The primitive appeal of Iron Mike

Tyson is Tyson. Convicted rapist, ghetto fugitive. An American tragedy
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The Independent Culture
MORBID FASCINATION with Mike Tyson the primitive - rather than simply the brooding, heavy-handed pugilist who once spread fear throughout professional boxing's heavyweight division - explains why he will soon be re-established as the biggest single drawing-card in sport. No matter that Tyson was utterly discredited last year by the infamy of biting a slice from one of Evander Holyfield's ears while he was attempting to regain two versions of the championship, or that boxing luminaries see only a shell of the fighter who blasted his way to the undisputed title at just 21 years old. Tyson is Tyson: convicted rapist, ghetto fugitive. His is an American tragedy.

Even the rider "one last chance", which the Nevada State Athletic Commission added this week when restoring the licence to box that it had taken from him 15 months ago, adds to Tyson's appeal, as did the alleged violent outbursts during suspension which have resulted in two pending lawsuits.

Look no further than Tyson's admission in a Playboy interview: "I know I'm going to explode one day." And the confession that he had wished to inflict bodily harm on two of the six psychologists who examined him for four days last month, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

What the commission essentially told Tyson was the same thing his mentor, the late Cus D'Amato, said whenever the pubescent future champion misbehaved in the Catskill, New York, home in which he brought him up. The same thing that his former advisers, Jim Jacobs and Bill Caton, said when covering up for the sort of misdemeanours that once provoked the trainer Teddy Atlas to threaten Tyson with a gun.

It's the same thing that the ubiquitous promoter Don King, with whom he is now in acrimonious dispute, told him throughout their relationship. What they have all told him is: "Don't worry, Mike, we're going to make a bundle of money."

This even after the exposure of two losses to Holyfield that finally stripped Tyson of the grim aura that jellied the legs of Frank Bruno and other challengers before they even entered the ring. From being "the baddest man on the planet", Tyson against Holyfield was shown up as a bully who could not handle a rough contest.

While in Boston for his tests, Tyson contacted Peter McNeeley, the no- hoper he was fed after being released from prison in 1995. "I felt really bad for him," McNeeley said. "There was definitely something very shaky, very strange about him. At one point in our conversation he became very edgy. He erupted, and raised his voice to me. Then he came out and said he that he just wanted to show me love. That's what I saw... a man desperate to love and be loved."

It is Tyson's instability, the belief held strongly by some that his destiny is a violent death, or at the very least another term of imprisonment, which guarantees big pay-per-view figures for his television paymaster, the American cable network Showtime.

When Holyfield defended the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles against Michael Moorer last year, Showtime showed a record loss of $11m. The projected unifying contest between Holyfield and the World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis would not post bigger figures than those expected from Tyson's return to the ring. "In those terms Mike is still the number one man," said a Showtime executive, Jay Larkin.

In disgrace, Tyson paid a $3m fine. He's been prevented from working for more than a year, a ban that has cost him millions of dollars in lost earnings while coming up against an unpaid tax demand blamed on his former advisers.

The blunt truth, one that Tyson must have sensed long since, is that he has never been well served by the people around him. Not by those he believed were his friends, or people he trusted to manage his affairs.

Another truth is that Tyson's various guises do not conceal a good guy. It was the refining of violence that turned him into the biggest boxing attraction since Muhammad Ali, the greatest of all champions, who made a case for him at this week's hearing.

No amount of remorse can alter Tyson from what he has always been, what he was in the womb.

The ultimate truth is that boxing needs Tyson. The Las Vegas casinos need him to restore the gambling revenue that comes with his contests. The television networks need him.

Nobody involved really worries that Tyson will further disgrace himself in or out of the ring. They only see what he brings. In that sense the ultimate truth may be that Tyson is destined to be remembered as boxing's ultimate victim.