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Lights Out
Richard Hoffer
June 17, 2002
Lennox Lewis lowered the boom—and dropped the curtain—on Mike Tyson's long-running carnival act
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June 17, 2002

Lights Out

Lennox Lewis lowered the boom—and dropped the curtain—on Mike Tyson's long-running carnival act

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As problematic as Tyson's instability would seem to a promotion, it was also catalytic. The specter of Tyson unhinged was without question the driving force in the live gate and in the pay-per-view. As Jay Larkin, Showtime's boxing chief said, "With Mike, love him or hate him, you know he's there. Mike is what's good for business."

Lewis, presumably, is not. Even though he was the champion coming in, fighting in his 13th consecutive title fight, Lewis is considered something of a box office dud. "There's no charisma," complained Larkin. "If Lennox went away, nobody would miss him." His calm confidence, which is frustrating when he cautiously toys with opponents in the ring, never inspires much frantic buildup. At his own press conference three days before the bout, Lewis invited an elementary school chess team to the dais, where he, indulging in one of his favorite pastimes, played one of the prodigies for several moves. Thus the only known press conference with the following narration: " Mr. Lewis has played knight to f6."

In the fight game, when the stakes are so high, nothing can ever be packaged as just a boxing match. It has to be a morality play as well, the better to draw the casual fan, the reality-show viewer, into that pay-per-view web. And the fighters fit the bill perfectly: Tyson was the unrepentant madman, with all the persuasive bluster, and Lewis was the calculating gentleman, whose only show of emotion was to acknowledge his always-present "mum." Ka-ching!

Of course, by fight time, when the hot lights boil off these trappings, it really is nothing more than a boxing match. And in this case, as Steward observed afterward, "it was man against boy." Tyson seemed to recognize as much, and when he spoke to Lewis of a rematch immediately after the bout, he framed it in terms of a "payday."

Tyson will surely fight again, as he will always bring money to the table with his strange celebrity, and he will always need money, given his debt to Showtime and his need for a large lifestyle. But immediately afterward he seemed to address reality when, in an odd state of calm, he said he just might fade into oblivion, go feed his pigeons. It was as if he recognized, almost at the same time we did, the awful truth: Finally, this whole impossibly tortured effort, it's over.

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