SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

Mike Tyson got exactly what he wanted.

By Jonathan Broder

Published July 10, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

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

Apple and Amelio: What went wrong

After the chairman's departure, is there anything left?

Editors' Note: Dave Winer, the veteran software developer and technology writer, sent a piece about Apple Computer to his DaveNet mailing list at noon Tuesday. Headlined "The Sure Road to Bankruptcy," it pulled together many of Winer's most pointed indictments of Apple's recent strategies.

A couple of hours later, the news flashed across the Net that Apple chairman Gilbert Amelio had resigned. OK, Winer's piece didn't cause Amelio's resignation, but the commentary still seems prescient -- and worth reading at this moment of crisis for the widely loved but badly faltering company.


it's It's been a couple of months since I wrote about Apple. It's been a problem for me, because I have an opinion on their strategy.

When I last wrote about them I got messages from Apple people practically begging me not to do it again.

I fall for this kind of stuff, but enough time has passed, there are more lessons to learn. It's time to write about Apple again.

When the parade has passed you by

Last year, like DEC in the early '80s, Apple had lost the leading position in its own market. Developers weren't following anymore, but users were still buying. Cash was coming in from hardware sales, but investment dollars weren't flowing into the market.

My belief: The best approach in such situations is to reduce your own investment; no new initiatives are going to work when the developers aren't investing alongside you. Keep the users happy with hardware and small performance-related software upgrades, and open your eyes and ears, open them wide, and try to catch wind of new developments that look promising.

Put down lots of small bets, not on your own people -- you can't afford internal adventures on a big company payroll, it's too expensive, and a big company environment is the wrong place for them. Bet on small startups.

The key here is to spread the cash around, hoping that one of the new companies will provide you a chance to build a new skyscraper using their technology. You have no choice but to wait! The next direction can't come from within.

Meanwhile, the board wants new initiatives, new user experiences, new theories. You have to tell them no. Hunker down and wait. It's a good strategy, because there will always be something new to try out in the high-tech business.

Some of the new ideas work, most don't. You want to be strong for the long-term. Every time the pendulum swings, you want to have the option to go for the ride.

The sure road to bankruptcy

The key mistake Apple made was betting exclusively on its own people for new technology directions. Huge money was spent on researchers who were so inwardly directed they couldn't even see the Worldwide Web when it happened.

Eventually, Apple's board lost faith in these people -- good move -- but they brought in more people to bet on. The problem with the Next folks was that they had already lost when Apple bought them. Even an accountant could see this. A few interviews with developers would have provided certainty. Next was a bad bet for Apple's shareholders.

It's a shame: $400 million could have capitalized 100 startup software companies. Winners, several of them, would have emerged by now. Apple would have an exciting product to sell, and many more on the way. But it was unwilling to open its eyes and look outside for new direction.

Amelio was the wrong choice to lead Apple. He had no grounding in the software business. He delayed in cutting losses in failed technologies. These were minor gaffes compared to the decision to bail out Next's creditors and assume their already bankrupt strategy. Apple shareholders are going to pay dearly for this decision. It's the sure road to bankruptcy for Apple.

I don't trust Jobs

Once you're dug in on a platform, it's so painful to switch. This is the lesson of computers. If you create using one, it really becomes personal. This is why Apple could spin in its spiral for a decade and still sell millions of computers a year.

In December 1996, Apple signaled the death of the Macintosh. By February the last doubt was gone. Apple did the unthinkable thing -- it quit. "Rhapsody is what users want," they said. I didn't think so.

I tried to find some way it would make sense to produce a Rhapsody product. But I already had decided not to invest in software for Rhapsody back when it was NextStep. I had experience with Steve Jobs when he was in charge of Apple in the '80s. I took another look. Had anything changed? No. I saw a software developer prison being created. "Sign here," they said. I said no the first time and the second time too.

Amelio and Apple's board didn't ask developers what they thought of Steve Jobs before they spent their last money buying him out. If they had asked me, I would have said not to do it. I don't trust Jobs.

Does he think we're stupid?

Jobs says he's just an adviser to Gil. Does he think we're stupid? Amelio is confused, out of breath, over his head, gears stripped, without grounding. He has no power within Apple. Jobs presents himself as the expert in the software business. He says "Java Java Java" but Java is not a product or an OS or a platform, it's just a brand. His message to remaining Mac developers: "Port!" and the developers say "OK!" But the ports are happening to Win32, not Rhapsody. Jobs was the wrong person to choose to turn around Apple because that isn't what he wants. He wants to turn around Next. And he's willing to lose Apple to do it. Jobs calls the shots at Apple, Amelio has no power. Eventually, I expect a bankruptcy and a shoulder shrug from Jobs as he leaves. "I tried," he'll say.

A creditors committee

The party is almost over, all the loans have been taken, all the cash has been spent. Sales of Rhapsody are $0. The Mac continues to sell, but in greatly reduced numbers. Distribution is walking away. They're losing the education market, the multimedia developer market, their mainstays.

A creditors committee will have a better chance of finding a profitable business at the core of Apple. The great adventures will be over, finally. There are still people who would pay a few thousand dollars for a faster, bigger Mac. There's the core of the business.

It'll be a much smaller business than Apple was a few years ago, but there's got to be profit in there -- at least enough money to pay off the creditors.

The old man and the skyscraper

On Monday, in "The Ken Olson Question," I told the story of an old man and a bank. A skyscraper is being built around his house, but the man holds on, wanting to die in the house he raised his kids in.

It's a metaphor. Apple is the bank -- 20 years later. While their technology aged, they continued to pour money into a system that didn't work, hoping to recreate the magic, through pure genius and financial power, the energy that built the skyscraper so many years ago.

But they missed the point -- it wasn't genius that created the skyscraper in the first place. The Apple II was the result of good engineering, somewhat, and good hype, somewhat; but it was mostly made of great timing. If they had started Apple two years earlier or later it wouldn't have worked. Same with the Mac. It needed the Apple II cash cow to have a chance. It also needed IBM to fail to understand how much memory people needed. Timing is everything.

Genius doesn't make your economics go boom. What does? Timing, luck and changes in technological directions that are missed by your competitors. Once you become a big company, it's a struggle to look outside, but in the technology business you must, or you will miss the change when it comes.

Platforms die slowly

Last year Apple wasn't a leader, yet it played the game as if it were. People said the Net is the computer and they were right. And the platform is the developers. When you're a platform vendor with few developers, you don't have much of a platform. But it takes a long time for platforms to die because it's so difficult for users to switch.

I've said it so many times: Apple's economics are totally out of whack. After all the losses, over all these quarters, could anyone doubt this? And nothing has changed. Apple is still playing adventure, spending huge amounts of money to get deeper into a platform proposition that doesn't work. Windows won't lay down and die. Microsoft will not miss the turn in the road.

Soon the bubble will burst. It can't go on forever.

Like the Okies in the '30s

We're going to Windows, not Rhapsody. It's so hard to switch. I want a safe place to build my little tree house. We've looked back several times and wondered what was going on in our old home. But like the Okies in the '30s, there's no place for us there. So we look over the horizon and hope for the best!

Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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