- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has been very enthusiastic about the possibility of hosting a Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in the District, was more subdued yesterday, telling reporters that his own opinions on the fight are "immaterial."
The mayor previously had been a significant and visible booster of a potential June 8 bout between the twice-imprisoned Tyson and Champion Lennox Lewis at MCI Center, touting the fight as a major reprieve for the city's beleaguered hospitality industry.
"I used to be a big, big boxing fan and am less so now. But my own personal preferences really are immaterial here," Mr. Williams said, adding he will not be actively involved in ongoing plans to grant Tyson a D.C. boxing license.
The D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission (DCBWC) took the first and most critical step Tuesday in approving Tyson, a one-time heavyweight champion and convicted rapist, for a license to fight in the city. All the subsequent steps, including a March 12 public hearing, are seen as formalities before Tyson is licensed.
The decision, which will be made official at that hearing, brought an immediate backlash from women's rights groups, regional business leaders, numerous members of the local clergy and some members of the D.C. Council. Ward 6 council member Sharon Ambrose, Democrat, even wants to abolish the DCBWC.
Other members of the council, however, and some city restaurateurs and hoteliers view Tyson-Lewis as a sports event trumping other locally held galas such as the NBA All-Star Game and World Cup qualifiers. Either way, the prospect of Tyson in Washington has gripped the area.
"The sky is the limit for Washington. Washington is the place to be," said at-large council member Harold Brazil, a Democrat. "I want the hotels, restaurants and taxis filled to capacity, and the revenue to boot."
Mr. Williams still wants to see the Tyson-Lewis fight happen in the District. But he took great pains yesterday at his weekly news briefing to cast the city's involvement as more procedural and solely within DCBWC confines.
"We want our commission to be excited about bringing big events to our city, but we have to make sure they are separating their promotional responsibilities from their adjudicatory responsibilities," Mr. Williams said.
"What I'm asking our boxing commission to do is not run around chasing [Tyson] with a license, but to look at the materials, the facts and the circumstances fairly and objectively. We're going to have an interview with Mr. Tyson. We're going to have a period of medical and psychological evaluations and monitoring. If there is any problem with this monitoring, then the fight is off."
Meanwhile, Gary Shaw, U.S. promoter for Lewis, and Tyson adviser Shelly Finkel will meet jointly with MCI Center majority owner Abe Pollin, other arena officials and the DCBWC next week to discuss in detail using the 4-year-old site for the bout.
"I'm treating this like the Super Bowl of boxing," Mr. Shaw said. "Everything we do will be studied in that magnitude and in that context. This is not a normal fight by any measure. We think Washington is a tremendous boxing town, a tremendous sports town. But we're still early in determining whether this will all completely work."
Mr. Shaw declined to say when, or even if, Lewis will file for a city boxing licenses as well, though boxing sources said the filing is expected within days. The licenses are required for all fighters and promoters involved in a fight. But he added, "We are proceeding on a pace that is appropriate for a fight that will hopefully take place in early June."
Even if Tyson and Lewis both receive the necessary city boxing licenses, many substantial hurdles stand in the way of a fight actually happening here: No one has stepped forward to guarantee the fighters' purses; Mr. Pollin likely will not pay promoters a site fee customary in title fights; and Tyson is under investigation in two rapes in Nevada.
Television also is a concern. The Tyson-Lewis fight, originally slated for April 6, was the result of a complex two-fight deal between competitors HBO and Showtime. Nevada officials denied Tyson a license after a press conference melee with Lewis, which started Tyson on a global search for a new venue for the fight. Texas and Colorado also denied Tyson a license, and though Georgia did approve Tyson, he withdrew the application after Gov. Roy Barnes called him a "sexual predator."
Washington last played host to a heavyweight title bout in 1993, when Riddick Bowe defended his title against Jesse Ferguson in a second-round knockout at RFK Stadium.

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