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Thursday, January 24, 2002
Time-bomb Tyson sabotaged own fight

By Max Kellerman
Special to

This was painfully predictable.
Max: 'Mike, you make me want to strangle you.'

Brian Kenny and I were at the Millennium Hotel in New York City on Tuesday morning to cover the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson press conference for SportsCenter and ESPN News. Boxing has been buzzing for months about Lewis-Tyson, and whether it will ever actually come off. Brian and I knew that the fight might be made, that both heavyweights might sign the contract, that a date might be set and a promotion begun.

But we also knew that Lewis and Tyson actually fighting in a ring was another story. Many, if not most of us, in the industry have come to the conclusion that the fight will never happen. Mike Tyson's penchant for self-sabotage is usually the reason cited.

The press conference was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Five minutes before, the same old "do you think this fight will actually take place?" conversations were going on. Brian and I were telling people that it was a 50-50 proposition whether the press conference would actually come off. People thought we were joking.

No sooner was heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis introduced (Tyson had taken his place on stage first), than he was approached by Iron Mike. Tyson seemed to be approaching just quickly enough to make it look as though he was trying to get to the champ, while giving people around him enough time to get between him and Lennox. Not enough people got there in time. Someone from Lewis' entourage, apparently a bodyguard, put a hand on Tyson, apparently to restrain him. Tyson swatted at the bodyguard's hand. Lewis fired a right at Tyson, and the now-infamous melee -- in which Tyson allegedly bit Lewis' leg -- ensued.

The question on everyone's lips in the wake of the fracas that ended the press conference before it began (told you that 50-50 thing was no joke) was "does this mean that the Nevada commission will deny Tyson's license request?" The fight was to be held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Mike Tyson is not currently licensed to fight in Nevada. If Nevada denies him a license to box, other state commissions will follow suit and it will become very difficult to hold a Lewis-Tyson fight in the United States. The Nevada commission might look at this latest fiasco as the final straw, and deny Tyson's application.

Tyson's camp can argue (and the spin has already begun) that Mike was simply approaching Lennox to stare him down, that it was Lennox's guy who put his hands on Mike, that Mike swiped (and missed) at a guy who put his hands on him, and that it was Lennox who threw a basically unprovoked punch at Mike. Tyson, after all, never did throw anything directly at Lewis. As for the bite, it does appear that Lennox was bitten. I do not know that it will be established that it was Tyson who did the biting.

Even if Tyson's people are able to successfully argue their case and Tyson's boxing license is reinstated in Nevada and the promotion for an April 6th fight does go forward, it will not matter. Whatever Tyson's conscious motive for approaching Lewis, it is clear that Mike Tyson is a man who does not want to fight. At least he does not want to fight the 6-5, 250-pound heavyweight champion of the world. Lewis is a lot bigger than Tyson. The champ's physical advantages include about seven inches of height, 25 pounds of weight and a foot of reach. Lewis at this point is also a lot better than Tyson. He has fought more often against better opposition, and has performed in more dominating fashion than Tyson for over a decade now. Tyson just doesn't want him.

The people around Tyson are another story. Those who give him advice and guide his career have apparently decided that Mike's behavior has become so self-destructive that he might not be a free man much longer, or even perhaps that he might not be alive much longer. Five- and 10-million dollar paydays here and there in Europe will therefore no longer do. Tyson is a ticking time bomb and it is time to cash out. Feed him to Lennox for $25 million while there's still time, seems to be the thinking.

And of course there is always the possibility that Tyson detonates either ballistic fist -- he can still punch -- against Lewis' vulnerable chin. The heavyweight championship of the world is, as always, just one good punch away for Mike. But it does not matter. Even if Tyson is given a license to box in Nevada, he will do something else at some point along the way to sabotage a Lewis fight. And that is not a 50-50 proposition. I am 99 percent certain that even if Tyson eventually gets in the ring with Lewis he will do something to prevent the opening bell.

Mike, you make me want to strangle you. We are all trying our best to sweep one thing after another under the rug -- to give you chance after chance -- hoping against hope that one of these days you will redeem yourself. What is it about you that brings this out in people? Even Cus, it has been postulated, did not discipline you at critical moments in your adolescence in order to keep you developing as a fighter. It doesn't mean he didn't love you, Mike. It's just that he was human and, like the rest of us, he let his infatuation with your potential as a fighter interfere with his responsibility to you as a person. So do me a favor and don't fight Lennox Lewis. Retire instead. Or go to Europe and find more Brian Neilsens to beat up. Or sit around and eat and get fat and be happy. Just stay out of trouble. And grow old. And do it a free man.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.