The Biting Incident

bitingindentImagine CBS TVs elegant Charles Osgood actually saying these words out loud: “Twenty-four persons were injured in a melee that broke out after last night’s heavyweight championship fight when Mike Tyson was disqualified for biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.”

Well, not all of the ear. Just a snack-sized portion at the outer rim. As proof that even in boxing there are humanitarians on the loose, someone picked up the piece of ear from the ring canvas and transported it to a hospital where plastic surgeons tried to put the champ together again.

How, you may ask, can a fighter bite off a piece of flesh while wearing a mouthpiece? The answer is that Tyson came out for the third round without his mouthpiece. Ostentatiously, he left it behind in a second’s hand. This was a case of premediated mastication. And not only did he take a piece from Holyfield’s right ear, but Tyson went on to chomp the left ear–the second bite after a warning and a four-minute delay to stop Holyfield’s bleeding–before referee Mills Lane stopped the feast.

A mouthpiece? How about a muzzle?

“Tyson Dracula’d him,” said columnist Tom Callahan. “Hope they got the pay-per-view in Transylvania”

Yes, for $49.95, you, too, could have seen Tyson’s dental work in your very own home. When will we have had enough of this animal behavior disguised as sport?

For some of us, the time already has come. Maybe the game once could be legitimized as a black athlete’s way to make a living at a game that not only allowed him to compete but encouraged him. No more. Not for a generation has that been true.

Had Muhammad Ali come of age in 1980 rather than 1955, he likely would have been what Vince Lombardi once said about him: “The greatest tight end ever.” Instead, he became a walking advertisement for the abolition of boxing. It requires only a touch of cynicism to say that when colleges no longer required athletes to be students, basketball and football took athletes who once might have had only one option: boxing. One example suffices. Ken Norton fought Ali three times in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Ken Norton Jr. is a millionaire football player.

How sad, the Tyson story. How sad it has been, how sad it will be. Thirteen years old, no home of his own, handcuffed to a radiator by people who didn’t want to take care of him, he became the very model of the urban thug, graduating from teen-aged burglaries to mid-20s rape. Along the way he had only one chance to become something: a fighter.

“If it hadn’t been for fighting, I’d be dead.” he said more than once, never smiling because he knew how true the words were.

While in an upstate New York reform school–in prison, let’s call it what it was, a prison–he met the fight trainer Cus D’Amato, once Floyd Patterson’s mentor, an aging genius looking for one last champion. He saw in Tyson the rage of strength and the strength of rage. “A diamond,” D’Amato once said of the young Tyson. “And I will cut it my way.”

D’Amato made Tyson sparkle. At his best, with hands faster than a gasp of fear, Tyson might have been as good as anyone–ever.

“One, one, six, three,” D’Amato would shout from Tyson’s corner, the number signals for punches the trainer wanted thrown next.

Against tomato cans and champions alike, the D’Amato/Tyson creation stood undefeated. But when D’Amato died late in 1989 Tyson’s life came apart. No longer working under the iron discipline of the spartan trainer, Tyson jettisoned everyone with a D’Amato connection. He had fallen under the malevolent spell of the porcupine-haired promoter Don King.

Soon enough, Tyson had been beaten by a tomato can named Buster Douglas, had been married and divorced, had been arrested, convicted and locked up in prison and had been reduced by all that to a fighter of no particular skill. Worse, he had been reduced to a man of no worth.

Even Tyson acknowledged as much last week by comparing his life with that of the late, unlamented Sonny Liston, another convict/ champion, an outcast who died of a heroin overdose 27 years ago. “It may sound pretty morbid,” Tyson said, “but I identify with his life.” Tyson also said, “I’m a wild man. I work hard. I play hard. I live hard. I’ll die hard.”

Sadly, no one argues any of that with Mike Tyson anymore. The only questions are about his death. How and when?

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  1. Paulie


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