Boxing: Tyson still some distance from capital showdown

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Mike Tyson's camp, which is moving like bedouin band now in pursuit of one last rich oasis, may find that the welcome of Washington DC is something of a mirage.

The granting of a licence for Tyson to fight Lennox Lewis by the city's Boxing and Wrestling Commission in reality has provided little more than a chink of light in the increasingly desperate efforts of Tyson's people to retrieve the last big pay day so threatened by their fighter's volatile behaviour. But it is a faint one indeed in the absence of anything beginning to resemble a firmed-up financial proposal.

"The only likely benefit is that Washington may prove a stalking horse for other candidates," one leading American boxing man said last night. "No-one really believes anyone in Washington is going to come up with the $10m [£7m] site fee, but by saying yes the local commission may have provoked the question elsewhere, 'if they can grant a licence, why can't we.' "

The Georgia commission did it, of course, before the state governor stepped in to declare Tyson persona non grata. The fighter's manager, Shelly Finkel, is now hoping that the California commission will follow the Washington lead when they meet next month. He hopes that the fight could go on the big Staples Centre, the lavish home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Another long-shot possibility is New York, where Madison Square Garden withdrew its bid before Tyson's wild behaviour at a press conference at a Broadway theatre. The New York boxing commissioner Ray Kelly, who also doubles as police chief, initially said that his commission would follow the lead of Nevada, who turned Tyson down last month. But since then Kelly's office has said that the commission may entertain a Tyson application.

If Tyson has achieved nothing else in recent weeks, he has certainly provided an intriguing test of corporate and civic America's value system.

Who would have thought Las Vegas would possibly steal the high moral ground from the nation's capital? Washington's mayor, Anthony Williams, has expressed enthusiasm for the fight and the commission's vice-president, Michael Brown, has been candid about the motivation behind the yes vote. "Nations and cities," he was saying yesterday, "go through different stages when they have different needs. We are hurting economically here, and the feeling is that the fight would do a lot of businesses a lot of good. At the moment the financing of the fight is being investigated... it's not so easy here as in a casino town, but I'm very confident that one or more groups will come forward with the right-sized bid."

Suggestions that the idea of bringing a convicted rapist into town will cause uproar among the city's liberal establishment, and women's groups, is cutting little ice among Washington's burghers. They point out that the liberals tend to live across the city limits in Virginia and Maryland, leaving to live in the city a huge majority of black and minority groups. The city authorities are also free of the possibility of the intervention of a state governor, as happened in Atlanta. What Washington appears to be saying that it will, if possible, go for the money and damn the moralities, which is a position Las Vegas seemed to have staked out for itself before last month's stunning rejection of the Tyson licence operation.

Boxing insiders are pointing out the deafening silence in all of this of Home Box Office television, which holds Lewis's contract, and partnered Showtime television, Tyson's contract-holders, in the original agreement to fight in the MGM Casino in Las Vegas. It says that its enthusiasm for the fight has dropped almost to zero point after the experience of Tyson's behaviour in New York. Showtime, owed an estimated $13m by Tyson, has a much stronger incentive to get the fight on.

That, coupled with the ambition of the World Boxing Council president, Jose Sulaiman, has already led to some outlandish proposals, including the idea of taking the fight to such turbulent locations as the Lebanon and the Phillipines.

The sense is of Tyson being hawked around the Americas and the world in one last attempt to cash in on his still commercially potent notoriety. The proposed wedding is between a desperate fight management and a needy local economy. Behind the effort is, it seems increasingly clear, the knowledge that Tyson's career has come down to one last big earning possibility. Even Tyson has admitted his belief that he needs more fights before he can seriously expect to compete with a fully fit and motivated Lewis. But such fights would represent too heavy a risk to the big earner.

Washington, fully attuned to the lateness of Tyson's hour as a seriously competitive fighter, are going for a financial shot in the arm. Tyson, or at least his camp, is hoping to land one last shot to the head. Even boxing has rarely known such scuffling days.