Boxing: Flawed case for Tyson defence

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THE Nevada State Athletic Commission will attempt to make a strange judgment next weekend. Its five-member panel will determine whether or not Mike Tyson is sane enough to fight.

Tyson's licence to box was revoked by the same commission in July 1997, a month after his ear-biting antics against Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas. Tyson, whose life has been on a downward spiral for most of the 1990s, was disqualified by the referee Mills Lane after biting Holyfield for the second time. It was the desperate act of a man who was suddenly no longer willing or able to cope with the terrible pressure of the world championship spotlight.

When Lane disqualified him, and as the ring filled, Tyson lost his temper again. His statement afterwards cut no ice with boxing people. He whinged that Holyfield had butted him, and complained that his children would have to see him with his face cut. Boxers, who live with pain, cuts and lumps, knew the truth: Tyson, once the self-professed "baddest man on the planet" had taken the coward's way out of a bad situation. Worse than that, he had deliberately disfigured an opponent in the process of saving himself from a pounding. Even before the Nevada Commission took away his licence and fined him $3m, the former heavyweight champion had been exposed.

Last weekend, having kicked out the promoter Don King and his co-managers Rory Holloway and John Horne, he returned to the commission to ask for another chance. In a letter to the commission chairman, Dr Elias Ghanem, he said: "I acknowledge that I made a mistake and may I apologise for it. It won't happen again. Let's put this behind us and allow boxing to become what it should be - the best sport in the world."

To anyone who witnessed the biting of Holyfield's ears, this was a pathetic understatement. The attempts by his legal team, headed by the Los Angeles litigation lawyer Dale Kinsella, to persuade the commission that Tyson was essentially wronged and misunderstood, seemed equally off the wall. They claimed that Tyson reacted with poise and dignity when he had coffee thrown over him by an angry woman in a restaurant last May. They argued that the alleged road-rage incident in Maryland, in which Tyson is accused of assault on two middle- aged men, is a fabrication.

Most damaging to the Tyson case, however, was that the psychiatrist Dr Norton Roitman and the sports psychologist Larry Curry were not believed by the commission. Under questioning Roitman admitted he had spoken to Tyson for only two hours, while Curry's qualifications failed to impress the panel. "I just get the feeling we are not being told everything," said an exasperated commissioner, James Nave. The result was the commission, who cynics had said would return Tyson's licence because of the financial benefits for Nevada when he fought, were unwilling to commit themselves.

Now Tyson has had to undergo psychiatric evaluation from one of three centres nominated by the commission. That report has to be at their office tomorrow, or next weekend's hearing will be delayed.

Tyson himself over-ruled attempts by his lawyer to keep the results of the tests private. "Nothing in my life is private" he said, with a wry smile. "Ask anything you want. Anything..."

Tyson seemed like a man for whom life had become a bizarre game in which he was the perpetual victim. He said at one point: "I feel like I'm Norman Bates up here with all these doctors. Trust me. This won't happen any more." At another moment, Tyson, whose financial situation was described as catastrophic, said he wanted to make himself sociably more accessible. "I don't get it yet, as to who I represent. I just want to be me." And then again: "If I get my licence back and I get another $300m, I will probably give it all away."

Tyson owes the Internal Revenue Services more than $13m and appears to have no grasp of financial reality.

The reports this weekend will provide an assessment of his psychiatric condition. Whether or not he is allowed to box, this story has all the signs of a tragedy in the making.