At a news conference this week, Mike Tyson burst across the stage and attacked Lennox Lewis. He attacked Lewis’ entourage. I believe he attacked Lewis’ luggage.
Curtains collapsed. Tables toppled. A pile of fist-swinging bodies took over the stage and Iron Mike, having missed lunch, allegedly chomped on Lennox’s leg.
Then Tyson, bleeding from the forehead, singled out a reporter and screamed such memorable sound bites as, “You’re not man enough to bleep with me!”
And: “You’re scared now, you ho’, scared like a little white bleep!”
And: “I’m a REAL man, I’ll bleep you till you love me!”
So I guess that Quaker Oats endorsement is out.
But know this: When the dust settled, and the furniture was upside down, here is what Mike Tyson had accomplished: He sold tickets. A lot of tickets. To a fight for which he stands to make at least $17.5 million. Because, simply put, people like to watch wreckage.
And Tyson is a roller coaster screaming off the track.
It is the reason Tyson is tolerated. It is the reason he is coddled. It is the reason promoters bring him back, time and time again, and why networks roll their eyes as they sign on the dotted line and casinos fork over millions even as they wince and breathy sportscasters go on and on about how awful this is while telling you exactly what date and time you can see the fight.
Mike Tyson is a train wreck, a head-on collision, a chariot crash.
And people can’t sign up fast enough.
What did you expect?
Now, many sports writers are decrying the Tyson tumble. They say boxing, to save face, must deny Tyson a license to fight in Nevada.
Not me. I’m so done with this sport, I can’t even get angry at it anymore. The only thing that even amuses me about boxing is when people write, “If the sport has any integrity left . . .”
Hello? This is Don King’s world, remember? You have as much chance of finding integrity in boxing as you do of finding a doughnut left on George Foreman’s plate.
Don’t believe me? Consider this. One of the people snagged in that news conference fracas was Jose Sulaiman, the World Boxing Council president. Jose was knocked momentarily unconscious — which, come to think of it, is the first time in years Mike Tyson has knocked out anyone you heard of.
But when Jose came to, here is what he told a reporter: “The world wants to see this fight. And what the world wants, we should do.”
And you want me to call for integrity?
Don’t stop there. Emanuel Steward, who is training Lewis for the proposed April 6 fight, also was at that news conference.
“They crashed into me, then the table crashed into me,” he said.
Aren’t you worried, I asked him, that Tyson, so clearly out of control, might do something awful to Lewis in the ring — a bite, a low blow, something worse
— especially if he’s losing?
“Oh, not only is that a possibility,” Steward said, “it’s most likely a reality.”
But the fight should still go on?
“That’s the billion-dollar question.”
He has the noun, if not the number.
Wrestling, but with gloves
Let’s face it, these days, the more boxing behaves like the World Wrestling Federation, the better it does.
Tyson, 35, knows this better than most. He is not much of a boxer anymore. He hasn’t beaten anyone worth a hoot. His last two cracks at a real champion, Evander Holyfield, resulted in a loss and a disqualification for ear-biting — and that was five years ago.
But while Tyson may no longer be a top fighter, he is all of the following: a convicted rapist, a man currently accused of rape by another woman, a man who bit an opponent in the ring, a man who struck a referee, a man who tangles with the law and the media so often that it doesn’t even make news anymore.
Unless he’s pumping a shot at the title.
Which is where he is again, amazingly, despite all he has done. There is no question he should be banned for life, but it’s laughable that anyone even suggests it, because it’s so overdue. Tyson makes money for people. So they keep propping him up, bringing him back and scooping their buckets into his slimy well.
He knows it. He also knows the only time he gets forever banned is when he no longer commands attention. So he stays a train wreck. He’s good at it. It’s the only thing he’s good at now.
“People want me to be an animal in the ring,” he once said. “That’s OK. Just spell my name right. I want your grandkids to remember me and say, ‘Wow, what a bizarre individual!’ “
I’d say we’re pretty safe on that.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).