November 21, 2013 by gregrabidoux2013
The former “Baddest Man on the Planet” Mike Tyson, apparently “returned” the ear he once nearly chewed off of rival boxer Evander Holyfield to him. This touching moment was made possible by the good folks at The Foot-Locker, you know the ones who wear referee uniforms and sell sport shoes by the gym-full at about $100.00 a pop. They had Iron Mike return Evander’s ear in an upcoming ad campaign which also features those lovable ex-jocks Dennis Rodman and Brett “the mad texter” Favre.
This all got me thinking about the nature of our sports heroes, the finely-crafted sports-agent approved image many hide behind and why we still crave those unscripted “raw” moments in sports.
First, when it came to us mere mortal fans knowing the true nature of Mike Tyson he was the exception. We knew exactly what we saw inside the ring was real. Real, raw and downright scary. The man was a beast. An indomitable force of nature. Hardscrabble beginnings, the boxing ring and hitting another man with brute force, even getting hit back was what Mike understood and fully embraced. The other guy may have blinked and backed down but not Mike. A career of 58 fights saw him win 50 and several of those 8 losses came when he, like many boxers, even the great Ali, were well past their prime and fought to desperately reclaim fame, glory and money. Mostly money.
But in his prime his many boxing victims would come to describe the first 30-90 seconds in the ring with Tyson as “sheer hell.” Probably the most brutal yet fully legal sporting moments one combatant could unleash on another competitor. And not be arrested and sent to jail for assault. Mike would wind up in jail but that was for a rape conviction of Desiree Washington, an 18 year-old Miss Black Rhode Island pageant winner who maybe mistook Mike for someone who could turn his fury and aggression on and off depending when he was in or out of the ring. Turns out he couldn’t.
But when Mike was in the ring we couldn’t turn away. Especially on that fateful night of November 9th, 1996 in Las Vegas when he fought Evander Holyfield and in the 11th round did the unthinkable. Upset with what he and his camp saw as repeated head-butts by Evander, Mike lost it, the rage, the barely controlled, legalized fury went bright white for a moment. He bit, chewed was more accurately, Evander Holyfield’s ear nearly clear off. We recoiled in horror. But still we couldn’t take our eyes of the spectacle. Mike would actually go on to bite (though with less canine action) Evander’s other ear and lose that fight. But after the first bite the rest of the fight is a bit of a blur.
Over the year’s Mike’s fury and fists were rewarded with a King’s Ransom and a heavyweight belt laden with gold. At 20 years old (20!) Iron Mike was the youngest ever to be crowned the undisputed heavyweight champion of the WBC, IBF and WBA.
For a tough as steel kid that was Iron Mike who grew up with nothing, he turned his fists into twin money making machines. Tyson racked up over $300 million in prizefight purses along with his 50 career wins. In his rematch with Evander (now there’s a truly brave guy, that Evander) Mike earned $30 million, Holyfield pocketed $35 million (okay, very financially savvy and brave).
Mike has gone on to be married 3 times to 3 separate women and have 8 kids with various partners. Today, at age 47, when he shot this ad for Footlocker and hugged his former rival and “biting victim” Evander Holyfield, Mike’s net worth is estimated to be at less than $1 million. So, while not back on the streets penniless, the days of buying vintage, burgundy and white Bentley cars that could seat 8 comfortably are, at least for now, long over.
But man, the once baddest dude who never would or could hide behind slick sports agents with their finely worded apologies and lawyer-speak, was the guy who, for many of us lily-livered fans, represented about as close as we will ever (thankfully) come to the mean streets. We might have gotten a shot of vicarious testosterone as we saw Mike do his thing on pay-per-view, but then Mike and the rest of us returned to two very separate worlds.
Why do we still watch and for that matter shell out big bucks to see sports where two guys or two gals knock the stuffing out of each other? Maybe it’s boxing or mixed martial arts in a ring. Maybe it takes place in a cage. But let’s face it, the draw, the attraction remains the same over time and space. it’s the same rush that Romans felt when they yelled themselves hoarse at gladiator matches. Far more educated folks can explain it better than I but it comes from a real primitive place, this I know for sure.
So, on a day when Mike made nice with Evander in a spoof of an ad to help sell more heavy-priced sports shoes I just couldn’t help thinking about the way things used to be. How they may never again be the same. And how, while I’m not real proud of it, I do miss the raw and unscripted Iron Mike. I get why he’s making spoof ads and showing up in Hangover movies. Who can blame him for these easy pay-days?
Still, as someone who saw him do his thing in the ring live it’s hard to explain to many younger fans of today that the guy parodying himself for film and television commercials was once the real deal. And heaven help us all for having watched.
While, Mike is no sports or for that matter real-life role-model I’ll hold up for my own son I still think he should know about him. And that all athletes don’t speak through sports agents or tweet OMG or LOL in their spare time. And that when he’s old enough he can make up his own mind to watch or not.