- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chances are you think of Mike Tyson as a rotten rascal and then some. The rape conviction and three-year prison sentence. The nasty confrontation with a motorist in Montgomery County. The gnawing of Evander Holyfield’s ear in the ring.

The general perception is that Big Mike makes bad, bad Leroy Brown look like a pussycat. But local promoter Elroy Johnson sees it differently. He views Tyson as a potential gold mine, something that has been missing for quite a while in their grimy game.

Johnson, possibly the greatest hustler since Paul Newman, wants to turn the scowling, surly Tyson into a latter-day George Foreman: i.e., a happy-go-lucky TV pitchman who wouldn’t frighten or harm a soul.

All Elroy needs is a product and Tyson’s approval, and they’ll both get rich - Elroy for the first time and Mike for the umpteenth.

“He’s worth millions if he’s handled right like I would do,” Johnson insisted. “He could do great ads for maybe Nike. Or hockey: ‘If you think I’m tough, you ought to see this sport.’ ”

OK, but Mike Tyson smiling? It’s easier to imagine Bobby Knight or Bill Belichick grinning from ear to ear.

“He’s 43 now, he’s still alive and he’s mellowed,” Johnson swore. “Mike is really a nice guy.”

It’s uncertain whether sponsors would embrace a newly lovable Tyson or whether he would be susceptible to Johnson’s own sales pitch. A lot of boxing folks know Elroy, who has been scuffling as a D.C. manager, promoter and agent since he was 21, but none has been in a position to make him rich.

Johnson has gray in his beard now and calls a lot of fighters “kid,” yet his love for boxing and eternal optimism remain undiminished. You might say Elroy talks a very good game about a very bad game.

It has been two decades since Johnson first surfaced hereabouts with a fighter called “Rawhide” who turned out to be as phony as Naugahyde. At one time, Elroy managed 17 boxers, most of whom hit with all the force of a spring shower. Now he is promoting six largely anonymous heavyweights. It’s unlikely any will turn out to be the second coming of Tyson or even a Klitschko brother.

Still, Johnson keeps jabbing away and trying to make it big. His luck has not been good. Seven years ago he signed aging former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, who had only four fights under Elroy’s tender care before disappearing somewhere in Florida.

“The difference from when I started is that now I realize how ruthless boxing is,” Johnson said. “Al Braverman, who worked for Don King, once told me, ‘You’ll make it, kid, but not overnight.’ He was right. Boxing will break you sooner or later. Hell, I’ve lived in apartments with no electricity.”

So why bother?

“I just love it - it’s my life. I’ve accomplished nearly everything I set out to do, I’ve met the nicest people and a lot of celebrities. I haven’t made a million, but I’m not broke either.”

In the interest of getting closer to the former than the latter, Johnson sees Tyson as a potential meal ticket rather than as a discredited has-been who might slug his own mother in the chops or chomp on her ear.

“They don’t make fighters like that anymore,” Johnson said. “Most fighters today are lazy. Except for a few guys like Pernell Whitaker and Bernard Hopkins, they’ll play around until two days before a fight. They don’t want to run or spar or work on the speed bag. All they want to do is have fun with their girlfriends.”

Johnson claims he has only one regret about his life in boxing, and he laughs when he says it.

“I should have started earlier, maybe when I was 15.”

And what if an untarnished Tyson were coming up today?

“He’d be champion forever.”

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