reports from Las Vegas
As ticket sales were slow enough to suggest a financial disaster, the announcement that a thumb injury would prevent Mike Tyson from going in against Buster Mathis Jr at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday was bound to raise a great deal of cynical speculation.
Certainly it is hard to believe that Tyson pounded a heavy bag and the bodies of his sparring partners despite the pain he claims to have reported three weeks ago.
The mystery deepened when in giving a detailed description of Tyson's impairment (a fracture around the end joint of his right finger) two doctors, Gary Marrone and Gerald Higgins, stated that at first they did not consider it a serious threat to the contest. "There was time for a small fracture to heal," Marrone said, "but unfortunately there was a further separation."
Nobody was more sceptical than Mathis's trainer, Joey Farrielo, a man with long experience in boxing. "It just doesn't add up," he said. "I find it difficult to believe that any doctor would allow a fighter to carry on sparring with a damaged hand. That just doesn't sound kosher."
Curious too that the MGM promotion collapsed only a few hours after Tyson dismissed scowlingly suggestions of a problem. "It's nothing," he said at a press conference to introduce every contestant, including three world champions, on the card.
Equally suspicious is the fact that Tyson, who has adopted a low profile since returning to the ring, made himself available for interrogation earlier this week while carrying his right hand in an iced towel. "It isn't anything to worry over," he said.
The frustration of being unable to recapture lost timing was put forward as an explanation for Tyson's sparring unusually late in preparation, but the picture altered dramatically after a session in the gymnasium yesterday. "When we examined Mike's hand it was obvious that he would not be able to box," Higgins said.
Apart from wider implications this put paid to the facetious theory that Tyson could beat Mathis with one arm tied behind his back.
Although one of Tyson's co-managers, John Horne, insisted that it is only a postponement, Mathis is left to brood over the probable loss of an $800,000 (pounds 520,000) purse. "I have no control over Tyson's decisions," Mathis' promoter, Cedric Kushner, said. "They say we'll still get the fight but as things stand we're only guaranteed $75,000 in training and hotel expenses."
Among the other sufferers was the British heavyweight Henry Akinwande, who will not be reimbursed for the $17,000 it cost him in preparation for meeting Tony Tucker on the undercard.
Since the prognosis is that it will be six weeks before Tyson can resume training it will be interesting if the recovery is achieved ahead of schedule. Fox television who injected $10m into the promotion will launch a series of live fights in January, but Tyson's commitment is to MGM and the Showtime cable company.
Plans were in place for Tyson to challenge Frank Bruno for the World Council championship on 16 March next year and the British boxer was due to be at the ringside on Saturday with his promoter, Frank Warren. In the absence of Don King, who is in New York denying an insurance fraud, Tyson was discreetly evasive about the future. "I'm happy to fight Bruno or anyone," he said.
A personal view is that Tyson will fight again in January if not before the turn of the year , but a longer absence would raise important possibilities for Lennox Lewis, who has taken legal proceedings in an attempt to establish priority in contention. Unquestionably, it would be difficult for the WBC to argue that Tyson is the leading challenger for their heavyweight title if his comeback is delayed by more than a couple of months.
Considering that very little in boxing is ever what it seems, present suspicions are understandable, although information from a reliable source suggests that Tyson's injury is genuine. And it nonsense to suppose that two eminent physicians would ecome involved in anything scurrilous.
Of course, the news delighted Caesars Palace and the cable company, Home Box Office who no longer face competition for Saturday night's contest between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. Doubtless on the understanding that Tyson was involved in another mismatch, it was always doing much better at the box office.
In fact, the outcome of yesterday's drama may be the realisation of Tyson and his associates that there is no future in staging contests that so obviously insult the public's perception.
n Eamonn Loughran's World Organisation welterweight title defence against Mexico's Jorge Luis Lopez has been postponed, because Loughran has had flu and has a damaged right hand. The fight has been provisionally rearranged for 16 December.Reuse content