Boxing: Tyson must be the richest slave in history

With earnings of $70m a year, the former world champion's protests of victimisation are ringing hollow
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The Independent Online
IF Mike Tyson had a spot on those adverts for mobile phones, it might be apt if he asked for a one-on-one chat with William Wilberforce. William knew a thing or two about slavery, a subject to which Tyson gave an entirely new slant last week.

Tyson might have asked Wilberforce (1759-1833, in case you needed to know) what he thought about his own predicament under his ruthless owners, Showtime television and America Presents. We might also have seen Wilberforce, who has a museum in Hull commemorating his work in abolishing the slave trade, raise an eyebrow or two as Tyson grumbled about the harsh, even brutal, nature of his contract with the aforementioned paymasters.

This requires the 32-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world to train for approximately 24 weeks (this is optional) and fight four times (this is not) in a year (loosely). In return he will be paid a miserly sum estimated at $70m, more if television viewers around the globe are sufficiently interested.

The signs are, however, that people are getting sick of Tyson's bleating. He claimed in the lead-up to last weekend's five-round win over Francois Botha at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that he was the biggest draw in boxing history. Not any more, according to the figures.

The 16,000 capacity arena suddenly withered to 14,000, and was less than full. Showtime expected one million households across America to pay $45.95 each to see the fight. They hoped for more, but would have settled for that. In fact, the figure was only 750,000, a paltry 2.7 per cent of the homes with access to the show. "It was the low end of what we were expecting," admitted Showtime's Mark Greenberg.

Tyson's pre-fight expectations were that he would make $35m. It probably turned out a little more than half of that, which may have prompted his bizarre outburst a couple of days later. "I want my four fights in the year and that would be it, I would be out," he said. "It's like I'm a slave to these guys." Tyson, whose earnings from the defeat of Botha presumably pay a huge chunk of the debt he owes the American taxman, can look to more of the same.

A Showtime executive, Jay Larkin, confirmed that a third fight with Evander Holyfield is a realistic target, whatever the outcome of Holyfield's fight with Lennox Lewis on 13 March. This is because Holyfield can fight on Showtime, while Lewis is tied to their main rival, HBO. As Larkin said: "They'd be selling ice cream in hell before we allowed Tyson to fight anywhere but on Showtime."

If Tyson sees that as a form of slavery, then he should have listened to the evidence in New York this week where something labelled the National Association of Attorneys General Task Force held an open hearing into the state of the business. This group of legal minds are looking at the way boxing is run. National legislation may follow.

History is littered with terrible stories of fighters who have been ripped off. Bernard Hopkins, a current middleweight champion from Philadelphia, told the commission he had once been promised a gross $1.4m for a fight with Roy Jones in 1993, but eventually received only $150,000. He was now with new promoters who treat him fairly - America Presents.

Tyson, meanwhile, has out-of-the-ring problems to deal with. First he must appear before a Maryland court on 5 February for sentencing after pleading no contest to two charges of misdemeanour assault. This follows the supposed road rage incident after a car collided with that driven by Tyson's wife, Monica.

Tyson, who is still under probation in Indiana following his 1992 rape conviction, was accused by one man of hitting him, and by another of kneeing him in the groin. The court report from Maryland will be sent to the Indiana authorities. Another date, 19 May, has been set for Tyson's civil case against his former manager John Borne, who is suing him after being sacked last year.

None of these distractions can help the already troubled former champion, and as his new trainer Tommy Brooks said this week: "Inactivity shakes your confidence."

Somehow, Tyson needs to free himself of these problems, listen to Brooks and settle down to trusting someone inside boxing for the first time in years. Or his story could fizzle out, big punch or no big punch, even before his contract runs out.

Which brings us back to the next exercise in exploitation for the poor, put-upon, rusty slave formerly known as Iron Mike. This will apparently be on 24 April in Las Vegas.

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