Mike Tyson lost at least a year of his boxing lifetime on Wednesday.
Eleven days after biting the ears of Evander Holyfield during their heavyweight title match at the MGM Grand, Tyson’s right to fight was revoked indefinitely by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, subject to a yearly review.
In a measured, legalistic response to an incendiary incident, the five-member commission also unanimously voted to fine Tyson the maximum it could--$3 million, or 10% of the $30-million purse he was paid to fight Holyfield. Tyson was disqualified after the third round for biting Holyfield’s ears.
At its heart, the commission’s action will shut down Tyson’s hugely profitable career for a minimum of one year--until at least July 1998, the earliest he will be allowed to force the commission to reconsider his right to fight.
Beyond that time frame, the commissioners gave only hints and shrugs, saying they took the most severe course possible to signal that they would not tolerate such acts, and citing the Nevada law that allows them to deny Tyson year to year, as many times as they wish.
Attorneys for the commission said the possibility of suspending Tyson (which would only freeze his license, not take it away) for longer than a year was considered but dropped when potential legal challenges were raised. Also, a suspended fighter in Nevada can be fined a maximum of only $250,000.
“We handed a very severe penalty, a very large fine--in fact I can’t think of any fine that large by anybody but the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Commissioner Lorenzo Fertitta said after the hearing.
“His license has been revoked indefinitely. From a legal standpoint, he can come back and apply for a license [in] one year--but it could be a three-year or five-year revocation, it certainly could.”
Joe Rolston, the deputy attorney general who drew up the complaint against Tyson, said: “He’ll be able to reapply, and they’ll be able to deny him year after year until the end of time if the commission so desires. We felt real satisfied with that.”
Tyson, who was reportedly in New York, did not attend the disciplinary hearing to avoid questions from the media and because the commission’s actions were predictable given the controversy over his biting a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear, said Oscar Goodman, Tyson’s lead attorney.
Goodman said he retained the right to take the matter to federal court, but said he doubted that Tyson--who publicly apologized for the incident last week--would want to follow that path.
Tyson, 31, almost certainly will not try to arrange a fight in another country to skirt the ban, Goodman said, and even before the hearing generally accepted that he would be out of boxing for a year. Other states are expected to honor the commission’s action.
Given Tyson’s recent schedule of one fight every nine months, if he misses only a year, he would miss only one fight that he might otherwise have undertaken, Goodman noted.
“I knew what was going to happen today--it had to happen,” Goodman said after the hearing. “They had to do something to appease the world, the lynch-mob atmosphere, the bloodthirstiness on the part of the public.
“When everything’s cooled down and the world is thinking about other things and other sports and other problems, I’ll be able to go back there. If I have the same commission, I feel very, very confident that you’ll see Mike Tyson fighting in a year.”
Holyfield is in South Africa, visiting President Nelson Mandela, and was represented at the hearing in City Council chambers by his attorney, Jim Thomas.
But the deeply religious Holyfield has said he forgives Tyson and only wanted a penalty that would prevent other fighters from believing they could get away with flagrant fouls.
“I’m very satisfied with the commission’s decision,” Thomas said, “because it’s clear the commissioners took their work very seriously, weighed the circumstances very carefully and came up with the appropriate decision in light of the legal constraints they were under.
“Evander never wanted anything personally in this. But it was and is important to Evander that his sport be respected, and that no one individual ever be considered more important than the sport.”
If there was any chance of avoiding a revocation, several commissioners implied that it was lost when Tyson did not show up. But commission Chairman Elias Ghanem stressed that a Tyson appearance would not be a mitigating factor.
“If Mike Tyson applies for a license again in Nevada, I think he should appear himself,” Ghanem said after the hearing.
“I wanted to ask what you normally ask somebody,” Commissioner Luther Mack said of Tyson. “Walk me through what happened. What took place with the mouthpiece, explain to me what happened, why did you take it out the first time? What really happened the second time?
“I really wanted an honest answer to that. That would have helped me quite a bit.”
Although the other commissioners for the most part avoided speculating about what Tyson should do in the next 12 months, Mack was to the point, naming promoter Don King and others as people who have not done what’s best for Tyson.
“I need to see changes,” Mack said, referring to the actions before and after the fight by Tyson’s co-managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway, who derided Holyfield and attacked the credibility of the Nevada commission.
“I understand now that he has a doctor doing some [psychological] evaluations. Before he comes back, I think we need to look at that, talk to the physician, understand what’s been going on, what he’s been doing to solve the problem.
“He said he snapped in the ring. Will it ever happen again? What caused it to happen? We need to hear those kinds of things.
“I don’t know about Don King. I think Tyson is one of those guys who needs a mentorship with some positive attitude in his life . . . somebody who would do it not for money, who would do it from the heart, like a church, a minister.
“I don’t think [King provides that].”
Tyson’s absence, Goodman’s promises of bringing Tyson to next year’s hearing and his rumbling that a one-year ban is the very limit of what they would tolerate all signaled that Wednesday’s actions were only a precursor to the far more interesting activity expected in July 1998.
If Tyson is denied in 1998, he would not be able to force another hearing for another full year.
“Two years is absolutely unacceptable,” Goodman said. “Not even close. We’re going to be back here in a year, and we’re going to be making a presentation that Mike Tyson should be fighting, that he’s fit to fight and enough’s enough.”
But James Nave, considered one of the commission’s hard-liners, made a special point during the hearing to indicate that Tyson is far from free from the commission’s scrutiny once the year has passed.
Even without further evidence, Nave said, the commission can keep Tyson out of fighting in Nevada for as long as it wants.
“I wanted to make it clear the commission did not have to provide any more evidence in order to say ‘no’ next year,” Nave said later, “that the evidence presented today would be enough to say ‘no’ if that commission wanted.”
* A HARD HIT
The Nevada commissioners didn’t pull their punches. Mike Downey’s column. C1