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This black eye belongs to Tyson, not boxing


NEW YORK -- Don't call it a tragedy. Tragedy is a kid lighting up a crack pipe. Tragedy is a senior citizen getting hit over the head by a mugger. Mike Tyson's tragedy is that he came from that environment and arrogantly thumbed his nose at any chance of redemption.

It was the same arrogance that cost him the heavyweight title two years, to the very hour, before he lost a unanimous decision last night in Indianapolis. The night before he was knocked out by Buster Douglas, he sneered, "How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills." To the terrified woman in Room 606 of the Canterbury Hotel, he said, "Don't fight me, I'm the champ."

He didn't get it. He was not the champion. At 20, it appeared as if he would be the champion forever. At 25, he's a has-been. Maybe he could have been a contender for greatest of all time. His menacing figure brought excitement to the game. He was its biggest star.

This is not a black eye for boxing, any more than it would have been a bad mark for pre-med students had William Kennedy Smith been found guilty. Harold Smith, a leading promoter 10 years ago who did "five years, three months, 21 days, 13 hours" for embezzling $21 million from Wells Fargo, said last night: "This was a rape case, not a boxing scandal, like mine was a banking scandal."

Evander Holyfield, who is the champion, lost a $30 million payday with Tyson's conviction. But Shelly Finkel, his manager, said Holyfield was not disturbed.

"[Holyfield's] reaction was no one's above the law," Finkel said. "If they do something, they have to pay the price."

The game will go on without Tyson. He was the best player, even with skills diminished by cockiness. There's no heavyweight out there now he couldn't beat, no boxer who meant more to the box office. If the jury had reached another verdict, he would have been bigger. Every time he fought, he would have sold thousands of extra tickets to people rooting for someone to knock his block off.

Now they can knock each other's block off. Take away Tyson, and this crop of heavyweights is as bad as there's been since Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson were fumbling the title to each other 30 years ago.

But it's competitive and colorful. Holyfield wasn't crying over $30 million because he can probably make more than $20 million against 42-year-old Larry Holmes or 43-year-old George Foreman and about $20 million with undefeated Riddick Bowe. Those are the three candidates for a title defense in late May or early June that were discussed at meetings yesterday with TVKO pay-per-view officials here.

Finkel said he felt "sorry for Mike, but this wasn't a surprise."

"I think he was a lot better than he'll get recognition for," said Finkel, who was always friendly with Tyson. "I don't know how good he was. The question was how good could he have been."

Bill Cayton, whose managerial contract with Tyson expires tomorrow, blamed promoter Don King, the man who replaced Robin Givens and Ruth Roper -- former wife and mother-in-law -- as most influential in the fighter's life.

"It's a very sad story," Cayton said. "King destroyed Mike as a fighter and as a human being."

"I'm angry at King," said Harold Smith, who attempted to gain Tyson's ear after the indictments. "His only concern was getting the big dollars out of Mike. When Mike hurt his ribs in October [causing the cancellation of his Nov. 8 challenge of Holyfield], Don tried to make the fight in December even though Mike couldn't fight then."

King's power no doubt will be diminished, one of the more pleasant side effects of the jury's decision. But this was not a boxing trial. The real winners were rape victims everywhere.

"I think it's great," said one, who called excitedly as soon as she heard the news. "After Patricia Bowman [the Smith accuser] and Anita Hill, a woman was finally believed. Despite the fact she didn't make the right choice and went to his room, the jury saw that his behavior was criminal. At last."

And that's no tragedy.

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