Year of the comeback: Money men await third coming: Boxing

Mike Tyson: The biting commentary
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Boxing comebacks have a sadder tinge than those in other sports, because in this game the faded athlete is risking damage to so much more than just his reputation. Usually, the comeback is financially motivated, one last chance to buy that house, or clear the tax debt accumulated in a free-spending prime.

It is different with Mike Tyson, once more the brooding shadow over the heavyweight division, even in absentia. Assuming the Nevada Commission decide in July that his eating disorder has been cured and there will be no repetition of the ear-biting incident which cost him his licence last summer. Tyson will be back in the ring by the autumn. The general impression is that he need only avoid catastrophe to be given the green light, and his camp have been preparing the way by assiduously planting stories in the American media about the extent of their man's "unpublicised" good works in the New York ghetto.

Perhaps he has indeed discovered a social conscience, or maybe remarriage last year has at last brought some stability to his troubled life, but Mike Tyson as Mother Teresa somehow does not ring true. If he genuinely wants to help his community, let him match Lennox Lewis's gesture in donating several millionto the foundation and running of the east London college which bears his name.

Unlike Herol Graham, whose successful return was one of the year's more inspiring stories in British boxing, Tyson need not worry about starting at the bottom again, since he will earn a minimum of $20m even if his choice of comeback opponent is Laa-Laa Teletubby. The real pay-off will come when he challenges for the title, particularly if, for the third time, his nemesis Evander Holyfield is in the other corner. That would be worth around $100m, proof afresh that nothing succeeds like excess.

The cynical savagery of Tyson's attack on Holyfield's ear in June has added a new dimension to his appeal. The public do not care that Tyson fouled out rather than take his inevitable beating like a man; they want to see how bizarre his response will be if, yet again, he finds that victory by fair means is beyond him. It is unedifying, certainly, but undeniably dramatic theatre - and boxing never could claim to be morally uplifting anyway.

Despite all the hot air generated last month in supposed negotiations between Holyfield's camp and Lennox Lewis's management for a unification match in March or April between the British holder of the World Boxing Council title and the American World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation claimant, there was never a serious prospect of them meeting. Holyfield's competitive spirit is legendary, but this was a case where market forces dictated. Why should Holyfield risk a $50-$60m pay- day against Tyson by accepting probably half that to face Lewis, a much more dangerous foe?

Don King is desperate to prevent the fight happening. Tyson is his ticket for the cable-car ride back to the top of the dollar mountain that the heavyweight championship has become, and he is doing his best to ensure that both champions are kept too busy defending their separate title belts to have time to fight each other. He has, improbably, manoeuvred his man Henry Akinwande into the role of mandatory challenger for Holyfield's title, a ludicrous commentary on the worth of their rankings given Akinwande's abject performance against Lewis, while the equally innocuous Vaughn Bean has been retained as the IBF's official challenger despite losing a soporific 12-rounder against Michael Moorer in March.

Holyfield can pick up some useful small change against such undemanding opposition while he awaits Tyson's reinstatement, and the fact that both are officially ordered defences gives him the perfect response to accusations that he is avoiding Lewis. The Englishman, meanwhile, must tread water with low-key defences against the likes of Shannon Briggs and Buster Douglas, while, for the umpteenth time, a potentially career-defining match eludes him.

Just as he did during the four years of his incarceration, Tyson continues to dictate events in a sport in which he is not even licensed to compete.