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Boxing: Tyson bites Lewis on leg in public fracas

James Lawton,Michael Katz
Wednesday 23 January 2002 01:00 GMT
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Mike Tyson threw into doubt the richest fight in history here last night when he launched a one-man rampage which ended with him biting the leg of Lennox Lewis after both fighters were submerged by bodyguards and other members of their entourage.

The eruption ­ as shocking as the one which imperilled Tyson's career six years ago when he was disqualified for biting the ears of Evander Holyfield ­ brought a chaotic, premature end to a press conference called to announce officially the $100 million (£70m) fight between the world heavyweight champion Lewis and Tyson at the MGM Casino Hotel in Las Vegas on 6 April.

Now the fight hangs precariously on the outcome of a licensing meeting of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Tyson's behaviour in the Hudson Theatre ­ appropriately enough a classic venue in the days of burlesque ­ means that the commissioners, who are thought to have given the green light to the contest only after hearing from the local district attorney's office that the fighter will not be again indicted for rape, face still another blunt test of their priorities.

They were criticised when they restored Tyson's licence after the Holyfield incident and three years ago ordered him to take his show "on the road" away from Vegas to prove that he could control his behaviour. That course was provoked by Tyson's admission that he had tried to break the arm of one opponent, Frans Botha, and then hit another, Orlin Norris, after the bell.

Last night Tyson's demons were raging again with all their old ferocity and after Lewis had had the bite on his leg treated with peroxide by his trainer Emanuel Steward, he issued a brief statement, saying: "I will evaluate my options when the relevant boxing organisations have ruled." Earlier, a rumpled Lewis, who had his suit torn, said: "I just can't believe the guy bit me."

The flash point came, apparently, as a result of Tyson's anger that Lewis, as is his habit, arrived late for the press conference. As Lewis took his place on one of two small pedestals on the stage, Tyson stepped off the other, took off his beret and advanced aggressively on Lewis. One of Lewis's bodyguards put out a restraining hand and promptly received a left hook from Tyson. Lewis then threw a long right hand, which apparently was the cause of an angry weal on Tyson's forehead. When the ensuing scrum eventually unravelled, one victim was Jose Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council. He was sitting behind the curtain when he was overwhelmed by a tide of bodies. "I lost consciousness for a while," he said.

Tyson appeared to have lost his senses. He threw punches at members of his own entourage, and yelled obscenities into the audience sitting in the theatre seats. Twenty hours earlier he had given evidence of an erratic mood by sacking his trainer, Tommy Brooks, saying it was for financial reasons. Tyson is due something approaching $50m if the fight goes on.

That, despite the usual scepticism that this was hype, albeit of the most spectacular variety, is new far from a safe assumption. Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada commission, who seems to have spent most of his professional life walking the moral tightrope strung out by Tyson, agrees that it would be naïve to discount the financial impact of the fight on the Las Vegas economy, but he insisted: "I'm sure the commissioners will do what they think is right for boxing."

At the break-up of the press conference, a PR man working for the MGM said: "Right now I just don't know whether the fight is on, and Russ Greenburg, the president of HBO sports, said: "In view of today's events, this has to be Lennox Lewis's call." Another HBO man, Mark Taffet, said: "After today, who can say whether the fight is on or not?"

While Lewis's camp appeared to have been warned against comment, one of the world champion's trainers, Harold Knight, said: "When you are down to earn $25 million, why would you behave like that? Why would you put the fight in jeopardy? One explanation is that you don't really want to fight. That's my suspicion."

Tyson's manager, Shelley Finkel, claimed that Tyson "lost it" only after the intervention of a Lewis bodyguard ­ and angrily denied that his fighter was seeking a way out of the fight. "Why we would he want to get out of the fight, why would he lose some 20lb in the last couple of weeks. He's been working hard and he's ready to fight." Finkel also said that if Nevada refused to return Tyson's licence, the fight could go on anywhere in the world, "Mike isn't suspended anywhere," he said.

Knight's theory is that when the stalling was over ­ Tyson had repeatedly insisted he needed more fights before facing Lewis ­ and when the fight was being made official in the Hudson Theatre, something in Tyson snapped. His mind has scarcely been tranquil recently with the threat of indictment for rape and his wife Monica's decision to sue for divorce.

After last night's mayhem, Tyson was reported to be chatting cheerfully with passers-by in the Manhattan streets. He was happy to sign autographs. As happy, some speculated, as he had been to draw up a death warrant for the richest fight in history. Whether it is enforced by the Nevada Athletic Commission, is now, literally, a $100m question.

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