Lewis-Tyson: The Gathering Storm

By Thomas Hauser
In mid-January of this year, Mike Tyson visited Jose Torres in New York. Tyson and Torres share a unique bond. In the 1960s, Torres was trained and managed by Cus D'Amato, who guided him to the world light- heavyweight championship. Twenty years later, D'Amato began the process of shaping Tyson's ring destiny.

The Tyson-Torres relationship, like many of Mike's personal interactions, has been inconsistent. But Torres is one of the few men who Tyson feels he can open up to and receive an understanding ear in return. As the two men talked, Tyson seemed on edge.

"Are you in trouble?" Torres asked.


"What's the problem?"

"I have rage," Tyson told him. "And I can't control it."

"If you know that, you can make it better," Torres said. "But you'll need help."

One week later, Tyson's rage led to a cataclysmic explosion at the kick-off press conference for his proposed bout against Lennox Lewis. That meant, for a while, Lewis-Tyson was Lewis-Tysoff. In the weeks that followed, the charts of fight organizers began to resemble a map of the electoral college. Nevada, California, New York, Texas, Georgia, and Colorado all turned their back on the contest. Washington DC, Michigan, and Tennessee pursued it. Finally, the bout landed in Memphis, where Lewis and Tyson are expected to do battle on June 8. But in deference to Tyson's peculiarities and Lewis's demands re same, the promotion has taken on a surreal quality with bizarre overtones and unprecedented contract clauses.

Let's start with some numbers.

Mike Tyson's name has become synonymous with money, and the bout's finances reflect that reality. There are 19,185 tickets priced from $250 to $2,400. Of these, 17,310 were set aside for HBO, Showtime, the fighters' camps, and VIP guests. That meant only 1,875 tickets were available to the general public. The fight quickly sold-out and the gate is $23,026,042, shattering boxing's previous high of $16,860,300, which was reached when Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought in Las Vegas in 1999.

The pay-per-view price for the Lewis-Tyson has been set at $54.95, which makes it the most expensive PPV event ever. The goal of event organizers is to surpass the all-time record of 1,990,000 buys set by Holyfield-Tyson II in 1997. However, those ubiquitous "black boxes" are more in evidence now than five years ago, and two million buys seems like an unrealistic target.

A tangled web of contracts dictates how the fight will be financed and conducted. There are contracts between HBO and Showtime; HBO and Lewis; Showtime and Tyson; HBO, Showtime, and the promotional triad of Main Events, Lion Promotions, and Fight Night; the three primary promoters and Prize Fight Boxing (the local promoter); and the promotional triad and The Pyramid.

There is financial parity between HBO and Showtime on the fight. The two cable giants will split all production, travel, and marketing costs equally and share equally in the various revenue streams that flow from the bout. Main Events and the other promoters will be paid largely out of the promotion budget. But internally, there are differences. Lewis and Tyson are each guaranteed $17,500,000 by their respective networks. After HBO makes a profit of $5,000,000, Lewis will receive virtually all of the remaining profit from HBO's end. Tyson is believed to have a slightly less advantageous profit split with Showtime.

There will be four main income streams for HBO and Showtime, projected as follows: The networks' share of pay-per-view (optimistically estimated at $50,000,000); foreign rights ($12,500,000); site fee ($10,000,000); sponsorships and merchandise ($7,500,000). That totals $80,000,000.

The primary expenses will be Lewis's guarantee ($17,500,000); Tyson's guarantee ($17,500,000); and marketing, travel, production, and undercard costs (estimated at $10,000,000). That totals $45,000,000.

Factoring a profit of $5,000,000 for HBO and $5,000,000 for Showtime into the equation, if everything goes as planned, there will be an additional $25,000,000 to be split evenly between the fighters. But even if pay-per view sales disappoint, this will be Lewis's biggest payday ever.

The live pay-per-view telecast of the bout will be handled by a neutral announcing team made up of commentators who are unaffiliated with either network. Both HBO and Showtime will have their regular announcers on site. If Lewis wins, HBO will televise its version of the fight on tape delay and pay Showtime $3,000,000. If Tyson wins, Showtime will air the tape delay with its announcing team and pay HBO $3,000,000.

If that sounds simple, it's not. As one HBO insider acknowledged, "Virtually every negotiating point has been a hassle."

Take, for example, the issue of who will be the ring announcer. Jimmy Lennon has long been identified with Showtime. Michael Buffer is thought of in conjunction with HBO. The HBO-Showtime contract says that Lennon and Buffer will have financial parity in the production budget as well as airtime parity. But Buffer usually gets more money than Lennon and is being asked by the joint promotion to take a pay cut.

Then there's the matter of which ring announcer will say what. The current script reads like the lead-in to a stilted Academy-Award presentation:

Lennon: Ladies and gentlemen around the world; welcome to Memphis, Tennessee.

Buffer: This bout is sanctioned by the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation.

Lennon: The officials at ringside are . . .

Buffer: The referee is Bozo the Clown, and the three judges are . . .

Lennon will then introduce Tyson. Buffer will introduce Lewis. It has been agreed that, somewhere in the mix, Buffer will intone, "Let's get ready to rumble." And the bell will ring.

Should Lewis win by knockout or disqualification, Buffer will announce the result. Should Tyson win by knockout or disqualification, Lennon will announce the result. If the fight goes the distance, rather than rob the moment of it's suspense, the two men will alternate the reading of the scorecards or flip a coin to determine who says what. Except -- and this is a big "except" -- Buffer wasn't consulted when the HBO-Showtime contract was entered into and hasn't agreed to its terms yet.

For those who are superstitious, Lewis's record in recent title fights when Buffer is not the ring announcer is 1-2-1. That includes one-punch knockout losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman and the draw in Lewis-Holyfield I. By contrast, Lennox has never lost with Buffer at ringside; but neither has Tyson, dating back to the early days for both men on ESPN.

As for Jimmy Lennon; all of Tyson's losses (Buster Douglas and both Holyfield fights) as well as his two no-contests (Orlin Norris and Andrew Golota) have come with Showtime's favorite announcer at ringside. Overall, Tyson is 10 3-2 with Lennon on hand, and Lewis is 3-0-1 (Holyfield I and II plus Rahman II and Tony Tucker).

This is the sort of minutiae that the greatest minds in the sports and communications industries are now pondering. But there remains a more troubling issue -- Mike Tyson's conduct.

In some respects, Lewis-Tyson is being packaged as a real-life version of professional wrestling. But the sad truth is, the heavyweight championship is up for grabs, and virtually everyone involved with the promotion is saying, "We can't do this because it might make Mike angry," or "We can't do that because everyone will find out how out of control Mike really is."

Tyson, in essence, is saying to the world, "I'm going to do what I want to do. Like it or leave it, and leave me the fuck alone." He has surrounded himself with enablers and, whatever he does, there are always people who tell him, "Yeah, Mike; you're right."

The licensing deliberations that led to Lewis-Tyson might have addressed what Tyson does. They did not address why he does it. The man has problems and everyone associated with him, including Tyson himself, knows it.

On April 30, Tyson met with a carefully chosen group of reporters in Maui, where he is training for the fight. Tim Smith of the New York Daily News was among them. "It was bizarre," Smith said later. "Mike had a towel that he kept chewing on. He was very obscene, and his thoughts weren't really connected. He threw out the N-word like he was seeding a flower garden and talked about everything from Buddha to how Jesus smoked marijuana."

The press session began with Tyson responding to a female reporter who asked about the upcoming fight: "It's no doubt I'm going to win this fight, and I feel confident about winning this fight." Then he added, "I normally don't do interviews with women unless I fornicate with them. So you shouldn't talk anymore unless you want to, you know."

Thereafter, reporters were treated to a bizarre stream of consciousness:

* "I could play the game and say I'm somebody I'm not, but I'm not that kind of person. I'm uninhibited. If I'm being interviewed by a lady, I have to say, 'Hey, you're looking good.' I just have to be Mike."

* "The people want to be lied to. That's the deal. The people don't want to believe their idol is a freak; that he likes to get fellatio. They don't want to believe that he might want somebody to stick their finger up his butt. But the truth is, he might like that."

* "I think it's un-American not to go out with a woman, not to be with a beautiful woman, not to get my cock sucked. You know what I mean? I may like to fornicate more than other people. It's just who I am. I sacrifice so much of my life; can I at least get laid? I mean, I've been robbed of my most of my money; can I at least get a blow job without people wanting to harass me and wanting to throw me in jail?"

* "We all cheat on our fucking wives one way or another. Please forgive me for talking the way I am. I'm into forbidden fruits like everyone else. I want my dick sucked too. I want to love a woman too. Sometimes I want to love more than one woman. Don't crucify me because of who I am and I tell the world who I am. That's just who I am. You guys wrote so much bad about me; I don't know when the last time was that I fucked a decent woman. You said I was a fucked-up nigger. I don't know nothing but strippers and whores and bitches and all that shit because you guys put that shit on me."

On several occasions, Tyson's adviser Shelly Finkel was heard to whisper, "Let's get everyone out of here before he explodes." But the session continued.

There were moments of self-pity:

* "I wake up every morning and hate myself. I don't have any dignity left. I lost my dignity in prison."

* "I could be a decent guy. I could be a literate guy. I could have been a lot of things in life. But Cus got me first and I became a fighter. There are a lot of things I could have been. I could have been smart and intelligent. My family are educated people. I'm a numbskull."

* "My brother is a different kind of animal. He wanted to be something. My sister was so bright. My brother is so bright. I wasn't born with their intelligence. That's my problem. I was always envious of my brother. I hated my brother. Me and my brother are so different. I look at him. He's a beautiful, brilliant, strange guy. We're not close. If he wasn't my brother, I wouldn't even like him. He wouldn't even be my type of person. Everybody loved my brother and my sister. I went to my sister's funeral. She never wanted a nickel from me. They always had more dignity and pride than me. I was heavyweight champion of the world, but they never wanted anything. I always respected them. My sister was obese. She was five hundred pounds. Her heart stopped. She was twenty-five. I was always jealous of them because they had nothing but everybody loved them. I was always nothing. Compared to them, I'm nothing. Everybody in the neighborhood loved them. But me; I was shit. They always told me I was going to die. You ain't shit. Who the hell am I? I don't know what happened to me. I don't even know if I came from the same father."

Then the self-pity gave way to anger:

* "I'm the most irresponsible person in the world. The reason I'm like that is because, at twenty-one, you all gave me fifty or a hundred million dollars and I didn't know what to do. I'm from the ghetto. I don't know how to act. One day I'm in a dope house robbing somebody. The next thing I know, 'You're the heavyweight champion of the world.' I'm twenty years old. I'm the heavyweight champion of the world. Most of my girlfriends are fifteen, sixteen years old. I'm twenty years old with a lot of money. Who am I? What am I? I don't even know who I am. I'm just a dumb child. I'm being abused. I'm being robbed by lawyers. I think I have more money than I do. I'm just a dumb pugnacious fool. I'm just a fool who thinks I'm someone. And you tell me I should be responsible? I'm angry at the world."

* "I offend people. I ask this lady a lewd question because I'm in a lot of pain. I have some pain I'm gonna have for the rest of my life. So every now and then, I kick your fucking ass and stomp on you and put some kind of pain and inflict some of the pain on you because you deserve to feel the pain that I feel. I wish that you guys had children so I could kick them in the fucking head or stomp on their testicles so you could feel my pain because that's the pain I have waking up every day."

* "At times, I come across as crude or crass. That irritates you when I come across like a Neanderthal or a babbling idiot, but I like to be that person. I like to show you all that person, because that's who you come to see. I'm not in a mood right now to do a tirade. But if you said something disrespectful about my kids or my mother, I'd come out and kill you."

* "If I take this camera and put it in your face for twenty years, I don't know what you might be. You might be a homosexual if I put that camera on you since you were thirteen years old. I've been on that camera since I was thirteen years old."

* "You guys don't like the way I carry myself and you make names about me. Then I become insecure about that. My fuse is so short right now that, if anyone disrespects me, I might kill them."

The following day, Tyson sat for a session with Rita Crosby of the Fox News Channel. And his thoughts were a chilling portrait of a man in pain: "I don't know if I'm mentally sick, but I have episodes sometimes. I'm a depressant kind of dude. I have episodes and I'm human, but no one cares about my health as a human; you know what I mean? I probably need to talk to somebody. But how could I talk to somebody that just looks at me when I'm really getting ready to feel this guy and put my heart out and says, 'Well, time's up. Hold it, Mike; I'm sorry. Drop the two hundred and fifty dollars off at the desk with my secretary and make an appointment to come back next week.' I'm ready to pull out my heart with this white motherfucker. He just got me comfortable, and I'm thinking he's real and I'm getting ready to -- 'I'm sorry; hold that thought. Go to Mary, pay the two hundred and fifty dollars, and make an appointment for next week. We're going to make some leeways, Mike. I can see that coming.' Right then, I leave that place that was supposed to help me, and I leave more fucked up than I am when I first went in there. Is this a fucking game? So I stopped going; you know what I mean? I stopped going, so now they put me on this Zoloft stuff, right, and I'm so -- I'm really; I'm pathetic sometimes and real shallow. I'm so dick conscious where, you know, I'm taking Zoloft and I don't get an erection. I'm just gone then, man; I'm just gone. I mean, it's ruined and rot and I'm an extreme sexual type person. I got to start taking this stuff, and it probably is making me feel a little better. But you know, it makes me feel bad because I like, you know, like I'm saying, I'm penis-centered and it's just; I don't know. Now that's a big fight within itself right there, and that's not even talking about what I really have to deal with. That's not the real problem, but that turns into it. But now I got another problem to deal with; and the real problem, it just hasn't been dealt with at all. It hasn't been addressed so to speak, and I say what the fuck do I do? You don't understand the severity of what I'm dealing with. So let me just have a couple of my episodes. Let me take care of my children. Let me screw as many women as I want. Let me smoke what I want. Let me do what I want. Let me live my life because I'm not going to let these people just tear me apart and the guys try to label me; label me a schizoid, label me a manic depressive, label me a crazy motherfucker. I'm probably more schizoid than I am anything. But if you label me so many things, you drive a motherfucker insane. I'm surprised I'm not suicidal. I haven't killed myself, but I wouldn't do that. I prefer to kill someone else than to kill myself."

What does Mike Tyson want?

"Are you kidding?" Roy Jones, Jr. responds when asked that question. "He wants to go back to jail. That's the only place Mike is comfortable. It's the only place where he feels he fits in."

"Mike Tyson talks a lot about doing bad things," says George Foreman. "But all you have to do is go into prisons and you'll hear that stuff all the time. And unfortunately, if Mike keeps doing the things he's doing now, he'll wind up in prison again."

There's no doubt that Tyson is inclined toward antisocial behavior. There's a frightening mix of sex and violence in his thoughts, and often the two converge. The world is familiar with some of the comments he has made about ripping Lennox Lewis's heart out and eating Lewis's children. In Maui, Tyson continued in that vein: "I'll smear his pompous brains all over the ring when I hit him . . . I want to implant my fist in his mind. I want to reach in and touch his brain."

But there was something more, and it was scary. Recounting an incident that occurred in Los Angeles, Tyson recalled, "Everytime I try to do something to satisfy somebody else, I wind up getting fucked. Forgive my language because, if I don't curse or say nigger, fuck, or shit, you won't understand what I'm saying. I'm with my wife, and we're at this place in Los Angeles. Monica says, 'There goes Lennox Lewis. Go say hi to him.' say hi, and he looks at me like, 'Motherfucker! What you looking at me for?' I wanted to punch my wife in the face. She made me look like a punk. This guy just stared me down like a mad dog. I felt like my wife took my balls right from under me for this guy. She gave this punk-ass motherfucker my nuts. It made me a punk right in front of her because I wanted to be a nice guy for my wife. I wanted to show her I could change and I'm not like people say I am. I don't need a woman that says, 'Go say hi to him.' I need a woman that says, 'That punk motherfucker wants to hurt you, baby,' and starts going right at him. I need a woman to jump in there and punch him, and then I'll jump in."

Lennox Lewis has responded to Tyson's comments with disdain. After calling Tyson "ignorant, arrogant, and an imbecile," the champion observed, "Some of the things he's been saying make him sound like a cartoon character. When he was incarcerated, he said he was reading books. It must have been comic books."

Still, as the object of Tyson's hatred, Lewis is understandably concerned. He is well aware that Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear in the ring. And Tyson bit Lewis on the thigh during their press conference brawl in New York. Regarding the latter incident, Tyson has said, "He [Lewis] should have died that night; those guys putting their hands on me. But I wasn't with the right crew. That's the whole thing. I was with guys who just wanted to be seen on television. If I was with the right crew, all of them guys would have been finished right there."

Is Tyson bringing the "right crew" to Memphis? Both the Lewis camp and event organizers have expressed concern regarding the "element" that Iron Mike attracts to fights. There's also the risk that a high-profile event of this nature could become a terrorist target. Thus, security has been an overriding theme throughout the negotiations. Federal, state, and local authorities have all become involved. Metal detectors will be employed at fight-related events. And the contracts contemplate a number of bizarre scenarios.

For example, if either fighter is disqualified on an "extraordinary" foul -- that is, a foul outside the normal realm of competition such as biting an opponent or assaulting the referee -- three million dollars will be deducted from that fighter's purse and paid to his opponent. Moreover, under those circumstances, the victorious fighter's television network [HBO for Lewis and Showtime for Tyson] can decline to televise the bout on a tape-delay basis and refuse to pay its opposite number the previously-agreed-upon license fee.

Larry Hazzard (Chairman of the New Jersey Board of Athletic Control) will be the court of last resort regarding the determination of what constitutes an extraordinary foul. Other than that, Hazzard will not have an official role in administering the fight. The Tennessee State Athletic Commission will appoint the referee, inspectors, and one of the judges. The other two judges will be appointed by the WBC and IBF.

There will be no joint pre-fight activities for the fighters. They will hold separate press conferences and weigh-in separately. The role of both entourages will be minimized at press events. On fight night, only a select few will be allowed to escort the fighters to the ring, and fewer still will be allowed into the ring before and after the fight. As the champion, Lewis will enter the ring last and be introduced after Tyson. The present plan is for each fighter to be escorted to the ring by a police guard. As the cops enter the ring, they will form a line bisecting the enclosure from neutral corner to neutral corner. There will be no ritual touching of gloves. After the fighters are introduced, the police will leave and the bell for round one will sound.

In sum, we are about to witness a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world in which one of the participants is considered so unstable and so given to criminal assaults that normal procedures aren't being followed and public appearances have to be curtailed.

"Usually," notes one member of the Lewis camp, "security is on hand to protect the fighter from the crowd. Here, security will be in place to protect everyone else from the fighter."

Tyson's advocates, in turn, complain that Lewis has had his way on almost every negotiating point, including reimbursement for a $35,000 bracelet that was lost in the press conference scuffle and a six-figure sub rosa pay-out for the bite to his thigh. "If Lennox could have his own ring, he'd demand it," grumbles one Tyson supporter.

Sadly, all of this is obscuring the fact that Lewis-Tyson could turn out to be a great fight. "We want this to be a major sporting event; not a circus," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg says. But the more Lewis-Tyson is hyped as a media happening, the less attention is focussed on its fistic merits.

At the moment, Lewis is listed as a 2-to-1 favorite. Those odds are expected to drop by fight time. But most likely, this will be the first time in his career that Iron Mike has entered the ring as an underdog. That's because Tyson isn't the fighter he once was. To prepare for the young Mike Tyson, opponents were well-advised to spar with a tank that was firing live ammunition. In the ring, Tyson hasn't been "Tyson" for a decade.

Still, Tyson is getting himself into better shape, fighting shape, for this fight than he's been in for years. Would he be better off if he'd started that process six months ago instead of last month? Absolutely. But he's still the most dangerous opponent that Lewis has ever faced.

Some observers liken Tyson to David Tua in terms of size and power. By that standard, Lennox should be able to control the bout by keeping Mike at the end of his jab all night. But Lewis's trainer, Emanual Steward, puts that notion to rest when he says, "Mike is a much more dangerous opponent than Tua. He punches harder. He punches well with both hands. He's faster. He fights with more intensity and puts a lot more pressure on his opponents. He's been in more big fights. There's no comparison, really."

Meanwhile, Lewis is an interesting blend of power and fragility. He's a professional fighter, who acts like a professional and takes all of his skills into the ring with him when he fights. But Lennox has never fought anyone with the blend of Tyson's handspeed and power. And while no one questions Lewis's heart, his chin is suspect. He isn't known for getting off the canvas to win. In fact, he isn't known for getting off the canvas. Great fighters in their prime don't lose to opponents like Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. And Lewis will be carrying an extra burden into the ring with him. Somewhere in his mind, he'll be worrying about Tyson's extra-legal behavior. It won't just be a question of "protect yourself at all times." It will be "protect yourself against all tactics." Also, bear in mind that, in the rematch against Oliver McCall, Lennox seemed a bit intimidated by McCall's craziness. And that was a night when he had dead meat in front of him.

Neither Lewis nor Tyson makes adjustments particularly well during a fight. To beat Tyson, an opponent has to take control of the bout, stand his ground, and keep Tyson busy. When that happens, as rounds progress, Mike's spirit tends to wane. But everyone knows that, at some point during the fight, Tyson will hit Lewis. The relevant questions are, "Where, how hard, and how often?" One punch on the jaw from Mike Tyson can short-circuit a lot of fine-tuning.

Every moment of Lewis-Tyson will be marked by high drama. People who pay their money to see a circus might get their wish; or they could end up watching a great fight.

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