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Inside Boxing

Down and Out
Mike Tyson's latest fiasco was one more nail in the fight game's

Anybody looking to abolish boxing just needs to sit tight. The
sport is about to die on its own, of self-inflicted
wounds--namely, its repeated failure to entertain. Boxing has
become so irrelevant that it can no longer stand comparison even
to professional wrestling, which is at least a reliable kind of
bunkum. The fact that a grappling show held at the MGM Grand in
Las Vegas on Sunday outsold a Mike Tyson show there the night
before is, finally, testament to the consumers' wisdom: They
knew the wrestling was going to be fun, the boxing wasn't.

Tyson's latest disaster, last Saturday's bout with Orlin Norris,
was just one more in a string of disappointing fights that have
turned boxing into low-grade farce. Controversy over behavior,
matchmaking or scoring has undermined public confidence in this
sport. Not even a well-meaning Tyson, on his fourth comeback and
apparently eager to fight, can do anything but drag the game down
a little farther. In this instance, Tyson knocked Norris down
with a punch thrown after the bell ending the first round, and
Norris, claiming he twisted his knee when he fell, chose not to
continue, rendering the bout a no-contest.

Tyson, 33, has long since abandoned any claim to boxing
greatness, having squandered his promise in two jail sentences,
a suspension and several gory defeats. But coming back from his
latest prison term (3 1/2 months for exaggerated road rage),
Tyson, it seemed, was the guy to focus some attention on the
sport's concussive potential. Unlike the dance performed last
March by rival champions Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield,
Tyson would come to punch.

Well, he did come to punch. But after the bell? Just one round
and Tyson, who had bitten off part of Holyfield's ear in this
same ring, was back in familiar territory, subject to the
referee's admonishment and the commission's ruling on whether or
not to release his $8.7 million purse. Yet all he'd done was drop
Norris with a short left hand, a little after the bell.

For Tyson it wasn't much of a foul and it would have been
unremarkable (a two-point deduction, but unremarkable) had the
34-year-old Norris (50-5), a light-punching cutie who'd been
brought in to grease Tyson's comeback, gotten up and continued.
But Norris, apparently at the behest of his corner, stayed down.
After ambling back to his stool, Norris sat there until the ring
physician came in and agreed that his right knee was too swollen
for him to continue.

The fans in the half-filled arena set off a howl as soon as
security began ringing the apron. The public had paid for this
scene before, but this time the crowd wasn't sure that Tyson was
entirely at fault. There was reason for suspicion. Norris,
because of managerial and tax entanglements, was going to take
home some $200,000 from his $800,000 purse. His only hope for
solvency was to somehow survive Tyson and gain a rematch, which,
presumably, he will now get. (More immediately, Norris went to
the hospital to have his knee examined.)

Tyson, who hadn't had the chance to demonstrate much beyond his
continued lack of regard for boxing's rules, was self-pitying,
saying, "I don't even want to fight any more. I'm tired, really

He added, "I take my beatings like a man," and said Norris should
feel disgraced. "You've got to have heart to get into the ring
with me. He felt my heat and just didn't want to continue."

What if Norris's knee really was hurt? Observing that Norris was
perfectly ambulatory going back to his stool and only later
turned into Matt Dillon's sidekick Chester, Tyson said, "Maybe he
hurt it when he sat down on the stool."

Characteristically, neither Tyson nor his promoter Dan Goossen
thought anybody other than Norris was to blame. Hitting after the
bell was, as Goossen put it, "part of the business." Well, it's
not. Then again, the foul by itself doesn't constitute the end of
boxing. We've all seen worse.

What is a nail in the coffin is boxing's inability to provide
even one exciting, athletic moment for paying customers.
Wrestling, anyone?

Another Stinker
Prince Far From Regal

In P.G. Wodehouse's Code of the Woosters, blustering British
bully Roderick Spode threatens Bertie Wooster with this
locution: "I shall immediately beat you to a jelly." At a
prefight press conference on Oct. 20, bullying British
featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed--whose royal title
derives from his imagination, not the House of
Windsor--threatened opponent Cesar Soto with this locution: "I'm
gonna beat you till you're marmalade. I'm gonna spread you out."

Hamed made good on his threat last Friday in a unification bout
at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit that was as silly as a Wodehouse
novel, though nowhere near as entertaining. Frustrated by his
inability to mount an attack, Hamed, the undefeated WBO champ,
grabbed and shoved and wrassled his oft-defeated WBC counterpart.
When Soto charged in the fifth round, Hamed ducked, hoisted him
above his head and body-slammed him to the canvas. With Soto
spread out, his trainer, Miguel Diaz, stormed the ring, screaming
hysterically. From the opposite corner, Hamed's trainer, Emanuel
Steward, did likewise. In the middle of the ring stood Hamed.
"Don't stop the fight, ref!" he pleaded, "Don't stop it!" The
ref, Dale Grable, didn't.

The last seven rounds featured bear hugs and head butts and
tumbling through the ropes, but very little boxing. By Round 10
the initially pro-Prince crowd of 12,500 was booing him loudly.
At the final bell the fighters collapsed in one last pratfall and
rolled around the apron. Then Hamed stood and raised his arms in
victory--and moments later was, in fact, declared the winner by
unanimous decision. It was a fitting end to what Soto's promoter,
Bob Arum, called "a sick, sick joke." After branding Hamed a
dirty fighter and a fraud, Arum said, "You can criticize Mike
Tyson, but at least between bites Tyson threw some decent

Hamed, now 33-0, took the high road. "Bob Arum," he said, "is
talking a lot of doo-doo."

Since making his U.S. debut with a sloppy KO of Kevin Kelley in
New York City on Dec. 19, 1997, Naz, the handle by which this
hip-hop hustler is relentlessly hyped by HBO, has done little to
justify his six-fight, $48 million deal with the network. He won
a lackluster decision over Wayne McCullough on Halloween night,
1998, and looked tired against unheralded Paul Ingle in April.
Before the Soto bout Steward, recently hired to beef up Hamed's
defense and stamina, said that until now his 25-year-old charge
"has been a little amateur kid who, through God's gifts, has been
able to survive." In surviving Soto, Hamed revealed himself to be
no more than a Clown Prince. --Franz Lidz


The Mike Tyson and Prince Naseem Hamed fiascos were each preceded
by superb undercard bouts. In Detroit undefeated WBC super
bantamweight champ Erik Morales was much more impressive in
taking a 12-round unanimous decision from tough Wayne McCullough
than Hamed was when he beat the Belfast brawler on Oct. 31, 1998.
HBO would like to see a Hamed-Morales bout sometime soon, but the
Prince may have some royal concerns. In Las Vegas, Diego Corrales
stopped previously unbeaten Roberto Garcia to take the IBF junior
lightweight crown and set up a possible showdown with WBC champ
Floyd Mayweather Jr....

Mayweather recently turned down a seven-fight, $12.5 million
contract extension with HBO, calling the deal "a slave
contract." According to HBO vice president Lou DiBella,
Mayweather's father, who is also the fighter's manager, called
the network to apologize. HBO would welcome the talented
Mayweather back, but it won't be at the $3 million per fight
Mayweather was demanding....

Still combative after all these years: Three-time Olympic super
heavyweight champ Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba, 48, was arrested
last Saturday for head-butting a United Airlines employee who
tried to stop Stevenson from passing through a security
checkpoint in Miami. Stevenson posted a bond before catching a
later flight back home to Cuba....

Is undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. serious
about moving up to heavyweight? Yes, but only for one bout--and
only against the right opponent. Jones believes that Evander
Holyfield can win his Nov. 13 rematch against Lennox Lewis. If
Holyfield does emerge with the unified title, Jones says he will
seek a deal with the Real Deal. "I'm not saying Roy Jones can't
beat Lennox Lewis," says Jones, "but I'd be giving away too much
[against the 6'5", 246-pound Brit] in that fight."

COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART Tyson landed his best shot after the bell, giving Norris a reason to quit--and hope for a rematch.

COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART/HBO The lackluster Hamed took Soto--not to mention his fans--for a ride.