'Tyson is our version of the Victorian freak show

'The journey from Ali to Tyson reflects the politics of black America through the last 40 years'
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The Independent Online

Either you enjoy boxing or you don't, and if you do, how can you condemn Mike Tyson for throwing a few bonus punches? Far from wishing it didn't happen, most of us would love it if this became a familiar practice.

For example, if Gwyneth Paltrow suddenly lost it at the Golden Globe Awards, and yelled: "Next month at the Oscars I'm gonna whip Judi Dench's arse. When I've finished with her she won't need to act like she's lost her memory, because that's what she'll be like for real."

Then Dame Judi glares back, her bodyguards trying to restrain her as she screams: "Hey, Shakespeare in Love dude, you better get your ass ready for some real tragedy." Then it all kicks off.

If it's true that Tyson staged the bundle in the hope of getting the fight cancelled, it could set even more of a precedent. Six weeks before the next election, Iain Duncan Smith could break with tradition during Prime Minister's Questions by aiming a kung-fu kick at David Blunkett and yelling: "Does the honourable member opposite agree he's a slag?" in the hope of getting the whole thing called off.

When the boxing authorities complain about Tyson, they sound like the soppy parents of an unruly child. No wonder he takes no notice when his only punishment is a Board of Control saying things like "Oh, Michael, have you been raping people again? Honestly, you'll be the death of us. Now you're not to do it again, do you hear?" Referees, on the other hand, are forced to use the language of teachers – "Ahem – Tyson, are you chewing?"

The defence of boxing has always revolved around the sport's noble code, of which Tyson must now have broken every word, but still he's allowed to carry on fighting for the world title. There's speculation that the fight with Lewis could be called off, but this decision rests with a licensing meeting of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Well, there's one body that's sure not to let money get in the way of morals. As we know, the good people in charge of Las Vegas judge everything in accordance with a firm Christian ethic, permitting only the tiniest hint of gambling and prostitution, and Mafia activity is only allowed at all if it's solely for your own personal use.

So Tyson will get even worse. We'll be almost disappointed if the fight doesn't start with the commentators yelling: "Oh, and he's come into the ring in a chieftain tank. Say, Chuck, that has to be against the regulations." "But hey, Brett, Tyson's corner is complaining that there's nothing in the Queensberry rules concerning armoured vehicles."

The enthusiasm for Tyson's psychosis is shown by the bookies' odds of four to one against him being disqualified. So you can even bet on him going mental. The modern boxer will never take a dive. Instead, their manager will put an arm round them and say: "Tonight's not gonna be your night. You're gonna go potty with a chisel in the fifth."

The tragedy of Tyson is magnified by the fact that this latest incident has taken place at the same time as the release of the film about Muhammad Ali, because the journey from Ali to Tyson reflects the politics of black America through the last 40 years.

Ali was a celebration of black people rising collectively out of the ghetto, through the campaigns against segregation and for civil rights, through the Black Panthers, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Now Ali is feted by all kinds of establishment figures who would never stand up for a principle, and certainly never go to jail for opposing an American war.

They can do this because part of the outcome of those battles fought in Ali's time is that a minority of black Americans can do very well for themselves. A handful of the black establishment and white businessmen make a fortune from Tyson, who is a celebration of how black people can rise individually out of the ghetto. And to maximise profits, the entourage around him encourages the worst aspects of his behaviour.

So he's become a modern version of the Victorian circus freak show – "Come and see the loony biting man – who knows what he'll chew next." If he ever looked as if he was getting calm and sane, it would be the equivalent of a bearded lady saying: "Guess what, boss, I think I'd do much better if I had a shave."

For example, if they really wanted to, surely the team around him could ensure he didn't grab his crotch and yell at a woman photographer: "Bitch, come here and see what you can do with this." Or maybe he was just being ironic. Certainly his tirade at Lewis while holding his balls – "You bitch, you coward, you faggot" – has an element of camp about it.

Maybe that's what it's all about, he's bursting to come out. At the start of the fight he'll glare at Lewis and scream: "Oo hark at that ref, what's she like. Blimey, who did your dreadlocks, love, was it the council? Now, no going below the belt – oo, story of my life."

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