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Richard Hoffer
February 11, 2002
Boxing's dark master takes us on a tour of sport's lunatic fringe
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February 11, 2002

The Madness Of King Mike

Boxing's dark master takes us on a tour of sport's lunatic fringe

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We don't know what to do with Mike Tyson. For every person who wants to ban him from boxing, there's another willing to shell out pay-per-view dollars to see him fight. The reaction is ritual: A world grows smug when he's slapped for a temper tantrum and is exiled from Nevada, as he was last week, and then wonders mightily where his bout with Lennox Lewis will be held, if not Las Vegas. After 10 years of this—proper revulsion followed by a powerball clamor—we have to wonder exactly who is bipolar here.

Tyson's appeal, generated at first by an earnest malevolence, hasn't been damaged as he has devolved into an unhinged and oddly juvenile monster. He rapes, he bites, he delivers increasingly frightening monologues. The regression of personality, the loss of self-control, is becoming a reverse Alzheimer's: He now crawls on the floor like an infant and bites the leg of his playmate and then rants and cries.

Yet this ongoing breakdown gives us little pause. Poor Nevada, backed into a corner by its past sanctions of Tyson, couldn't have licensed him for the Lewis fight, even had it wanted to. Tyson's latest behavior was far too reminiscent of the ear-chomping that cost him his tag in the first place. Few other states or countries feel obliged to adopt similar restrictions. In fact, the bidding has already begun. The man from the California Athletic Commission was saying just the other night what the local spending generated by an event like this—$100 million, minimum—would mean to out-of-work chambermaids.

Aren't we dainty, to encourage the fight on grounds of economic impact. The bout has absolutely no athletic importance. Tyson, once the most prominent boxer of this generation, has long since squandered his significance in a decadelong debacle of disappointing escapades and defeats. In any case, he's 35 and of suspect resolve. Lewis, himself 36, participates only for the plunder suddenly available to him at retirement. (He has already had his tetanus shot.)

No, it's not about the chambermaids. As with every other Tyson event, in which he becomes our proxy for perversity, we only want to see where his madness can take us, to explore (secondhand, of course) man's psychotic underside. Will this fight be made? Of course. This is the reality programming of the new millennium, psychological pornography, in which our thrills grow more and more sleazy. And all it costs is $49.95.