The ‘Freak Show’ Waiting to Happen
By Michael Klimes: Classic fights like the one that took place last Saturday between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have the power to captivate boxing fans and remind them what elite boxers can do together in the ring. The contest demonstrated the best qualities of the sport. Unfortunately, boxing like anything or anyone has a dark side and is like the two faced Roman god Janus.
Article posted on 19.03.2008
For the Romans, Janus was the god of doorways, gates, beginnings and endings. In a sense, boxing is Janus, opening the gateways of fortune for certain fighters and closing doors on others so that they fail. It allows the best boxers to reach the pinnacle of fame, athleticism and wealth yet it is also so addictive that if it is the fighters who start their careers; rarely are they the ones controlling the finish at the end. Floyd Mayweather Jr’s well known saying, ‘I am going to retire from the sport of boxing and not let the sport of boxing retire me’ contains a very large and tragic truth to it.
On occasions, boxing is extremely cruel; revelling in its twisted and self-destructive dark side which consumes any integrity the sport might appear to have. A possible manifestation of this mean streak is a potential third fight between the legendary Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson at some point in the near future. The rugged British heavyweight Danny Williams and the charismatic Irish pundit Barry McGuigan have already voiced their concerns and oppositions on British radio to such a fight ever materialising. I agree with them.
In an era where boxing is experiencing a strong resurgence, the last thing fans, journalists, fighters and most of all Tyson and Holyfield need is a third instalment of their controversial rivalry, that died more than ten years ago during the mid-nineties. Their previous bouts were among the most intriguing, anticipated and financially lucrative heavyweight attractions of their generation. Tyson versus Holyfield I and II transcended barriers and found mass appeal among the general public. It pitted opposing styles of fighting and personality against each another. Holyfield’s victory in the first encounter reinstated his position as a top heavyweight. Conversely, Tyson’s loss represented a massive dent in his still impressive aura.
The rematch delivered one of the ugliest moments in sports when Tyson got disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ear off. The act completely disgraced him and the image of boxing. Even now, when people who have no care or knowledge of boxing discuss Tyson, they immediately make the association between him and that ear biting fracas. They ask the question, ‘Wasn’t he the guy who bit the other guy’s ear off?!’ Any boxing fan, if asked this question, is then obliged to scratch their head embarrassingly and reply very shyly, ‘Yes it was.’
One theme that was very consistent through Tyson’s unpredictable career was how his persona and actions became increasingly indefensible. Eventually his career became so outrageously farcical that the only people who remained truly supportive of him were his most die hard fans. However, these people were cushioned from landing on the rocky reality of Tyson being a spent bullet by shielding themselves in the memories of Tyson’s glorious past. Such past had disintegrated by the early nineties.
It is safe to bet there are still large numbers of Tyson loyalists out there that believe he can win the heavyweight championship of the world. At least Tyson himself has admitted he no longer has the passion for punching people he once possessed. It was one of the fundamental reasons why he retired three years ago apart from his age and successful record in losing fights up to that point.
Unfortunately, Holyfield still has the confidence and passion to continue fighting until he becomes a shambling wreck of a man. No one can persuade Holyfield of such a dangerous future due to the strength of his conviction. Holyfield has become a threat to himself more than anyone else.
The prospect of Tyson and Holyfield fighting for a third time raises extremely important moral questions about boxing. Should the powers at be in the boxing world make this fight? Should they be allowed to make it? How should fans respond? Should Tyson and Holyfield be suspended from fighting for the rest of their lives?
Speaking for my part, I feel that Tyson and Holyfield meeting again will be catastrophic. Both of them are the damaged goods. It might prove more entertaining than any pundit could predict with Tyson unleashing his awesome power and Holyfield soaking up the punishment with his steel made chin. Nevertheless, the pace would quickly slow and everyone would be reminded they are watching two haggard men slug it out.
What saddens me is that the fight will probably happen and even though fans know it is immoral and disagree with it, they will still watch it for two interconnected reasons. The first being the current heavyweight division’s poor showing and the second being the fight cashes in on nostalgia; harking back to the talented era of the nineties where the heavyweights were dynamic and interesting.
There is no reason why Tyson and Holyfield could not continue to be dynamic in retirement. Donald McRae, in his excellent box, ‘Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing’ remarked that Tyson was not only a formidable boxer but also a considerable archivist and extremely erudite about past fighters. Perhaps Tyson might become a boxing commentator or writer. Furthermore, Holyfield could do the same or utilise his vast knowledge to become a trainer, promoter or referee. Tyson and Holyfield still have a lot to give boxing but just not in the ring.
It would be wonderful if Oscar de la Hoya, Bob Arum, HBO and Showtime; the real makers and shakers in boxing used their combined influence to save Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. I would implore them to do so. It is always very difficult to interfere in other people’s lives and decisions but sometimes taking an isolationist stance is not an option. In certain cases, help needs to be swift, active and I daresay it even forced.
I do not mean to sound moralistic but moral stances need to be taken in life sometimes. All Tyson versus Holyfield III would do is follow the current Hollywood trend in rediscovering old franchises to generate millions of dollars. Rocky Balboa, Rambo, Batman and Indiana Jones are all skeletons that have been brought out of the closet and dusted off in recent years. However, the difference between Hollywood and boxing is one of attractive fantasy set against brutal reality. Rocky, Rambo, Batman and Indiana Jones always win and come out with their health intact. Boxers are far less lucky. That is why Tyson and Holyfield should not fight for a third time. If the fight does happen, I for one will not watch it out of principle, will you?
All comments are welcome.
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