‘Bad Boys’ Mike Tyson and Canelo: Comparing Apples and Oranges

On April 10, the Nevada Athletic Commission will decide the fate of the Cinco de Mayo showdown between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. If the commission elects to extend Alvarez’s suspension, the fight is dead.

For the uninitiated, trace amounts of clenbuterol were found in Canelo’s urine specimens during random testing on Feb. 17 and Feb. 20. When the results were made public, the commission slapped him with a temporary suspension and mandated that he appear before them (in person or on the telephone) to present his side of the story. A drug that is popular among bodybuilders, clenbuterol is known to increase stamina. It is one of many drugs that is banned in Nevada for athletes competing in combat sports.

The temporary suspension was just for show. It served no useful purpose aside from the public relations aspect. Canelo had no fights scheduled before May 5 and it did not stop him from training. It was akin to being told that your driver’s license has been suspended but you are still free to drive your car.

To many, it’s a foregone conclusion that the commission will lift the suspension and allow the fight to go forward. But ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael isn’t in that camp.

“Those who say Canelo’s hearing with the Nevada Commission on April 10 is just for show you have no idea what you’re taking about,” tweeted Rafael on March 23. “Remember, the same Nevada commission declined to license Mike Tyson years ago and sent the fight with Lennox Lewis, the biggest fight in boxing history at that time, elsewhere.”

Rafael, America’s hardest working and highest-paid boxing writer — highest-paid by a country mile — may be on to something, but there are two flaws in his argument. First, the Nevada commission that would not re-license Mike Tyson and the commission that will pass judgment on Friday are the same commission in name only. The entire cast has changed. Also, Rafael is comparing apples and oranges. The regulators had a far more compelling reason to strike down Mike Tyson.

The incident that precipitated Tyson’s banishment occurred on Jan. 22, 2002, at the landmark Hudson Theatre inside New York City’s Millennium Hotel. The occasion was the kickoff news conference for the Tyson-Lewis fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on April 6.

During the confab, Tyson rose from his seat on the dais and approached Lewis, perhaps thinking it was time for the obligatory face-off. He was intercepted by one of Lewis’s bodyguards and then all hell broke loose. It was, in the words of New York Post reporter Wallace Mathews, “a wild, table-smashing, teeth-gnashing, roll-on-the-floor melee.” During the fracas, Tyson bit Lewis’s leg. It required a tetanus shot. Jose Sulaiman, the 70-year-old president of the World Boxing Council, also required medical attention after being knocked to the floor and hitting his head on a table. The dust-up ended with Tyson unleashing a torrent of profanities and jailhouse invective at someone in the audience while grabbing his crotch.

Perhaps the Nevada commission would have been sympathetic if this were an isolated incident. But Iron Mike, during this phase of his life, was an incorrigible troublemaker. Mr. Tyson was Mr. Recidivist.

When Tyson bit off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s ear in June of 1997, the commission threw the book at him, imposing a three million dollar fine plus a one year suspension. Tyson had six fights between that very expensive repast and his meltdown at the Hudson Theatre and most were messy.

In his first fight back after the Holyfield debacle, Tyson stopped Frans Botha in the fifth round. Both fighters were nearly disqualified when they continued their little rumble after the bell ending the opening stanza. During this augmentation, which brought police into the ring, Tyson, as he freely admitted, attempted to break Botha’s arm by twisting it.

Tyson’s next fight, against Orlin Norris, lasted only one round. Tyson knocked Norris down with a punch that landed after the bell and Norris injured his knee when he fell to the canvas. Tyson was docked two points for the infraction but wasn’t disqualified as referee Richard Steele deemed the punch accidental. The bout was ruled “no contest.”

Two fights later, in Glasgow, Scotland, Tyson opposed Lou Savarese. He decked Savarese with the first punch he threw and moments later decked the referee as the ref was in the process of waving the fight off. This fiasco consumed all of 38 seconds.

It certainly wasn’t Tyson’s fault that Andrew Golota quit after two rounds in Tyson’s fifth post-chomping fight. That was a disgraceful performance by the Foul Pole. But sympathy for Mike evaporated when it was disclosed that he had tested positive for marijuana.

Tyson’s out-of-the ring history during this period was no less sullied. In February of 1999, he was sentenced to a year in jail in Maryland for assaulting two motorists after a minor traffic accident. (He was paroled after three and a half months.) On the very day that Tyson went ballistic at the Hudson Theatre, a spokeswoman for the Clark County, Nevada, District Attorney revealed that two women had come forward charging Tyson with rape and an indictment was pending. (The charges were never filed.)

Considering all these circumstances — circumstances plural – the commission had no alternative but to tell Tyson “no” when he came before them seeking to renew his license so that he could fight Lennox Lewis at the MGM Grand. Had they done otherwise, they would have been pilloried by pundits around the world and become a never-ending butt of jokes for comedians on late-night TV shows. (The fight eventually found a home in Memphis where it came to fruition on June 8.)

Compared with Tyson’s transgressions, Canelo’s “crime,” even if intentional, is relatively benign.

When notified that clenbuterol was found in his system, Alvarez blamed contaminated meat. That didn’t pass muster with the wiseguys who dismissed it as a variation on the “dog ate my homework” excuse, but the reality is that a person can pick up trace amounts of clenbuterol eating meat in Mexico where it is a legal food additive for livestock being made ready for the slaughterhouse.

In fairness to Dan Rafael, he cited two other reasons why he thought the Cinco de Mayo fight was in serious jeopardy. He noted that both the distributor of the pay-per-view in U.S. movie theaters and HBO had stopped promoting the event. HBO made no mention of Canelo-GGG during their telecast of the March 24 fight between Dillian Whyte and Lucas Browne. Nonetheless, count this reporter among those who will be astounded if the commission extends Canelo’s suspension.

When news of Canelo’s failed tests hit the wires, a spokesman for his promoter, Golden Boy, issued a statement that said the fighter, over the course of his career, had always tested clean, more than 90 times in all. The cynics won’t believe that he is a first-time offender, but there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise, and it seemingly works in his favor that the second urine sample showed a far smaller trace of clenbuterol than the first. On top of that, Rafael reports that Canelo was tested again on March 3, 5, 9, and 17, and each time came up clean.

The tests were conducted by VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. The agency was founded in 2011 by neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman and her significant other, Dr. Edwin “Flip” Homansky. Both are former Nevada ringside physicians. Additionally, Goodman was formerly the chairman of the commission’s medical advisory board and Homansky served two terms on the commission.

Few people in boxing are as esteemed as Margaret Goodman. This coming May, at the annual award dinner of the Boxing Writers Association of America, she will receive the prestigious Barney Nagler Award for long and meritorious service to the sport. This will be her second BWAA award. In 2006, she and Homansky shared the James A. Farley Award (for “honesty and integrity”) with two other honorees. But there are corridors in Las Vegas where her name is mud.

This reporter has no clue how any particular member of the current commission views Dr. Goodman. But in theory she didn’t endear herself to any commissioner, past or present, with her 2014 novel “Death in Vegas” wherein boxing commissioners are portrayed as a bunch of well-connected hacks whose first priority is to do nothing to embarrass the governor. When Homansky wasn’t reappointed to a third term on the commission, it was an open secret that certain people with a pipeline to the incoming governor (for example, Bob Arum) felt he was too cozy with Goodman and that they needed to get rid of him to diminish her influence.

If one of the motivations for re-licensing Canelo is to keep Margaret Goodman in line, that would be something akin to blaming the messenger; not the message. But the thought of it isn’t far-fetched.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director of the NSAC, is acutely aware that one of the functions of his agency is to serve as an economic engine for the state. When asked how the commission could have approved the Mayweather-McGregor fight, he had a stock reply: “I saw no reason why not.” That promotion was a scam, a very adroitly engineered scam, but a scam nevertheless.

For the record, Bennett has no vote. But the five commissioners typically solicit his opinion before rendering a decision and, trust me, Bennett doesn’t want to see this fight fall apart.

I may eventually have egg on my face, but I’m sticking to my guns: When the April 10 meeting is adjourned, those that have made plans to attend the fight, a clutch that includes many high-rollers from Mexico, will have no reason to abort those plans.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this article at The Fight Forum, CLICK HERE.