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Original Issue


The week before the fight, Mike Tyson was trying on yet another
role model for size. He had already gone through Arthur Ashe,
Chairman Mao, Wayne Newton and Leo Tolstoy. Now he was intrigued
by Sonny Liston. Tyson, throughout his 31 years, had been
nothing if not impressionable. But Liston? Here was a
heavyweight who had been unloved in victory, had become a joke
in defeat and had come to a tragic end. His menacing presence
had been a pitiful defense the very first time anybody--a young
Cassius Clay--stood up to him, and his decline had been steady
from there.

"It may sound morbid and grim," Tyson announced, just days
before his June rematch with Evander Holyfield, "but I pretty
much identify with that life." Tyson was so taken by Liston's
legacy that he visited Liston's Las Vegas grave to deliver a

Then he entered the ring to meet Holyfield. Tyson's menacing
presence, which had earned him $135 million during a
tomato-can-laden comeback following his release from prison in
1995, had been a pitiful defense in their first fight, when
Holyfield stood up to Tyson and knocked him out. Perhaps only
Tyson understood that his own decline had been set into motion.
The fight crowd had actually installed him as the favorite for
the rematch, ignoring his tragic gloom.

Sure enough the bout began pretty much as the last one had, with
Holyfield bulling Tyson around. Tyson hadn't produced a
genuinely memorable or athletic moment since before his
conviction for rape in '92. Nor, from the looks of things, would
he ever.

So he bit Holyfield's ears. Once each. A vicious chomp. Pause to
spit the cartilage onto the canvas. Bite again. It was over
before the disqualification, long before Tyson's one-year
suspension would be announced, longer still before Tyson and
promoter Don King would be able to try another comeback.

Indeed, his career had been over for a while, and the suspicion
is that Tyson had been the first to know, to guess the morbid
and grim life that lay before him. Perhaps he imagined, in his
perversity, the day when people would visit his own grave, for
whatever dark pleasure they could get, consorting with the ghost
of the defeated. Maybe they'd even deliver a bouquet.

PHOTOGRAPH BY V.J. LOVERO [Referee trying to separate Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield]