Walk-off part in sad soap opera

Golota's hasty departure and Tyson's enigmatic exit line leave the once noble art in turmoil

Andrew Golota walked out of his fight against Mike Tyson here. But the real question is different: is a resurgent, impeccably behaved Tyson, after his most impressive performance in years, about to walk out of boxing?

Andrew Golota walked out of his fight against Mike Tyson here. But the real question is different: is a resurgent, impeccably behaved Tyson, after his most impressive performance in years, about to walk out of boxing?

Tyson's 49th career win was another mess a tarnished sport can ill afford, its circumstances leaving the 16,000 present at the Palace arena, who had paid between $75 and $1,000, outraged at Golota's refusal to answer the bell for the third round. For once however, boxing's most infamous son was absolutely not responsible for controversy.

Beforehand, Dr Ferdie Pach-eco, who counselled Muhammad Ali and is now one of boxing's elder statesmen, had predicted that Tyson-Golota would be "a psychodrama." And so it was; only not the jungle brawl expected from two of the wildest and most mixed-up individuals in the business, but an astonishing collapse by Golota - not of his body, but in his mind.

Perhaps the presence of Ali himself played a part, perhaps it was Detroit's reputation as one of America's great boxing towns; but from the moment he stepped into the ring, Tyson he was plainly in control of himself, and the fight.

From the start he came at Golota in that familiar crouching, swarming style. The Pole, four inches taller and 20lb heavier, tried to jab him off, but Tyson surged forward, landing a stinging left hook. Then with eight seconds left in round one, a thunderous right hook deposited Golota on the canvas. He was back on his feet when the bell intervened, but shaken and cut by his right eye.

In the second round he changed tactics, seeking to tie up his opponent, taking some solid blows but landing a few of his own. Just for a moment it seemed as if that rarity, a Tyson fight memorable for the right reasons, was in the making. But if Tyson had conquered his demons, Golota had not.

Just as in last November's match with Michael Grant, when he was actually ahead, Golota quit. Barely coherent, he accused Tyson of head-butting, though there was scant evidence of it. "Something was wrong with me tonight," he said. "Boxing is a very difficult sport. I am sorry to all my fans who counted on me, but it wasn't my day." Golota is also now considering his future - although an understandable future reluctance by fans to invest honest dollars may make the decision superfluous.

Afterwards Al Certo, Golota's salty trainer, could not hide his disappointment and disgust: "I'm not here to defend my fighter. Some guys have the guts, some guys don't. The older they get, the more gunshy some of them get.They ask themselves, 'what the hell am I doing in this business?'

"Andrew really trained hard for this. But after the first round he said, 'stop the fight.' When he refused to come out for the third, I tried to shove his mouthpiece back in his mouth, I told him everything under the sun, that he had to go back out there. Before the fight, I predicted one guy would finish with his pants on, the other with a skirt. Well, I wound up with the guy with the skirt."

In disbelief that quickly gave way to fury, the crowd watched as Golota forced aside his cornermen and went to a neutral corner. To a crescendo of booing he then strode out of the arena under a cascade of beer cans. It was fully five minutes before the bedlam subsided and the result, a technical knock-out at the start of the third round, was announced.

Tyson himself refused to say anything after a display in which he also followed the referee's every instruction scrupulously. "Tonight Mr Tyson fought like a gentleman," said Flip Homansky of the Nevada State Boxing Commission, which banned Tyson for 18 months after the ear-biting fiasco and whose blessing will be required if Tyson is to enjoy more lucrative Las Vegas paydays.

But that question too may be moot. Yesterday his camp insisted that the threats to retire earlier in the week, assumed at the time to be merely an attempt to boost sluggish ticket sales, were serious. "What Mike needs is to get away and re-assess," his advisor Shelly Finkel. "Obviously, the way this fight ended leaves him unfulfilled. But he's been pretty emphatic about quitting. If he doesn't want to fight again, I wish him well. If he does, the world is his." Which is perhaps another way of saying: Lennox Lewis or bust.

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