Darkest alley for a street animal

From fighter to biter, Tyson is now utterly discredited.
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It was hard to tell which was the more nauseating: Tyson's brutal fouling of Evander Holyfield, his ludicrous attempt to justify his behaviour and shift the blame on to his opponent, or the mealy-mouthed apology he issued days later as pressure grew for a meaningful punishment to be imposed. After the bites, the sound-bites.

The apology, and especially the section directed to Holyfield himself, was designed also to take some of the sting out of the threat by the champion's attorney, Jim Thomas, to "sue Tyson's arse" in a civil suit for damages which, considering he could call around two billion witnesses, he could hardly lose.

It came, too, as the implications began to sink in of a new Federal law, coincidentally passed last week, which requires the state athletic commissions to honour each other's suspensions. The Governor of New York was reported to be urging his commission to impose a lifetime ban, which would automatically supersede whatever token ban the Nevada Commission - the richest in boxing - might be tempted to impose.

Tyson is boxing's golden goose, a money machine who generates vast revenues for the whole industry, and the reluctance to banish him forever is understandable. Yet what he did in that crazed third-round attack last weekend was simply unforgivable. They were the worst fouls in the history of heavyweight boxing, and the most public.

As the promoter Don King gleefully told us before the fight, this show was screened to 159 countries, with 11 languages spoken by ringside commentators - including three dialects of Chinese. The damage to the sport's image is incalculable and the punishment must reflect the gravity of the offence.

At least on the two previous occasions Tyson lost, he did so with a degree of courage and dignity which belied his reputation as a bullying thug. This time, though, he let the street animal off the leash.

All the pre-fight promises of a new Tyson, of a more thoughtful and varied approach, were so much hot air. He came out slugging, trying to overpower Holyfield early on, and when instead he was hurt and almost floored he reverted to plan B - for Bite. When Holyfield pointed out to referee Mills Lane at the start of the third that Tyson was coming out without his gumshield, I naively noted it as an act of sportsmanship, as the Corinthian champion's reluctance to take unfair advantage.

But Holyfield, for all his apparent genuine piety, has been down a few of boxing's dark alleys in his time and he knew only too well what Tyson had in mind. Oddly, Tyson chose to take his lunch break at the point in the fight where, for the first time, he was beginning to make some progress and had shaken Holyfield with a couple of significant punches. Had he kept his legitimate attack flowing, there is no saying how the fight might have developed, although the probability is that Holyfield would have outlasted him just as he did in November.

When the first bite went in, and Holyfield did that bizarre dance of pain and shock, the first reaction was that Evander was "doing a McCall" and had become suddenly mentally unbalanced. It was not until a second or two later, as the blood flowed down the side of his head and on to his shoulder, that the enormity of what Tyson had done registered.

Tyson was totally out of control, and he almost sent Holyfield flying over the top rope as he charged at him and shoved him violently. The referee, Mills Lane, who had only got the $10,000 assignment after Tyson protested at the original appointment of Mitch Halpern, said afterwards that he had decided at that moment to disqualify the challenger, but wanted to wait until the end of the round to make sure that he was doing the right thing.

Tyson promptly compounded the offence by biting the other ear as soon as action resumed, thereby raising the question of what Lane would have done had Tyson gone on to knock Holyfield out in the half-minute or so between the second bite and the end of the round. He had already committed offences serious enough to warrant a jail term had they occurred in other circumstances, so could he then have been rewarded with the heavyweight championship? When he was told of his disqualification he slipped even further out of control, slinging wild punches at the posse of policemen who tried to prevent him from charging Holyfield's corner. As he was led away past my press position some five minutes later he was still a truly frightening figure, eyes ablaze and hurling obscenities at the world. I do not know where or how he spent the rest of the evening, but it is unlikely to have been passed in quiet reflection. For once, the entourage would not have been fighting each other to be at his side.

The apology he eventually issued after several days of lying low was rumoured to be the work of his new wife, Monica Turner, a paediatrician who is soon to become the mother of their second - his fourth - child. According to Emanuel Steward, the veteran trainer who is well placed to know what is happening in boxing's inner circles, Turner is not enamoured of King or his methods and is trying to steer Tyson on to an independent course. Considering King used Tyson's first wife, Robin Givens, to lure him away from his then manager Bill Cayton, there would be a certain natural justice about the second Mrs Tyson being the inspiration for his departure from the fold.

King has remained unnaturally silent as he manoeuvres to salvage what he can from the wreck. No doubt he is lobbying furiously to keep the punishment as mild as possible, so that he can start working on Holyfield/Tyson III, but not even his promotional genius will be able to present his fighter as anything more than a curiosity, a performing bear whose only attraction is that you do not know what trick he is going to do next. There were half-joking suggestions that he could be matched with Andrew Golota, the Pole who butted and fouled Riddick Bowe into retirement, and no doubt the match would find a ready take-up on the pay-per-view market from the kind of punter who would watch a live execution with a six-pack and a tub of popcorn by his elbow.

But in boxing terms, in terms of the great fighter he should and could have become, Tyson is utterly, permanently devalued and disgraced. We know now that he flattered to deceive in those explosive early years when he seemed sure to join Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis in the sport's pantheon.

It went wrong from the day he dumped Kevin Rooney, the only trainer strong enough to impose his will and his methods. From then on he began to unravel as a fighter and as a man, culminating in the loss of his title and the three-year jail term for rape.

His future now is bleak and depressing to contemplate. Such an unstable personality will not cope easily with such public shame and humiliation, but then his finger has always been on the self-destruct button. The flaws, deep down, would have found him out sooner or later. The veneer was dazzling, the packaging perfect, but the core was rotten.