Ill-tempered Tyson is money in the bank

August 02, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

All he had to do was mind his manners for a couple of hours in front of a set of obscure state athletic commissioners eager to rule in his favor and let him earn millions.

But Mike Tyson is such a violent, semicivilized screw-up that he couldn't complete even that simple assignment.

Not that he hurt his chances of getting a new boxing license and returning to the ring by year's end.

The uncontrollable temper Tyson flashed in a New Jersey State Athletic Control Board hearing last week is precisely the reason that board or the one in Nevada that revoked his license a year ago will soon permit him to fight again.

His violent, semicivilized aura is worth millions.

It fills casinos with high rollers and tourists and fills state tax coffers with found money.

It lures thousands of pay-per-view customers and generates interest in a sport that otherwise has to beg for headlines.

Tyson sells, it's as simple as that. Win or lose, he's a furious spectacle that fans can't stand not to watch. A macho myth. A train wreck in trunks, for better or worse.

Even his bad fights generate buckets of money for promoters, casinos, local businesses, state governments, you name it. Just about everyone wins when Tyson comes to town.

Granted, his enduring appeal is increasingly inexpli

cable given the sharp decline in his boxing skills, which became obvious in his two losses to Evander Holyfield, who exposed Tyson's menace as a fraud.

But Tyson-Holyfield II, the one in which Tyson brunched on Holyfield's ear, reportedly generated $180 million.

That's 180 million reasons New Jersey regulators are considering granting Tyson a new license, even though a federal law says they should wait for Nevada to act. Who cares about some measly federal law when there's a chance for a mega-payday?

When Tyson's case went to a hearing in a New Jersey courtroom last week, what developed was funnier than any new sitcom you'll see this fall. Tyson's spin doctors sent a line of character witnesses to the stand to demonstrate that Tyson was a changed man, even though everyone knows it's way too late for that.

But after 3 1/2 hours of cuddly testimony that made Tyson sound wholesome enough for a role on Sesame Street, the boxer suddenly snapped when an attorney asked if he was sure he wouldn't bite any more boxers on the ears. (A once-in-a-lifetime question, for sure.)

Tyson cursed several times, pounded on the table and generally behaved like a rough guy with a problem temper, which, of course, he is. Goodbye Sesame Street. He didn't slug anyone or nibble on any nearby noses, but he did blow his cool.

"Calm down, Mike!" shouted his lawyer, no doubt echoing the words of many of the poor souls who have tried to govern Tyson's life and career.

Score it a loss for the spin doctors. All Tyson had to do was control himself for a few hours in a faux courtroom filled with friends, and he couldn't. He's no phony, say that much for him. He hadn't changed a bit, and he couldn't avoid letting everyone see.

Not that a guy with a rape conviction and an ear brunch in his past is ever going to become a symbol of virtue and self-control.

Anyway, the New Jersey board members weren't insulted.

"I didn't take it that he was swearing at me or the board personally. He was talking to his attorney at the time," board member Gary Shaw told the Associated Press.

In other words, although the board has six weeks to decide if Tyson gets his license, the deal is done. There's too much money to be made. Why let some other state make it?

Actually, there's a chance the board will discover a conscience and recognize that Nevada's board is the one that should make the call on Tyson, seeing as it made the original call to revoke his license a year ago.

But the Nevada board also surely would vote to give him a new license. One way or another, Tyson will box by the end of the year -- possibly against Holyfield, who reportedly would love to beat Tyson again and collect another huge payday, not in that order.

It's only appropriate, by the way. A year's suspension was enough. Tyson made a mistake and served his time in relative dignity, give or take the occasional pro wrestling appearance. Holyfield himself said a year was enough, more than enough. And it was his ear.

Basically, there's no reason not to let Tyson box again. What else is he going to do, play hockey?

No, he isn't a changed man. His courtroom tantrum was evidence of that, as if we didn't already know. The year off didn't help. The anger-management counseling didn't take. As much as he seems genuinely remorseful now and even capable of occasional fits of adult behavior, he's still as he always was, a violent man with a problem temper.

And that's exactly how everyone wants him, starting with the money-hungry state boards on the verge of giving him a new license.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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