Originally created 05/16/02

What if Tyson, Lewis just box?



It's a little late for outrage.

So after you've overlooked the psychotic episodes, the racial and sexual slurs, the bites, threats, boasts and hype, considered the pros and cons, calculated the economic impact, misplaced your scruples, soothed your conscience, swallowed hard and forked over $54.95 for the pay-per-view, think about this:

What if Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis just box?

What if all the bluster and bravado, intimidation and insanity get left behind in the dressing room? What then? What if a fight actually breaks out?

The guess here is Lewis in six.

"We'll see," Lewis said Tuesday.

One thing people in the boxing racket say more often than, "Not guilty, your honor," is that great matchups make great fights. Another is that a good big man always beats a good little man, even if both of them are past their prime.

Beyond that, these two couldn't be much more different.

Nor like each other any less.

In large part, that's because Tyson hates everybody and Lewis, bless his heart, has had it up to here with being ridiculed, especially in America, for dressing nice, speaking in full sentences and promising to clean up the sport.

Tyson is a felon, 5-foot-11 and a sociopath. He will enter the ring to some grim hip-hop anthem, wearing plain black trunks and shoes without socks. Instead of a satin robe, he'll don a T-shirt.

Tyson used to be in such a hurry to get to the mayhem that he wore a white towel with a hole cut out of the middle for his head. But this much hasn't changed: As soon as the bell rings, he will be looking to make good on his promise that, "On June 8, flesh will not be enough. I will take Lennox's title, his soul and smear his pompous brains all over the ring when I hit him."

Lewis is 6-5 and a cautious soul by nature. He was memorably described once as someone who looks like he ought to do his fighting in a tuxedo. He is training at a honeymoon resort in the Poconos and was asked to respond to Tyson's latest profanity-riddled, homicidal rant.

"I'm going to insist he has a big lunch and a big dinner before he steps in there," Lewis said. "And I'm going to have my hair pinned up so he can't pull it."

He also called Tyson "the last misfit in boxing," apparently forgetting for the moment about the dozens of promoters, trainers, hangers-on and even judges still populating the profession.

"If he's choosing to come in and bite and scratch and kick ... I'm going to be a better man and not do those things back," Lewis said.

But his trainer, Emmanuel Steward, isn't so sure.

"Frankly, I'm worried about Lennox being disqualified," he said a few days ago. "He wants to really hurt this guy."

Steward sees the fight pretty much the way the smart money in Las Vegas does, where Lewis is a slightly better than a 2-1 favorite. He thinks four rounds will be enough.

"The problem is that people think about Tyson and they see the old Tyson, they don't want to let that image go," Steward said. "This is not the same guy."

Some people are wagering that it is. Bookies back in merry old England set odds at 4-1 that Tyson gets himself disqualified, a real possibility ever since he lost the bite fight to Evander Holyfield.

In several bouts since, Tyson tried to break Frans Botha's arm; hit whoopee cushion Orlin Norris so late after the bell that it was declared a no-contest; and punched out a referee while chasing tomato can Lou Savarese.

Still, Lewis is grateful Tyson hung around this long. And not just because he needs the money.

Every generation watches its heavyweights grow old wondering whether they are any good, and beating Tyson might be Lewis' last chance to convince this one.

Forget the belts he will carry into the ring in Memphis, Tenn. So far, the defining fights of his career were two uneven fights with Hasim Rahman, two uninspired efforts against an aging Holyfield - one of them ending in a mysterious draw - and a loss to Oliver McCall that was more mysterious still.

"I would have like to have fought Tyson so much earlier in my career, but when we were teen-agers we sparred a lot of rounds and I always thought this fight was inevitable," Lewis said a week ago.

"Now I think it is if Tyson wants to get something out of the last stages of his career. I think he is a desperate man and though that can make him dangerous, it also makes him very vulnerable."

At 36, Lewis is a year older than Tyson, craving the credibility and the audience that Tyson's car-wreck-every-minute personality will draw.

May the most desperate man win.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org