judged a "discredit to boxing," Mike Tyson on Wednesday had his license revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and was fined $3 million for taking a piece out of Evander Holyfield's ear in their infamous world heavyweight fight in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
How severe the sanction is remains to be seen. Nevada officials hinted that they may never grant Tyson a license to fight again. They could also change their mind in a year, when Tyson will be able to appeal to have his license renewed. And there's nothing to prevent Tyson from fighting outside the U.S.
Tyson, his handlers and acolytes continue to insist that the ear-biting was an act of rage provoked by Holyfield's head butts in the June 22 bout. In a televised statement days later, Tyson apologized, exhibited remorse, said he would take his punishment like a man but hoped that he would be able to fight again one day. Most media, while blasting Tyson, have not questioned the reasons he gave for the ear-biting.
Ron Borges, boxing writer for the Boston Globe, is an exception. Having followed Tyson's career since the legendary Cus D'Amato took the 12-year-old Brooklyn street tough under his wing in 1979, Borges says he was not surprised at what took place in the ring -- in fact, he says, he was told about it beforehand. And in an interview with Salon, he says that Tyson's behavior then and since have all been the carefully calculated actions of a through-and-through coward.
You have followed Tyson's career from its beginnings. Explain who Mike Tyson really is and why you think this whole spectacle was deliberately staged by Tyson.
Mike Tyson has been a con man for his entire life. When he was a kid growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, he was arrested a number of times for luring old ladies into elevators by telling them he was going to help them with their groceries, and when the elevator door closed, he'd smack them in the teeth and take their wallet. He was always a guy who was looking for the edge.
A con man and a coward?
Despite Tyson's size, his speed and his talent, Mike was always afraid. I've seen videotapes from Tyson's early days where he refused to come out of the locker room. He was crying how scared he was, that he was going to lose. Cus D'Amato thought he could build up Tyson's confidence by matching him against easy wins. That's not unusual in boxing, but at a certain point, a real fighter starts to be evenly matched. That never happened with Tyson. They kept feeding him guys who were no match for him, and Tyson got used to fighting nobodies. Cus protected him, shielded him from reality, and Tyson got this reputation for being a real bad-ass. Only Teddy [Atlas, Tyson's former trainer], me and a few others really knew how scared Tyson really was. It's very strange and tragic. Tyson had enormous talent, enormous power, but no self-confidence and therefore no will. And in boxing, will power is as important as physical conditioning.
The consensus in the media is that Tyson will be back because he's still the most exciting fighter around. You don't think that's true either.
As far as Teddy and I were concerned, by the time Tyson went to jail for rape in 1992, he was a fighter on the way down. Ironically, it was those three years in jail that saved his career. Everyone forgot about the undermatches and the Buster Douglas knockout (in 1990). When he got out of jail, as Teddy said, it was like the return of Godzilla. The only question in everybody's mind was, "Is he gonna eat the town?" As it turns out, he settled for an ear.
Which you say was part of the con job.
People have been misreading Tyson for a long time, and there's a danger this biting incident will be misread too. A lot of people are saying this demonstrates what a savage Mike Tyson is, what a mean bad-ass he is. And that's exactly what Tyson wants them to think. In the world he comes from, he can live with that. In his world, that's prestige. That's winning. He gets to be this animal and once again gets to avoid the truth that he's really a coward, a bully and a con man.
Yet he seems to have been contrite, even stoic, about the punishment he would face.
In my opinion, a total con job on the public. If you carefully read his apology, he doesn't apologize for biting Evander Holyfield. He apologizes initially to everyone who can sanction him. He apologizes to the commission, to the judge who can revoke his parole, to his employers, MGM, Showtime, Don King, he apologizes to his family and friends, to the city of Las Vegas. He only got to Holyfield at the end of his speech, and only after he had raised the issue of the head butts, so it was like, "I'm sorry, Evander. I'm guilty, but I had an excuse." And that's the way his whole life has been. He's learned what people want to hear, and he gives it to them.
Tell us about the phone call you received from Teddy Atlas the day before the fight.
If you'll recall, on the Friday before the fight, Tyson had successfully protested about the original referee and had him replaced. As soon as Teddy heard about that, he immediately knew what was coming and he called me. He said he knew that Tyson was laying the groundwork to do something that would get himself disqualified, after which he'd then turn around and blame Holyfield. "He's going to get himself disqualified," Atlas told me. "He'll bite Holyfield. He'll butt him. He'll hit him low. He'll do something if he don't get him early with a lucky shot. I know this guy. He's got this all set up in his mind. That's the only way he can face it. That's what this is all about." And that's exactly what happened in the ring.
What was Tyson so afraid of?
He was afraid of Holyfield because of Holyfield's whole approach. Tyson is a classic bully. Holyfield is one of the only guys in Tyson's professional career who stood up and fought him back. The other was Buster Douglas. And they both not only beat Mike Tyson, but they beat him badly. And in this second fight with Holyfield, you could see the same thing coming.
Even though some commentators thought Tyson was getting the upper hand in the third round?
Yes, he had landed some pretty good shots to the body and head of Holyfield in the third round, but Holyfield never budged an inch. He never backed up. And Tyson was already two points behind at the end of the second round. At that point, he had already fought -- between the two fights -- a total of 14 rounds with Evander Holyfield and won a total of only three rounds. It was pretty clear what the future held for him. At the end of the first round, Sugar Ray Leonard turned to me and said, "This guy's in trouble. He has no plan."
Except to get disqualified.
Exactly. He took his best shot in the third round and when Holyfield didn't budge -- at one point Tyson pushed his elbow on Holyfield's windpipe -- he wanted out. And the quickest way to get out of a fight is to foul the other guy. In case you didn't notice, Tyson's enthusiasm for fighting didn't begin until the fight was over. Suddenly, when there were a hundred people in the ring between him and Holyfield, he's running all around the ring, supposedly trying to get to Holyfield. You know, the old "hold me back" trick when you know there's no more chance of a fight. It was so calculated.
You don't much care for Tyson.
I used to feel sorry for Tyson, but I don't feel that way anymore. As one of my friends once said, "He's had more chances than my first wife."
Will Tyson be back?
I'd like to think that those who love the sport will punish Tyson severely. But the truth is that for all the statements over what a terrible thing this was, if you said tomorrow night, Andrew Golota, the guy who kept hitting Riddick Bowe below the belt, was going to fight Bitin' Mike Tyson in a steel-cage Texas death match, winner-take-all, ultimate fighting, you couldn't sell enough pay-per-view. It would be the biggest thing ever. That's America. And Tyson knows America. He knows if you apologize and say you're going to seek help, everything is forgiven.
Newsweek quoted unidentified friends saying they thought Tyson might now seek psychological help. Could he at least emotionally redeem himself?
He'd have to go back and deal with a lot of things in his life from the time he was a kid, and that takes courage. He's been in trouble before, and despite the fact that he's been a multimillionaire for years now, he's never shown that kind of courage. And I don't see any convincing sign that he's ready to start now. If he was really serious, he'd announce that he's firing his entourage, all those people who protect him from reality. But he's not doing that. He's a con man. And the real tragedy is that his biggest con job is on himself.
July 10, 1997