/ 13 April 2004

Tyson: An accident waiting to happen

If all goes according to plan, and it rarely does when Mike Tyson is involved, the former baddest man on the planet will walk into a Phoenix gym sometime this week and begin hitting the speed bag.

Or maybe he’ll walk into a Phoenix strip club and begin hitting on the dancers instead. He’s Mike Tyson, after all, so you never really know.

Tyson is 37 now, soon to be 38, and the days when he could terrorise an opponent simply by climbing into the ring seem only a distant memory. He’s fought a total of 49 seconds in the last 22 months, and got the stuffing beat out of him by Lennox Lewis the last time he fought for the title.

Reasonable people shouldn’t care anymore. For some reason, though, we still do.

We’re drawn to Tyson for the same reason we slow down to see an accident on the roadway.

He’s bitten off ears, tried to break arms and threatened to eat children. He’s served time in prison for rape and been in court repeatedly.

He’s that accident waiting to happen, ready to implode or explode at any given moment. You’re not sure what Tyson you’ll get, but you can be sure that it will somehow be entertaining.

And there’s no doubt that boxing can use somebody entertaining these days.

Not since the early 1980s has the heavyweight division been so devoid of talent and so lacking of personality. It’s filled with alphabet soup champions who can’t fight, can’t sell tickets and don’t ever fight each other.

There’s an old adage on boxing that as the heavyweights go, so goes the sport. And right now boxing is going down for the long count.

”At one point the heavyweight champion was like being the president of the world,” John Ruiz said. ”It was that big. Now people have lost the interest.”

Don’t know who Johnny Ruiz is? He’s the guy who sleepwalked through a loss to Roy Jones Jr. last year, then somehow became the WBA heavyweight champion once again by beating another guy (Hasim Rahman) whose biggest claim to fame was he gave away $15-million by signing an ill-advised deal with Don King.

Ruiz is one heavyweight champion. Chris Byrd, a nice guy and good family man who couldn’t break the proverbial egg, is another.

And the third will be decided April 24 when a Ukrainian (Vitali Klitschko) fights a South African (Corrie Sanders) to replace an Englishman (Lewis) who decided to quit while he was still ahead.

But wait. There’s another title so minor no one mentions it much, but Lamon Brewster holds it after spending most of Saturday night getting his face punched in by Wladimir Klitschko before unleashing a series of punches that proved the giants do fall harder than most.

Brewster seems like a pleasant sort who thanks all the right people (God, Don King and his wife, in that order). But he’s not going to make you forget Muhammad Ali, or remember John Ruiz, for that matter.

And you’re still wondering what makes a Tyson return increasingly attractive? ”Pretty encouraging, isn’t it?” Tyson said on Saturday after surveying the tattered remnants of the once-proud division.

King thinks so. He’s spent the past year signing up anyone who weighed more than 90kg in hopes of controlling the heavyweight division so tightly that Tyson would have to deal with him to make any money.

So far, Tyson has resisted the temptation to sign despite being given $1-million and a new Bentley by King last summer as an inducement to get him to drop his $100-million lawsuit against King. That’s just spending money and another ride for Tyson, who has made more than $300-million in the ring but is broke.

The plan right now is for Tyson to fight some stiff in July, then another stiff in the fall before meeting unbeaten Joe Mesi, possibly in December at Madison Square Garden. Since Tyson usually never sticks to the script, though, it wouldn’t be wise to buy tickets just yet.

Meanwhile, the sorry heavyweight saga plays out this weekend at Madison Square Garden when Ruiz defends his WBA title against Fres Oquendo and Byrd fights Andrew Golota, the ”Foul Pole” for the IBF title.

On paper, the two fights are so bad that you wonder how they can attach the words ”heavyweight title” to them. At least Vitali Klitschko’s WBC title fight with Sanders a week later has a bit of legitimacy because it is for the linear title that Lewis vacated.

If Klitschko is not haunted by his brother’s knockout loss and wins a few more fights impressively, he still may emerge as the dominant heavyweight of his times.

Don’t hold your breath, though. Vitali wasn’t even thought of as the best fighter in his family before his stock went up by going six bloody rounds with an out-of-shape Lewis last June.

Until then, there’s Tyson. Sure, he’s a freak, and, yes, he’s well past his time.

But at least he’ll get you to watch. More than anything, that’s something that boxing needs badly these days. – Sapa-AP