In the boxing world today, anything goes if it drums up a profit

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An understandable reaction to Mike Tyson's outrageous behaviour is that it justifies the contempt many people have for professional boxing.

Tragedy has imposed itself too often on boxing for last Saturday's squalid events at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to be seen as terminally self-destructive. But even some of us who continue to find the rough old game in its purest form thrilling have to accept doubts about its long-term future.

Boxing has never subscribed to the rules of polite society and, as Tyson's image as a violent living-on-the-edge predator has always been a big part of his appeal, the career of boxing's cash machine -Tyson's purses for six contests since being released from prison exceed $140m (pounds 86m) - may not be over.

Although executives of the cable television network, Showtime, that has provided much of Tyson's wealth were unquestionably appalled by his despicable conduct they are sensitive to the possibility of a move by their chief rivals, Home Box Office.

I am reliably informed that HBO want nothing to do with the former undisputed champion, and in any case responsibility for ensuring that Tyson is suitably punished rests with the Nevada Athletic Commission. Empowered by state law to fine Tyson 10 per cent of his $30m purse they are obliged to impose at least an 18-month suspension. Anything less would be an insult to society and in ignorance of widespread revulsion.

In the four days since Tyson was disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield's ears I have spoken to many people who watched the incidents on television or read about them in newspapers. All were disgusted, none convinced by the apology Tyson issued on Monday.

They included a small group of boys at baseball batting practice in Albany. Asked if they thought that Tyson's remorse is genuine, one, a tough looking item, said, "Naw, he's just trying to get off those charges."

A problem for the traditionalists is that television's pernicious influence has served to place boxing only a short step ahead of professional wrestling. Promoters argue that they must conform to modern preferences in style and presentation but this ignores the importance of boxing's traditional dignity.

Last week, for example, before Holyfield and Tyson took turns to speak at a press conference, we were subjected to a horrible slanging match between two women who appeared on the undercard. Apart from a personal objection to women in the ring this was typical of values that now prevail in boxing. Anything goes if it drums up a profit.

It was suggested this week that a sure-fire seller would be Tyson against the ancient George Foreman. "Bring that one in and you'd be sure of a pay-per-view record," somebody said. This says a great deal about human nature.

As for Tyson, he can no longer be regarded as one of the great heavyweights. Even before incarceration took away his once remarkable leg speed and manoeuvrability there was not enough to suggest that he would have been even money with such notables as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Foreman and Sonny Liston. And there is no longer any doubt that much of his success sprang from intimidation.

It was significant last week that Tyson never once tried to catch Holyfield's attention during the preliminaries. Holyfield, meanwhile, was a picture of serenity, confident that he had Tyson's measure.

Not much credence can be given to the theory that Tyson took the coward's way out by getting himself disqualified. Paradoxically, the self-styled "baddest man on the planet" proved again that he cannot handle a rough contest and lost all control when a head butt split his right eyelid.

Significantly, you may think, US television executives do not think this scandalous affair will have an adverse effect on boxing's hard-core popularity. Rob Correa, vice-president of programming for CBS sports, said: "I don't think it's a bonus or a distraction. I just think it's another wacky day in the world of boxing. A lot of people tuned in to see Tyson out of curiosity, but I don't think that's going to evolve into more or less viewers in the future. This sport is always on the verge of something chaotic."

Sport? As the referee, Mills Lane, said after last week's contest: a business that just happens to find its way on to the sports pages.