WASHINGTON, D.C. -- My spies, who are everywhere, tell me that ?no one knows more about the history of boxing than Mike Tyson.? Is that really true?
Surely at our great universities, where students are offered courses in ?popular culture,? there is a popular culture professor who knows more about the history of boxing than the former heavyweight champion of the world whose career took it on the chin last weekend in the fourth round.
But then I think of a professor of popular culture whom I met some years ago from the Ivy League. The dope confused Johann Strauss with Richard Strauss and probably thought both were related to Levi Strauss. So maybe my spies are right. Tyson might be the world?s greatest database on the sport in which he earned $400 million, most of which has gone to hangers-on, the boxing promoter Don King and lawyers.
Surely there is a brain beneath the shaved head and behind the ugly facial tattoo of the dethroned and bankrupt champion. Moreover, there is some personality, and one perceives even flashes of charm. Nonetheless, what is mostly remembered of Tyson is a bad man with criminal convictions, barbaric behavior in and out of the ring, and now bankruptcy. Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis spent his retirement as a paid fixture in Las Vegas gambling joints to make ends meet. Yet Louis was known to be an amiable gent. Where would Tyson be considered amiable, the Sunni Triangle?
The bad ending of the Tyson saga did not have to be. The public might well have forgotten that in the late 1980s Tyson was one of sport?s great heroes. Rising up from the tough streets of Brooklyn, he had become one of the great heavyweights and a spokesman for the New York Police Department and for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In those days, he had a manager equal to his talents and to his defects, Cus D?Amato. D?Amato and his coterie, which included Jimmy Jacobs, a business-wise fellow who also had been national professional handball champion many times, brought out the good in Tyson, and from 1985 to 1988 he made what A.J. Liebling called the Sweet Science interesting again.
Then disaster befell Tyson. He entered into lawful wedded bliss with a low-grade actress possessed of a prima donna?s delusions. In a Barbara Walters interview, he was goaded into claiming to be ?manic depressive,? which he was not -- but which made good copy. And in came Don King, the convicted felon who had come to dominate professional boxing.