Work in Sports
Posted: Tuesday October 26, 1999 04:25 PM
Mike Tyson's latest fiasco was one more nail in the fight game's coffin
By Richard Hoffer
Anybody looking to abolish boxing just needs to sit tight. The sport is about to die on its own, of self-inflicted wounds -- namely, its repeated failure to entertain. Boxing has become so irrelevant that it can no longer stand comparison even to professional wrestling, which is at least a reliable kind of bunkum. The fact that a grappling show held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Sunday outsold a Mike Tyson show there the night before is, finally, testament to the consumers' wisdom: They knew the wrestling was going to be fun, the boxing wasn't.
Tyson, 33, has long since abandoned any claim to boxing greatness, having squandered his promise in two jail sentences, a suspension and several gory defeats. But coming back from his latest prison term (3 1/2 months for exaggerated road rage), Tyson, it seemed, was the guy to focus some attention on the sport's concussive potential. Unlike the dance performed last March by rival champions Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield, Tyson would come to punch.
Well, he did come to punch. But after the bell? Just one round and Tyson, who had bitten off part of Holyfield's ear in this same ring, was back in familiar territory, subject to the referee's admonishment and the commission's ruling on whether or not to release his $8.7 million purse. Yet all he'd done was drop Norris with a short left hand, a little after the bell.
For Tyson it wasn't much of a foul and it would have been unremarkable (a two-point deduction, but unremarkable) had the 34-year-old Norris (50-5), a light-punching cutie who'd been brought in to grease Tyson's comeback, gotten up and continued. But Norris, apparently at the behest of his corner, stayed down. After ambling back to his stool, Norris sat there until the ring physician came in and agreed that his right knee was too swollen for him to continue.
The fans in the half-filled arena set off a howl as soon as security began ringing the apron. The public had paid for this scene before, but this time the crowd wasn't sure that Tyson was entirely at fault. There was reason for suspicion. Norris, because of managerial and tax entanglements, was going to take home some $200,000 from his $800,000 purse. His only hope for solvency was to somehow survive Tyson and gain a rematch, which, presumably, he will now get. (More immediately, Norris went to the hospital to have his knee examined.)
Tyson, who hadn't had the chance to demonstrate much beyond his continued lack of regard for boxing's rules, was self-pitying, saying, "I don't even want to fight any more. I'm tired, really tired."
He added, "I take my beatings like a man," and said Norris should feel disgraced. "You've got to have heart to get into the ring with me. He felt my heat and just didn't want to continue."
What if Norris's knee really was hurt? Observing that Norris was perfectly ambulatory going back to his stool and only later turned into Matt Dillon's sidekick Chester, Tyson said, "Maybe he hurt it when he sat down on the stool."
Characteristically, neither Tyson nor his promoter Dan Goossen thought anybody other than Norris was to blame. Hitting after the bell was, as Goossen put it, "part of the business." Well, it's not. Then again, the foul by itself doesn't constitute the end of boxing. We've all seen worse.
What is a nail in the coffin is boxing's inability to provide even one exciting, athletic moment for paying customers. Wrestling, anyone?
In P.G. Wodehouse's Code of the Woosters, blustering British bully Roderick Spode threatens Bertie Wooster with this locution: "I shall immediately beat you to a jelly." At a prefight press conference on Oct. 20, bullying British featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed -- whose royal title derives from his imagination, not the House of Windsor -- threatened opponent Cesar Soto with this locution: "I'm gonna beat you till you're marmalade. I'm gonna spread you out."
Hamed made good on his threat last Friday in a unification bout at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit that was as silly as a Wodehouse novel, though nowhere near as entertaining. Frustrated by his inability to mount an attack, Hamed, the undefeated WBO champ, grabbed and shoved and wrassled his oft-defeated WBC counterpart. When Soto charged in the fifth round, Hamed ducked, hoisted him above his head and body-slammed him to the canvas. With Soto spread out, his trainer, Miguel Diaz, stormed the ring, screaming hysterically. From the opposite corner, Hamed's trainer, Emanuel Steward, did likewise. In the middle of the ring stood Hamed. "Don't stop the fight, ref!" he pleaded, "Don't stop it!" The ref, Dale Grable, didn't.
The last seven rounds featured bear hugs and head butts and tumbling through the ropes, but very little boxing. By Round 10 the initially pro-Prince crowd of 12,500 was booing him loudly. At the final bell the fighters collapsed in one last pratfall and rolled around the apron. Then Hamed stood and raised his arms in victory -- and moments later was, in fact, declared the winner by unanimous decision. It was a fitting end to what Soto's promoter, Bob Arum, called "a sick, sick joke." After branding Hamed a dirty fighter and a fraud, Arum said, "You can criticize Mike Tyson, but at least between bites Tyson threw some decent punches."
Hamed, now 33-0, took the high road. "Bob Arum," he said, "is talking a lot of doo-doo."
Since making his U.S. debut with a sloppy KO of Kevin Kelley in
New York City on Dec. 19, 1997, Naz -- the handle by which this
hip-hop hustler is relentlessly hyped by HBO -- has done little to
justify his six-fight, $48 million deal with the network. He won
a lackluster decision over Wayne McCullough on Halloween night,
1998, and looked tired against unheralded Paul Ingle in April.
Before the Soto bout Steward, recently hired to beef up Hamed's
defense and stamina, said that until now his 25-year-old charge
"has been a little amateur kid who, through God's gifts, has been
able to survive." In surviving Soto, Hamed revealed himself to be
no more than a Clown Prince.
The Mike Tyson and Prince Naseem Hamed fiascos were each preceded by superb undercard bouts. In Detroit undefeated WBC super bantamweight champ Erik Morales was much more impressive in taking a 12-round unanimous decision from tough Wayne McCullough than Hamed was when he beat the Belfast brawler on Oct. 31, 1998. HBO would like to see a Hamed-Morales bout sometime soon, but the Prince may have some royal concerns. In Las Vegas, Diego Corrales stopped previously unbeaten Roberto Garcia to take the IBF junior lightweight crown and set up a possible showdown with WBC champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. ...
Mayweather recently turned down a seven-fight, $12.5 million contract extension with HBO, calling the deal "a slave contract." According to HBO vice president Lou DiBella , Mayweather's father, who is also the fighter's manager, called the network to apologize. HBO would welcome the talented Mayweather back, but it won't be at the $3 million per fight Mayweather was demanding. ... Still combative after all these years: Three-time Olympic super heavyweight champ Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba, 48, was arrested last Saturday for head-butting a United Airlines employee who tried to stop Stevenson from passing through a security checkpoint in Miami. Stevenson posted a bond before catching a later flight back home to Cuba. ...
Is undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. serious about moving up to heavyweight? Yes, but only for one bout -- and only against the right opponent. Jones believes that Evander Holyfield can win his Nov. 13 rematch against Lennox Lewis . If Holyfield does emerge with the unified title, Jones says he will seek a deal with the Real Deal. "I'm not saying Roy Jones can't beat Lennox Lewis," says Jones, "but I'd be giving away too much [against the 6'5", 246-pound Brit] in that fight."
Issue date: November 1, 1999