TOKYO — Mike Tyson has been guaranteed $10 million to come to Japan, enjoy delicate Japanese sushi and tiny quail eggs and visit giant pandas at the zoo.
In return he must defend his heavyweight championship against Tony Tubbs March 21 and allow hordes of Japanese fans to touch his hair.
The Tyson-Tubbs bout will be the first heavyweight championship fight in Japan in 15 years and in the land of the gargantuan sumo wrestler, big time boxing is a larger draw than ever. The fight is expected to sellout the new 50,000-seat Tokyo Dome.
The last time a heavyweight title was decided in Japan was in 1973 when George Foreman knocked out Joe Roman in one round. In 1976, Japanese fans flocked to see Muhammad Ali battle a sumo wrestler in a much ballyhooed Tokyo match.
Tyson's $10 million purse makes his defense against Tubbs the richest bout ever in Asia, and he said he realizes why promoters are willing to pay so much for what is expected to be a one-sided bout.
"Athletes are treated like gods here," Tyson, 21, told United Press International in an interview. "But I am just the opposite of that."
Tyson arrived in Japan on Feb. 17 with his wife, 23-year-old actress Robin Givens, of the ABC-TV comedy series, "Head of the Class." He admits to experiencing culture shock since his arrival from nearly half a world away from his New York home.
"The Japanese want to touch my hair all the time," he says. "But if they touch my hair, fair is fair, so I touch their hair back."
In their adulation of sumo wrestlers, Japanese fans often try to touch the bodies of their heroes. But the fascination with hair appears to be new, and may stem from the fact that Tyson's short cropped hair is different from their own naturally straight hair.
Tyson also finds himself besieged by young admirers carrying white autograph boards, often bearing the names of Japanese baseball players.
"But what really amazed me was when I sent a suit out for cleaning, forgetting that $700 was in the pocket. They sent the money back to me. If that happened in New York, both the money and suit would be gone," Tyson said.
"I love Japanese food, especially sushi and quail eggs," he added.
Tyson also enjoys Japanese pears, "which are about five times the size of American pears and can take up an entire breakfast and lunch alone," said his assistant manager Steve Lott.
Tyson said he never used to visit zoos until Tokyo.
"I want to go back," he said. "I want to see the eagles again, the giant pandas, the polar bears, the pigmy hippos and rhinos, the giraffes, lions and tigers. We freaked-out when we went there the first time and the crowds that followed us were unbelievably friendly."
The champion admits, however, to spending most of his free time in his luxury hotel suite, watching video movies, including westerns, classics such as "Casablanca," and even films of Japan's notorious assassian warriors, called "ninjas."
"Right now I am watching Rambo," Tyson said. "I'm also reading a civil war book about Frederick Douglas."
Tubbs said he hates sushi, preferring hearty seafood spaghetti instead. Since he arrived March 6, he has had little time for sightseeing, but is eager to satisfy the request of young Japanese fans to boogie to his favorite rap music.
"I definitely am not into sushi," Tubbs said of the raw fish delicacy. "But I do like the seafood spaghetti."
Tubbs, a 29-year-old native of Cincinnati who lives in in Culver City, Calif., has protected his hair with a white Los Angeles Raiders cap.
"But they do ask me to dance," he said, "especially when I have on my tape of "How do you like me now?" by Kool Moe Dee.
Tubbs says Japanese reporters also like to accompany him on his early morning runs, which skirt the Imperial Palace of Emperor Hirohito, in temperatures near the freezing mark. Tubbs, a former World Boxing Association champion, is ranked No. 2 among WBA challengers.
Lott says Tyson is even more popular than Ali was during his visit to Japan in 1976.
"Ali was a great, great champion, but Tyson is even a bigger draw," Lott said. "When they see Mike they fall in love with him. They appreciate what he's done. If Mike was to fight a sumo wrestler like Ali did, there wouldn't be an arena big enough to put the people."