LONDON - Mike Tyson, who was no doubt thought by many to be still twisting around in a world constricted severely by his long-time inability to claim to be remotely its baddest inhabitant, returned to the television screen here last week in surprisingly good order.
He provided at least a snippet of evidence in support of a new-found optimism over his ability to make a living from acting with an interesting interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s poignant lament from Reading Gaol, a reflection which plainly took the old fighter back to the Indianapolis prison where he served his time for rape.
It was a fascinating documentary for those sections of the public still holding a passing interest in his former trade, the timing of it could hardly have been more arresting, following quickly as it did what many considered one of boxing’s most shameless scams ... a WBA world heavyweight title fight in Manchester last weekend between the reigning champion David Haye and a truly pathetic challenger, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison.
So wretched was the contest the Puerto Rican referee was obliged to remind Haye and Harrison that one of their contractual obligations was to throw at least one punch. The “fight” ended in the third round when Haye launched his first serious attack and Harrison subsided into a response that would have been more appropriate from a nervous kitten.
The controversy didn’t end there. Haye, who had assiduously avoided a fight which might have given a scrap of credence to his ascent to a title once owned by the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis — one against either of the Klitschko brothers from the Ukraine who hold the other versions of the belt — promptly announced that he had planned on a third round victory for the benefit of himself and his friends and family while doing business with the bookmakers.
When he was reminded that this was in open defiance of the regulations of the British Boxing Board of Control he promptly retracted, said the coup hadn’t happened, he was talking only in a general sense. The board accepted Haye’s new version of events and also said it would be too harsh to withdraw Harrison’s $2 million-plus purse despite the fact the 39-year-old had failed to throw no more than one irresolute jab.
Haye, a cruiserweight of some talent but with a worryingly fragile chin, can call himself a heavyweight champion only on credentials which could hardly be phonier. To win the title he beat the lumbering, near pacifist Russian giant Nikolai Valuev, defended against John Ruiz, who was mediocre in his twenties and had slumped to full tomato can status by the time of his challenge, in his late thirties, to Haye, and then we had the Harrison fiasco.
Now Haye has only one route to respectability. It is to fight either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko.
Meanwhile the re-appearance of Tyson reminded us of days which, while certainly not free from scorn-inducing mis-matches, always carried the possibility of heavyweight fights which were not grotesque parodies of some of the best of the past.
Bowe-Holyfield and Lewis-Holyfield were collisions of genuine intrigue, even if in the latter case they came a little late, and the point had to be made that for all the mishaps of Tyson, and his sorry end in the ring, he was always identifiable as a genuine fighter, not least when Lennox Lewis pounded him to near oblivion in Memphis in 2002.
This assertion was, inevitably, not without challenges — and one specifically registered on Tyson’s last two fights, his defeats by such non-entities as Britain’s Danny Williams and Ireland’s Kevin McBride in Louisville and Washington, D.C. However, one claim on behalf of Iron Mike did hold up. It was that however cynical some of the match-making on his behalf, or the chaotic and self-destructive nature of his life outside the ring, he never forgot to do what he was paid to do. This was to fight to the limit of his means, which admittedly on one shocking occasion required him to bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Tyson from time to time certainly behaved quite egregiously. But he always threw a punch. In the wake of Haye-Harrison this was at least something to say.
James Lawton writes for The Independent in the U.K.