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Friday, May 3, 2002
Updated: May 6, 12:08 AM ET
Inside the Tyson-Hawaii interview session

By Max Kellerman
Special to

Maybe Mike Tyson is crazy like a fox. Or at least like a young Cassius Clay. As a reaction to his own fear Clay behaved like a madman at the weigh-in for his title challenge against champion Sonny Liston.  Liston, the favorite, was spooked -- scared of an obviously unstable person.

On Wednesday afternoon in Maui, a collection of television people representing various networks descended (or rather ascended) upon a small gym on a mountain more beautiful than any from a fairy tale. Mike Tyson was reluctantly holding court, furnishing reporters with hostile, scatological answers to their questions.

I breathed recycled air for over 24 hours on my flights from New York to Hawaii and back. Several reporters from other networks made similar journeys. We all came to conduct what we were told would be 10 to 15 minute sit-downs with the former heavyweight champion of the world.

Upon his arriving at the gym, however, Mike was in a surly mood. We were informed that rather than speak with us individually as planned, Mike would instead field questions from all of us as a group -- a sort of informal press conference.

Mike immediately thwarted several attempts to get him to answer questions about his upcoming title challenge of Lennox Lewis. Rather than persist in the intractable methods of my colleagues, I elected to allow the questions I had prepared fall by the wayside. Instead, I simply engaged Mike in conversation.

He became more responsive, though still surly, and began waxing philosophical about his own bad behavior, his perceived victimization at the hands of the press, and even his own place in heavyweight history. What was supposed to be Mike fielding questions from the group quickly developed into a conversation between him and me.

Before too long an anxious and attractive female reporter cut in, asking Mike what sounded like an innocuous question (though I do not actually remember what she asked). Looking back now, I think Mike felt that she was being rude to me by trying to bull her way into what had essentially become my interview.

Mike turned to her and informed her that she was speaking out of turn and that unless she wanted to "fornicate" with him, he suggested she keep quiet.

The reporter was stunned and I was left with the feeling of having just watched Hannibal Lecter responding to rudeness by humiliating the offender. While I am not too crazy about the thought that I was cast as Clarice Starling of the little drama, nevertheless, Mike and I continued our conversation, while the rest of the press corps remained completely silent.

Mike's bizarre behavior here felt consistent with his behavior at the New York City press conference to announce the Lewis fight. That day Mike rushed towards Lewis as Lewis was being introduced and a melee ensued. As a result, the fight was postponed while state after state made clear that they would not grant Mike a licence to box.

When he bit a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear off, Mike avoided a second straight conclusive and humiliating defeat at the hands of the same fighter. Because he was disqualified and not knocked out, there remained those unconvinced that Evander would have gone on to win the fight. The possibility that Tyson was still the baddest man on the planet remained and as a result so too did his marketability.

The first Lewis press conference was to announce a fight whose date was rapidly approaching and yet for which Mike was underprepared. Mike's behavior essentially bought him time. As of today the fight is still over a month away, and Mike Tyson is already just about at his fighting weight. According to his impressed sparring partners, among them once (and perhaps one day again) heavyweight contender Derrick Jefferson, Mike is looking and feeling mean in the ring. Meanwhile the heavyweight champion of the world believes Mike is crazy. Maybe, just maybe, like a fox.

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