You go a long way toward understanding Evander Holyfield when you know that his nickname in friendly circles is “Holy.” You go a long way toward understanding Mike Tyson when you know his used to be “Mug.”
Most prizefights don’t have an ecclesiastical center to them. You don’t get pugs out of Sunday school. You get them out of lineups. Gene Tunney used to read Shakespeare and do crossword puzzles, but Sonny Liston, one of Tyson’s heroes, used to break cops’ knees. Joe Louis was a decent enough fellow, but his recreation ran more to cayenne pepper in the soup than gospel singing. Tony Galento was just short of a “made” man in the Mafia with a temper just short of Vesuvian. They called Corbett “Gentleman Jim,” I guess because he never kicked anybody when he was down or pulled wings off butterflies. When a fighter is called “the Hit Man,” you don’t know whether they mean what he does inside the ring--or outside.
So, Holyfield is the last hope of turning a heavyweight championship fight into a morality play, a triumph of good over evil, value over vice.
A lot of people opted for divine intervention in the first Holyfield-Tyson fight, because how else could you explain a 20-1 shot, a 34-year-old thrice-defeated and once-knocked-out has-been not only defeating but KOing a fighter who has been identified by his promoter as “the baddest man on the planet,” the terrifying Mike Tyson, a creature so terrible that if you saw him wading ashore off Santa Barbara you’d call out the National Guard?
The fight game hadn’t seen an upset of those proportions since Buster Douglas, the pugilistic equivalent of a Fuji blimp, KOd Tyson in Tokyo. Before that, it was the triumph of an unemployed longshoreman, James J. Braddock, over the madcap champion Max Baer.
Can it happen again? What if God is busy Saturday night? What if Tyson comes to terms with the fact Holyfield isn’t scared of him?
No one expects Tyson to use a jab-and-run tactic. Willie Pep, he’s not. And Holyfield is confident the Lord God will show up and be his cornerman. Holyfield works on the Biblical injunction that “Thrice is he armed that hath his cause just. “
The gamblers characteristically are not putting the Almighty into their calculations. Though not at 20-1, they are keeping Tyson the favorite. But then these guys would have made the Red Sea 50-1 over Moses. And Goliath was an out price with the books.
Tyson’s first job may be to knock the halo off. But even more debilitating to him may be the attitude he brings to ringside Saturday night at the MGM Grand.
Revenge is an ignoble motive anyway, but Tyson, for the first time, may be bringing a defeatist way of thinking. He talks like a man who has been imprisoned by history. If you didn’t know better, you would say he’s feeling sorry for himself.
“I’ve been taken advantage of all my life,” he told the press at his home here. “I’ve been dehumanized, betrayed. I’m kind of bitter and angry at people about it.”
Added Tyson: “Everyone is against us. We don’t have nobody on our side. The courts are against us, the corporations are against us, the media is against us. We have nobody on our side.”
Of course, one reason the courts were against him was because he took sexual harassment to a new level. But Tyson seems to think his rape conviction was just between him and the judge. None of our business.
“You write these things and the people that know and love me read it and they feel awful,” he complains. “You have to remember, I was being ripped off by my lawyers, I was going through a divorce, I was 260 pounds, I was drunk every day--that’s where it started from.”
Aw!! Poor Mikey! All this and then the guy in the other corner has a link to Heaven. How’s that for a bummer?
If Tyson can somehow persuade himself that the world isn’t against him, God is neither for nor against him, neither are the rest of us, God is neutral and so is society, Holyfield is on his own.
Shut up and deal, Mike. And, this time, don’t forget to duck.
* CLOSE CALL: Oscar De La Hoya recalls a traffic accident last Sunday night on the 605 Freeway near Whittier, and “10 seconds that saved my life.” C8
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
HOLYFIELD vs. TYSON
* WHEN: Saturday.
* WHERE: MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas.
* TV: Live on pay-per-view beginning at 6 p.m.