ferocious fighting style of a Liston or a Foreman. And he has a personality that, though maybe deviant, was never boring.

Boxing doesn't demand good people. Holyfield seems to be a good person. Boxing likes people who can fill a house.

In boxing, where every event is a promotion unto itself, you need stars to sell. Tyson had star value. He was the guy on the tabloid covers or on the Barbara Walters show. He was always news. People came to root for him or root against him, but Tyson, the fighter and the person, was never one you could ignore.

Someday, Tyson will get out of prison. He may not want to fight -- he says now he's bored with the game -- but he will. It may be a circus. Sugar Ray Leonard told me recently that he didn't think Tyson could ever spend that much time in prison and come back to be anything like himself. I'm inclined to agree. Let's say Tyson comes out and fights and is beaten by whoever is the champion of the day. Only then will he be exorcised from the sport.

Today, even from prison, even on the little screen, he remains boxing's most dominant figure. That's the worst indictment -- much worse even than Friday night's exhibition -- that can be made of the fight game.

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