Tyson triggers financial fireworks

Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas on the former world heavyweight champion's return
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The Independent Online
It says a lot about the life and times of Mike Tyson that a contest he could probably win without bothering to remove his jacket may become the richest in boxing history.

Despite the widespread conclusion that Peter McNeeley is unlikely to last even one round when Tyson launches his comeback at the MGM Grand here on Saturday, the gross from pay-per-view television is projected in excess of the $48m achieved in 1991 when George Foreman challenged Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship.

While women's groups protest shameless exploitation of Tyson's notoriety and a recently published book throws fresh light on the activities of his ubiquitous promoter, Don King who has again come under federal investigation, United States' obsession with celebrity ensures another pay-per-view television bonanza.

Mark Lipscombe, of Showtime Event Television, the organisation that has close links with King and therefore Tyson, has targeted 1.5m homes at an average of $45 (pounds 28.50). "It's tough to predict," he said, "because technology enables people to make their decision on the day of the fight. It's still a little early to know but chances are that we have got an all-timer."

And this is only the beginning. Showtime has guaranteed Tyson a minimum of $40m, rising to more than $300m for six fights if he succeeds in unifying the heavyweight title for a second time. Rory Holloway, a King hireling who co-manages Tyson, said: "It's a trendsetter. Nothing like this has ever been done in the history of sport, management, entertainment, anything - it's never been done."

Not by Muhammad Ali, who was the first boxing champion to capitalise on an explosion in the telecommunications industry; not by Sugar Ray Leonard, whose total of more than $100m in purse money is the unofficial record. "Once we do what we can do, maybe one day other guys will follow," Tyson told Robert E Johnson in an interview for Ebony/Jet magazine. "One day there is going to be a fighter who owns a bank ... one day some guy is going to get a billion dollar fight. Money! It's all about money. Before, I had no understanding of money. But now I know I can take money and inspire people on how to use it, how to get economically powerful - and that's a threat."

First, of course, Tyson must regain the space he occupied in boxing before hedonism eroded the refined power that sent shock waves throughout the heavyweight division. "I don't know what is going to happen to me," he said recently. "I get morbid in my thinking. You can go to the hospital and come out; you can go to the hospital and not come out. But I'm an optimist who knows pessimism exists. Maybe I'm a realist."

Reality for Tyson was a three-year sentence for rape. Doing time. Getting pushed around by warders. "Some people think I got a bad break, some people think it was justice. But either way, I'm alive, I'm functioning. That's all that matters. When you think about it we are all in the animal kingdom. We're all savages. The only reason we're under control is because we have laws. What separates us from savages is we have fear of the law. Fear of the penalties. One of the guys I read in prison, Hemingway, said something that stuck in my mind: men are not meant to be defeated, only to die. He was right. As long as we persevere and endure, we can get anything we want. I'm a nut case, but that is what I believe.

"Another thing that freaks me out is time. Time doesn't wait for anything. It's like a book. You have a beginning, a middle and an end. I talk to people who interviewed Joe Louis and a lot of those guys who have gone. It's just a cycle. Louis, Ali, Frazier, Tyson."

An interesting thing about Tyson is the genuine intensity of his focus. Although serious sparring was completed three days ago, he still insists on closed workouts. At the vast MGM complex he is seen only in cardboard cut-out and ferociously on video screens. It is as though Tyson is determined to move through the world a lot more carefully than he did after becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history.

He never wanted to do anything but fight. "Being away from it had a great impact," he said. "I just love fighting. All Mike Tyson's done in the past is dead and gone. That's over. That's old news. Nobody wants to know any excuses. I just want to fight. It's all I ever did, man. I never wanted to be anything else."

Recently, after a workout he left the room without saying a word to his assembled entourage. They watched silently as instead of taking the short walk back to his suite, he made for the empty, half-darkened arena in which he will resume his boxing career. "When Mike got there it was eerie," one of his associates said. "He stood alone as though trying to recreate himself."

That's when it all came back to Tyson. The sights and sounds of boxing. "It was the first time I really thought about being pumped up for the fight. And I will be. I'm a butt kicker by nature."

Teddy Atlas, who, as an assistant to Cus D'Amato, worked with Tyson early in his career, doubts whether a complete rehabilitation is possible. "People are making a comparison between Mike and Muhammad Ali who came back successfully after three years in exile. There are a number of differences but the biggest is that it took character for Ali to risk his career by taking on the government. Whether he was guilty or innocent, character didn't enter into Mike's problem.

"Mike has always been a bit of a mirage. What you see isn't always what you get. In any case, people aren't paying to see the return of Mike Tyson. They are expecting to see the return of a monster."

That is, more or less, how Jay Larkin, of Showtime, sees it. "Tyson has an indefinable quality that acts on people like a magnet," he said. "The drama of his life is so extraordinary they can't wait to see what the next chapter contains."