Blood, Sweat and Jeers
By Shirley Povich
It was on the record that Mike Tyson was a boyhood thief, a purse snatcher and reform school inmate; a street brawler, an abuser of women and convicted rapist and grown-up inmate of an Indiana prison for three years. But until last Saturday night it was unknown that he was also a cannibal, with a fondness for an opponent's ears, both of them.
In the history of boxing, there could have been no more hideous or repulsive spectacle than the scene in Round 3 in that Las Vegas ring: a hurt and confounded Evander Holyfield, his blood running red right down the length of his body, was in a stagger and a wonder at the ungodly turn the fight had taken. (My God, he bit me twice.)
It was hardly accidental, what with Tyson deliberately shedding his mouthpiece before the round, the better to chomp a chunk out of one of Holyfield's ears, or both, whenever the opportunity presented. It did, when the two of them fell into a clinch and man-eater Tyson nudged his mouth straight up Holyfield's neck to ear-biting position and bit. He got a piece off the top of the right ear and spat it out. He also got a warning from referee Mills Lane that it had cost him two points, and one more act like that would cost him the fight.
Then, in the final seconds of the round, Tyson went cannibalistic again, getting Holyfield's left ear and proving only that he could switch ears. And so, end of fight, with Holyfield headed for the hospital and Tyson headed for who knows where after this night of his infamy.
Not only was it a cruel thing that Tyson did, it was stupid. In that third round, after losing the first two, he began indicating he might turn the fight around. And then he blew it. All those weeks and months of comeback training, all those return-to-the-championship visions, sacrificed for some kind of primitive vengeance against the man who was beating him. How did he think he could get away with it? The jerk.
Tyson's limp excuse for his mangling of Holyfield's ears was that he was getting even for the head butts by Holyfield that opened a dangerous cut above Tyson's right eye. But there is no comparison. The crash of heads involves two fighters and always raises the question of who butted whom. To bite an ear needs the firm resolve of only one fighter.
Tyson could have no complaint with the referee. The man who disqualified him was Tyson's choice, Lane, who made the right call.
Tyson's attitude before the fight could have been tell-tale. In interviews, it was clear that he was feeling sorry for himself. "I've been taken advantage of all my life," he told reporters. Not quite true, perhaps. Inasmuch as he was living in a society that provided him with two mansions, a huge farm and countless Mercedes and BMWs. And his $30 million paydays could hardly be considered a disadvantage. All that self-pity, for what?
On Monday, Tyson read an apology "to the world." Said he was sorry and all that and asked for forgiveness. He said he respected Holyfield and that he "snapped." (Twice.) And that he was now asking for some mental help for himself. That he needs it is patent. But like so many others have done, he was also copping a plea, plus the old tired one of "Let's get this behind us." That's what they all say as if it could be so easily dismissed let's get this thing behind us. Just forget it ever happened.
And of course they are now asking the question, a fatuous one; how will this affect boxing? And the answer is not at all. Boxing has survived mob control, Sonny Liston, Jake LaMotta and Don King and all the mismatches for which Tyson is famous, in which his opponents barely survived the handshake. Sure, it's a sleazy business, but it nevertheless has appeal, and has had many lives.
Ferdie Pacheco, for years Muhammad Ali's doctor and a longtime observer and keen analyst of title fights, has suggested that this is not the end of Tyson's career. Pacheco took boxing's practical view of the episode, saying, "Where there is big money, there is big forgiveness."
Again, how will the ugly scene affect boxing? That should not be the prevailing question at this time. More to the point is another question: Will Tyson's next opponent be wearing earmuffs? It is recommended.