Mike Tyson Sits While Boxing Waits ‘s report on the state of boxing with Mike Tyson in jail.

North County 6/15/94


Mike TysonLast Monday a court in Indiana denied former Heavyweight Champion, Mike Tyson a year reprieve on his six-year sentence for rape. Rumors from the Hoosier state had a deal worked out to pay accuser, Desiree Washington a cool $1.5 million, sealed with the obligatory apology for the fiesty pugilist’s actions. These rumors died hard under the stoic jurisdiction of judge, Patricia Gifford, who told Mr. Tyson under no circumstances will he walk until after his time is up in May of 1995.

According to a blurb in the June 13 issue of Sports Illustrated, Tyson’s considerable fortunes have dwindled so much under the mismanagement of promoter, Don King that he would’ve had to pay Washington in installments.

Things have gotten so bad between King and Tyson you can hear every promoter in boxing fumbling for their bloated check books now. The future of the game may just rest on the shoulders of an ex-con.

Tyson’s name hangs like a dark cloud over the world of professional boxing. The heavyweight division has not been the same without him. Not unlike when Muhammed Ali was stripped of his title in the 1960s’, every current champ hears the inevitable: “Tyson would kill this guy.” Before losing his title recently, Evander Holyfield said he would hold off retirement to shut the critics up. He would wait until, “the man gets out.”

This is either a legitimate discussion on the legend of Tyson or a knock on the weakness of the heavies in this age of prize fighting. You’d have to go with the latter. Although Iron Mike was one of the most feared men to ever enter the square circle, his decline began a half-decade ago with a startling defeat to Buster Douglas. Douglas got fat and complacent. Holyfield sent him away. And Tyson found big trouble outside the ring.

Before the rape charges, there were alleged wife beatings, car crashes, and fist fights in the streets of New York at all hours of the night. Tyson was a combustible case, and his involvement with the maniacal publicity machine that is Don King did not help. It became the chic analysis to blame Tyson’s troubles on King and the lack of discipline in his camp; but it was merely a smoke screen for a man out of control. Sooner or later the buck stops at the source. See the Kurt Cobain suicide or Jennifer Capriati drug arrest for more recent examples of the young, rich, and lost.

As long as Mike Tyson sits, so does the sport. No one clamoring for the incarcerated ex-champ have a thing to do with his irreparable behavior, but they’re doing the time along with him.

A case could be made that Tyson’s life was saved the night he refused Desiree Washington’s cries for him to stop. He was a street kid with a raw talent being exploited by people he hardly knew. People who would not allow their meal ticket to see the reality of his brutish existence, the same people who currently fight to set him free in order to crank up the ol’ gravy train again. And as much as they hate to admit it, the lords of boxing are counting the days.

Tyson embodies everything that is good, bad, and ugly about the brutal sport of boxing. He thrives in it because he’s not only a fearless punching machine in the ring, but the essence of terror outside of it. Many compare him to the late Sonny Liston, who was once the most feared man in the game. Even the greasy scum commissioners were afraid of Liston, of what he might do while holding their championship belt. Years after losing the title, with hints of foul play and mob connections, Liston was found lying in his apartment stone dead. Drugs? Angry enemies? There are still questions. The same questions they could be asking about Mike Tyson.

Boxing has been the sanctuary for the social fringe and angry street thugs. It has also helped many to overcome a life of crime and self-loathing. The Italian and Irish ghettos of the first half of this century, and the Black and Hispanic ghettos of the past 40 years, have produced men who rose above their plight. The names are not as important as the sport they helped create.

My grandfather, Bartolomeo Martignetti, built an identity as an American through boxing in the late-twenties. It was an identity he could not escape until his death. He was lucky to live as long as he did. Most men with the guts and angst of the street burn fast.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World is some guy named Michael Moorer. He out-boxed Holyfield, and then turned around to wonder if he would quit. This is not the attitude that the sport needs to sell tickets or create excitement.

Once, not too long ago, there was a man who held the belts with a ferocity of an evil warrior. That man was one cash deal and a court decision away from becoming a boxing reality. As long as Mike Tyson sits, so does the sport. No one clamoring for the incarcerated ex-champ have a thing to do with his irreparable behavior, but they’re doing the time along with him.

There are several scenes in Spike Lee’s monumental film, Do The Right Thing in which the side of a building looms over the action. Under the fading image of Iron Mike is an inscription that reads: “Brooklyn’s own Mike Tyson.” It is that faded image that looms over the future of heavyweight boxing now. Last Monday the world at large spoke in a small courtroom in Indiana.

Boxing must wait.

Mike Tyson is not done paying for his sins.

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