It is always supposed to end this way for the great ones, isn’t it?
You know what I’m talking about: the former champion who used to fill up arenas is resigned to fighting in remote outposts for peanuts. The promoters expect boxing fans to care. They expect us to shell out filet mignon prices for hamburger meat pay-per-views. We are supposed to flood to arenas and cheer these once-upon-a-time greats until they finally hang em’ up.
When Mike Tyson fought longtime sparring partner Corey Sanders in a 4-round pay-per-view exhibition match this past Friday evening at the Chevrolet Center in Youngstown, Ohio, we were supposed to tune in. The promoter, Sterling McPherson, was counting on it.
Most of us, I predict, found something better to do.
Others, I suspect, were flipping through the mundane Friday night television lineup. I’m sure, as you glanced through the pay-per-view options, you saw the words “boxing” in bold letters and thought to yourself: “Oh yeah, Mike Tyson is fighting tonight.”
You then realize it is a meaningless exhibition; you comprehend that McPherson has the audacity to charge $29.95 for a glorified sparring session, and then, despite your better judgment, you order it. You give in.
Three hours and one sparring session later, you are dejected, wondering how in the world you could be hoodwinked into buying this junk.
But it’s OK. You can’t help it… you are addicted to boxing. If they had “BA” meetings, you would be the first one standing up and introducing yourself to the rest of the fight freaks. You could regale people with stories of buying $500 seats for Tyson-Bruce Seldon, or the time you rushed home early from a date to catch Butterbean on a PPV undercard.
We understand… we have been there before.
But the critics, those darned critics, had to rub your face in it.
They said things like:
It’s pathetic that Tyson has to resort to this.
And you wonder why boxing is in trouble.
Man, this guy must need money.
All of those critics obviously do not get it.
Did they expect Tyson to ride off on a white horse into post-pugilistic bliss?
Did they expect “Iron” Mike to return sans robe with his trademark black trunks and wreak havoc on the boxing world once more?
Does it ever end that way for the great ones?
Joe Louis was sent crashing through the ropes by Rocky Marciano.
Feather-fisted Joey Archer sent Sugar Ray Robinson to the canvas in his final bout.
Larry Holmes was last seen with a bulging gut jabbing Butterbean to death in Norfolk, Virginia.
Muhammad Ali bowed out against Trevor Berbick in The Bahamas.
It never ends pretty for these guys.
Why would things be any different for a convicted felon with a rap sheet longer than most doctoral dissertations?
Seriously, is this proposed exhibition tour such a horrid idea? It beats watching Tyson getting his skull bashed in by a complement of journeymen who could not hold his spit bucket during his formative years.
It will keep him “training.” Heck, it might even temporarily keep him out of trouble. So if he wants to fight guys like Sanders in remote outposts wearing 16-ounce gloves and breathing like an asthmatic, let him.
Because no matter how many times people say they are sick and tired of Tyson grabbing the headlines, they end up buying whatever he sells.
Even Tyson himself does not understand the hysteria.
“I think I’m useless to society,” Tyson said at the initial press conference hyping the Sanders fight. “I don’t think I’m worthy of the people who come out to see me, but they do.”
That’s the point: Tyson will always be worthy of our attention, whether he fights exhibitions in Des Moines or joins Ringling Brothers to fight lions. He is an attraction. He is that car wreck on the side of the road. Unlike most fighters who end up fading into obscurity, Tyson has somehow managed to keep his car wreck relevant.
Relevance, in our fly-by-night society, is not a tough attribute to attain. At one point or another, Vanilla Ice, Mickey Rourke and Roseanne Barr were relevant. Tyson, 20 years after capturing the heavyweight title, is still a force. Last Friday night and the subsequent media hysteria is proof enough.
Maybe, if enough people continue to buy his act, things won’t end so badly for “Iron” Mike. Maybe this exhibition tour is the best thing for him. Maybe he can find some measure of self-respect as he travels the world. Maybe he can realize the shot clock has not run out on his celebrity status. Maybe he can grab a buck or two and pay off a few debts.
Maybe, just maybe, this great one can script a happy ending to his film. This is boxing… stranger things have happened.