Anyone who sees shame in Mike Tyson's employment as a so-called enforcer for Wrestlemania XIV (which came first, kids: Wrestlemania or the Super Bowl? Know your Roman numerals!) hasn't been paying attention. Now he's a joke? What was he the last three years, when his comeback was more comically choreographed than an all-comers cage match? Mike Tyson vs. Bruce Seldon may not have had the costuming of Hulk Hogan vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper, but it was no less hilarious.
What we're trying to say is, this isn't suddenly beneath Tyson's dignity. To go from biting Evander Holyfield's ear off to slap-fighting Stone Cold Steve Austin is, athletically speaking, a lateral move. For that matter, to pass from Don King's workforce into Vince McMahon's cartoon outfit implies no further descent into infamy. It's a serious pay cut, all right—$30 million a night to $4 million a night—but you can't say that someone whose fierceness was supposed to be demonstrated anew in a tussle with Peter McNeely now compromises his credibility by appearing alongside Cactus Jack.
Still, anyone who remembers Tyson as Kid Dynamite, the teenager with "bad intentions" in his furious fists and dreams of a boxing legacy in his squarish head, has to feel a pang as his career continues its farcical degeneration. The youngest man to win a heavyweight title is now, at 31, a novelty act, a hired stooge, his future uncertain in any other arena.
But this may be what happens when a life is constructed out of promotional imperatives. Tyson was never meant to have any use beyond making money—for King or now for McMahon. After he'd been spoon-fed too many Frank Brunos following his release from prison in 1995, even Tyson understood he'd become a caricature of his competitive self, betrayed by King's commerce. It had been a caper was all, a $140 million flimflam that didn't have all that much to do with sport, much less a boxing legacy. Poor Kid Dynamite. If his complicity in King's con hadn't already dawned on him, he knew for sure the lie of all that marketing bluster the night Holyfield called his bluff. He wasn't, when you got right down to it, even an effective bully.
So now it's off to pro wrestling, where it was announced last week that Tyson will use his former "baddest man on the planet" persona to police the ring apron where often—all too often—wrestlers sneak behind the referee's back to administer sleeper holds, man-claws, what have you. Perhaps, McMahon hinted with Kingly bluster, Tyson might even enter the fray. Maybe this is where Tyson belongs. I le may have under-Stood the sad fictions of his career before any of us, and he now requires the safety of make-believe, where the hulks are as harmless as you need them to be, and if there did happen to be a Holyfield in the arena, he'd do exactly as he was told.