Floored by This Tyson Decision


In one corner, shameless. In the other, desperate.

In one corner, a convicted rapist searches for credibility, cash and the odd cannibal opportunity.

In the other corner, a shunned boxing community searches for a spectacle.

It’s a match made in heaven-help-us.

That purplish light emanating from Staples Center is no longer a glow, it’s a blush.

Mike Tyson apparently is going to fight in Los Angeles, an occasion for blindfolds, earmuffs and embarrassment.

There are so many missed jabs involved in Staples Center’s decision to play host to a Tyson fight June 21, it is tough to know where to begin, but we know we must be careful.


If angered, Tyson will bite his opponent in the thigh during Thursday’s pre-fight news conference, then threaten reporters with violent sexual assault. That was last year.

Or, if upset, he’ll claim he has flu and quit the fight, then change his mind 24 hours later, but only after sending a cloaked body double to replace him. That was earlier this year.

It was those bouts that convinced California boxing officials and Staples Center bosses that the sports world’s most reprehensible carnival act is more, um, reasonable?

“We think his image has changed, he’s had two reasonable fights, we’re prepared to go at it,” said Van Gordon Sauter, chairman of the California State Athletic Commission.

An informal survey of his group convinced him to preliminarily approve Tyson’s license without a hearing, the toughest step in a matchmaking process that should be finalized today.

Lennox Lewis will fight a shirt board in the main event, Tyson will fight a canned good in the undercard, but the main pairing is elsewhere.


In one corner, a willing freak. In the other, a blind suitor.

Tyson, accompanied by the threat of criminal behavior and fan violence, has traveled the globe to find somebody who would sanction his fights.

The once-proud Los Angeles boxing community, swallowed whole by Las Vegas, has been searching in the same alleys for guys just like him.

Tyson’s last fight was a 49-second joke in the only place that would have it, a knockout of someone named Clifford Etienne in some burg called Memphis.

This town’s last fight was an equally short joke, a loss to Las Vegas in a bid for the Oscar De La Hoya-Shane Mosley fight. Staples Center lost even though it outbid the MGM Grand. It lost only because it was located on Figueroa instead of Tropicana.

Tyson needs a new stage. Los Angeles boxing needs an new act. Neither will ask many questions.

We were so desperate for this boxer, we were willing to stand in line behind ... ahem ... New Jersey.

Tyson tried to get a license for this fight in Soprano country, you see, but state officials were smart enough to stop it.

“Saddam Hussein is more likely to reform himself than Mike Tyson,” said one.

Boxing folks here aren’t so proud, or smart, or both.

“It’s not like we’re licensing a wicket-keeper in a cricket match,” Sauter said. “This is not a tidy business.”

Yet a year ago, a potential Tyson visit to Staples was squelched by the commission’s insistence on questioning him.

“Well, once you get past the social issues, there’s the obvious huge boost that the fight will bring to the city’s economy,” said Sauter.

Oh, so it’s about the money. What a surprise.

This must explain why Staples Center and King owner Phil Anschutz won’t pay $3.5 million for a goal scorer but will pay more than twice that for guy whose most recent stint in jail was a result of an assault on elderly motorists.

“We’ve had two boxing events and both made money or broke even,” said Tim Leiweke, Staples and King president who will approve a $7-8 million site fee. “That’s never happened in hockey.”

But at some point, for a place that charges $15 to park your car, shouldn’t it be about more than money?

When Staples was new and flush with good fortune, it was a good neighbor, arranging Laker parades, quelling Laker postgame violence, hosting everything from convention democracy to figure skating socialism.

Now that the new-arena smell is gone and the building may be harder to fill, that mandate might be changing.

Anschutz lives in Denver, thus proving the ease of booking a villain as long as he isn’t coming to your town.

His face here belongs to Leiweke, but after this debacle the boss might be better off being bearded by a paper sack.

Leiweke is an avowed family man who must explain booking a boxer who threatens to eat other boxer’s children.

“I’m not here to make a statement about Mike, I’m not defending or criticizing him,” Leiweke said. “He’s had two boxing matches where he’s been on his best behavior, and this fight is going someplace, and it might as well go here.”

He is also an avowed community man who must explain hiring a boxer whose act is far below community standards.

“His fight in Memphis did nothing to harm the community, it did everything to help the community, which wants him back,” Leiweke said. “Mike doesn’t come in and destroy a community. He doesn’t have that kind of lasting effect in one fight.”

And what an event it will be. Maybe somebody will lose an appendage. Maybe somebody will get beaten in the parking lot. With any luck, Los Angeles boxing will matter again.

“It will be a great, great card,” said Van Gordon Sauter.

Who, incidentally, is not going to be there.

The leader of the group that approved the fight will be in Montana that weekend for a wedding.

Hopefully, it will be far more dignified than this one.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at