Boxing: Tyson says sorry to the world

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A chastened Mike Tyson broke almost two days of silence yesterday to apologise "to the world, to my family, to the Nevada State Athletic Commission" for the ear-biting that ended Saturday night's world heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas.

Clearly hoping to save his career, Tyson volunteered to accept whatever penalty the disciplinary commission imposes at its meeting today and said he was seeking medical help to determine "what I did and why I did it".

Tyson also apologised separately to his opponent, Evander Holyfield, who retained his World Boxing Association championship when the referee disqualified Tyson for twice biting his ears. "Evander," he said, "I'm sorry. You're a champion, and I respect that."

Referring to the incident he says provoked his biting, Tyson went on: "You butted me - accidentally, or not - I snapped in reaction, and the rest is history."

Tyson, who vanished amid the post-fight melee on Saturday, read his short, prepared statement at a hastily called press conference in Las Vegas.

"I cannot tell why I acted as I did," said Tyson several times. "I just snapped.

"I did what many athletes have done in the heat of the battle, and I paid the price for it. For an athlete," he added, listing instances from the past of sportsmen who have punched or spat at opponents and referees. Tyson said: "It's not new, but it's not right. I was wrong."

Tyson gave no indication that he intended to retire from boxing following his disqualification and pleaded in mitigation in advance of today's hearing. "I'm 31, in the prime of my career, and I made a mistake," he said, "Forgive me as you have forgiven other athletes and give me a chance to redeem myself."

He included in his apology his promoters, the people of Las Vegas, his trainer, and also the judge who granted him parole from the six-year prison sentence he was serving for raping an 18-year-old black beauty queen.

To the judge, he said he regretted behaviour that was not appropriate for a parolee. "But I will learn from this horrible mistake, too," he said

Tyson also referred to his hard early life and his lack of education. He said that he had "prayed to God to renew my faith" and was consulting the medical profession "to tell me what I did and why I did it. It is not just my body, but my mind, too," he said, suggesting a resort to psychiatric help.

The former world champion said he was willing to accept "what's coming to me" and asked that whatever penalty the disciplinary commission imposed should come into force immediately: "I expect a severe penalty, and I won't fight it." Some have pressed for him to be deprived of his $30m (pounds 20m) purse for the fight; others for a lifetime ban.

Throughout yesterday, Tyson's ear-biting was at the centre of the American media's attention. Arguments raged about whether the sport of boxing or Tyson was primarily to blame for Saturday's events.

The director of the Nevada Commission, Marc Ratner, described the outcome of the fight as "a sad day for boxing", while the US boxing promoter Rock Newman blamed the presence of so many "bodyguards and hangers-on" in the ring at title fights these days, claiming that they had provoked the extraordinary scenes at the end of the fight.

Amid much questioning of the sport, Thom Loverro, a commentator for the Washington Times, said Tyson's action had "changed the face of boxing".

Even the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, weighed in. He said he was "horrified", but delicately tried to separate the sport from this one incident. "I saw the fight," he said, "and until the biting incident happened, it was a good fight, and I was horrified by it, and I think the American people are." He said he did not know what the role of the federal government should be in regulating boxing, but, he said, "as a fan, I was horrified".

Holyfield's attorney, Jim Thomas, has confirmed that he will wait for the commission's verdict before deciding whether to pursue legal action against Tyson.

"I believe the action of Mike Tyson was actionable. Whether Evander Holyfield wants to do anything about that, we'll have to decide," Thomas said.