- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

My spies, who are everywhere, tell me “no one knows more about the history of boxing than Mike Tyson.”

Is that true? Surely at our great universities, where students are offered courses in “popular culture,” there is a popular culture professor who knows more about the history of boxing than the former world heavyweight champion whose career took it on the chin last weekend in the fourth round.

But then I think of a professor of popular culture whom I met some years ago from the Ivy League. The dope confused Johann Strauss with Richard Strauss and probably thought both were related to Levi Strauss. So maybe my spies are right.

Mr. Tyson might be the world’s greatest database on the sport in which he earned $400 million, most of which has gone to hangers-on, the boxing promoter Don King and lawyers.

Surely there is a brain beneath the shaved head and behind the ugly facial tattoo of the dethroned and bankrupt champion. Moreover, there is some personality, and one perceives even flashes of charm. Nonetheless what is remembered most of Mr. Tyson is a bad man with criminal convictions, barbaric behavior in and out of the ring, and now bankruptcy.

Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis spent his retirement as a paid fixture in Las Vegas gambling joints to make ends meet. Yet Louis was known to be an amiable gent. Where would Mr. Tyson be considered amiable, the Sunni Triangle?

The bad ending of the Tyson saga did not have to be. The public might well have forgotten that in the late 1980s Mr. Tyson was one of sport’s great heroes. Rising from the tough streets of Brooklyn, he had become one of the great heavyweights and a spokesman for the New York Police Department and for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In those days, he had a manager equal to his talents and his defects, Cus D’Amato. Mr. D’Amato and his coterie, including Jimmy Jacobs, a business-wise fellow who also had been national professional handball champion many times, brought out the good in Mr. Tyson, and from 1985 to 1988 he made what A.J. Liebling called the Sweet Science interesting again.

Then disaster befell Mr. Tyson. He entered into lawful wedded bliss with a low-grade actress possessed of a prima donna’s delusions. In a Barbara Walters interview, he was goaded into claiming to be “manic depressive.” He was not but it made good copy. Entered Don King, the convicted felon who had come to dominate professional boxing.

Mr. King, using racial incitements and other cheap stratagems, coaxed Mr. Tyson away from his mostly white managers. Mr. Tyson was freed to indulge the vices of his juvenile delinquent past and the result was millions for Mr. King and a descent into barbarism for Mr. Tyson.

Over the last couple of years, Mr. Tyson has been suing Mr. King for more than $200 million in lost income. Not long ago he settled for $16 million. He thought he was on a comeback.

After his dreadful showing last week, it appears the comeback is over and the hundreds of millions he left to Mr. King have gone aglimmer. Someone should have stepped in when Mr. Tyson’s descent into barbarism became apparent.

Unfortunately, there is no entity in boxing that maintains standards. Mr. Tyson at his worst, chewing on an opponent’s ear, attacking ordinary citizens on the street, still made multimillion-dollar fights.

A result has been the further decline of boxing and of professional sport in general, to say nothing of the poor sap who hit the canvas in the fourth round the other night. Mr. King goes on to something approaching respectability, becoming a major fund-raiser for President George W. Bush, and Mr. Tyson heads for oblivion — if he is lucky.

The solution, if one is still available for the Sweet Science, is the kind of national boxing commission Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain favors. It would assert standards of ethics, health and safety. A boxer going the way Mr. Tyson did in the early 1990s would be sobered up with suspensions and more onerous other sanctions. A Don King would not be allowed to ruin another professional sport.

And while on the subject of Mr. King, is he really essential to the president’s victory this year? I can see his popping up at Bill Clinton’s book tour, but his name ought not to be associated with Mr. Bush’s for any purpose.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. His “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House” was published by Regnery Publishing this spring.

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