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Tyson's Objectors Lost in Numbers

June 17, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER

After a bloody chunk of Evander Holyfield's right ear landed on the canvas of the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in his 1997 heavyweight title match against Mike Tyson, the howls of outrage were deafening.

Tyson should never be allowed to fight again, they said.

After Francois Botha had an arm nearly broken by Tyson in a 1999 fight, the anger was fierce.

We'll never pay for another Tyson fight, they said.

After Tyson bit Lennox Lewis on the upper thigh at a New York news conference in January, the disgust was universal.

Don't give this man a boxing license, they said.

After Tyson gave a series of profane interviews, the beeped-out, four-letter words leaving little in the way of sound bites, the revulsion was unanimous.

Take this man off the tube, they said.

So who are they, this chorus who seemed to speak with a single voice, totally rejecting Tyson and all that he stood for.

Either they were a loud vocal minority or they are hypocrites.

Because when Tyson stepped into the ring last Saturday night to face Lewis in a heavyweight title fight at the Pyramid in Memphis, all the protests, the denial of a license for Tyson in Nevada, the lack of interest in the fight shown by California, New York and other states, the groups that wanted Tyson banned from boxing seemed to be forgotten.

The only clamor was for the number of the local pay-per-view outlet.

Although it cost a record $54.95 to order the fight, 1.8 million did so in the United States alone, the second-largest number of pay-per-view buys for a fight.

The number of people watching was estimated at 10 million. That represents an average of five people per buy and about a million additional viewers watching on closed circuit in theaters. Add to that number the many homes that used illegal black boxes, which allow viewers to steal the signal. International figures are not yet available.

Suffice it to say, millions watched a fight that so many claimed they wouldn't lower themselves to even glance at, and paid millions to do so. The fight grossed a record $103 million domestically.

Blood and violence sells. That's hardly a news bulletin.

That Tyson sells is also not a bulletin. The best-selling fight of all time was the ear-biting match, which attracted 1.99 million pay-per-view buys.

Tyson has been in the top four pay-per-view matches. The first Tyson-Holyfield fight, held in 1996, drew 1.59 million buys. Tyson's comeback fight after three years in prison on a rape conviction, his match against Peter McNeeley in 1995, attracted 1.55 million buys.

Overall, Tyson has been in six of the top 10 pay-per-view fights.

It will be interesting to see if the public is similarly attracted to the kindler, gentler Tyson. He seemed out of character Saturday night after being totally dominated and ultimately knocked out in the eighth round by Lewis. Tyson was gracious in defeat. He praised Lewis, even wiped a spot of blood off the champion's face. Tyson also kissed Lewis' mother, Violet.

This is what people claimed they always wanted from Tyson, for him to act like a decent human being. The question, if he maintains this new image: Will he still be as popular in the pay-per-view market?

Is a two-time heavyweight champion who is trying to regain his peak form while staying within the rules of the sport and the rules of decency as attractive to fight fans as the raving maniac whose announced goal was to kill his opponents and eat their children?

Or, will it turn out that, for the all the protests, all people wanted after all was the blood, the bites and the possibility of a severed body part?

What Next?

Although neither man is ready to commit publicly, it seems likely both will again fight, though not against each other.

Lewis-Tyson turned out to be a lot like the Lewis-David Tua fight, a tall heavyweight champion with a long reach and a vicious jab holding off and beating up a smaller man. Nobody wants to see that again.

At 36, Lewis finally has what he has been seeking his whole career, the respect of the boxing world. And why not, since he is fighting better than ever?

There is a new generation out there for him to face, from Chris Byrd to Kirk Johnson. Most likely, Lewis' next opponent will be Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine. Even though his brother, Vitali, is rated higher, Wladimir, who fights Ray Mercer in Atlantic City on June 29 and faced Lewis in a fictional fight in the movie "Ocean's Eleven," is considered the more marketable opponent should he prevail against Mercer.

As for Tyson, his most lucrative match would be a third fight against Holyfield.

And it could even happen in Las Vegas. Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada commission, doesn't rule out a more favorable response for Tyson if he again seeks a license

"It's very important the way he handled himself [last Saturday]," Ratner said.

"It certainly plays in his favor if he decides to apply And I think the way the fight went helped boxing in its own peculiar way."

Quick Jabs

World Boxing Council featherweight champion Erik Morales, who will face Marco Antonio Barrera on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, will hold a public workout today at the Wild Card Boxing Club, 1123 Vine St., beginning at 12:30 p.m.

The Golden State Boxer's Assn. will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to former heavyweight champions Ken Norton and Mike Weaver, trainer Bill Slayton, the promotional team of Sugar Ray Leonard and Bijorn Rebney, promoters Don Chargin and Don Fraser, and boxing writers John Hall and Doug Krikorian Saturday, June 22 at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Hollywood. To attend, call 818-764-2903.

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