Originally created 02/19/03

Tyson: Fight with Etienne is back on



LAS VEGAS -- Mike Tyson suddenly changed his mind Tuesday, saying his bout with Clifford Etienne is back on.

The unpredictable former heavyweight champion chartered a private jet to Memphis, Tenn., and planned to fight Etienne as scheduled Saturday, manager Shelly Finkel said.

"He woke up today and called and said, 'I want to do it,"' Finkel said. "He's leaving today."

The decision came less than 24 hours after Tyson's camp called off the fight.

The about-face was the latest in a series of twists bizarre even by Tyson's standards.

It got even stranger when Etienne said later he was so disgusted that he would not fight. Cooler heads prevailed, though, probably because Etienne will earn close to $1 million for the fight, his biggest payday ever.

"Everything is going to be fine," Etienne's promoter, Les Bonano, said. "The fight is on."

Tyson's representative said they were prepared to replace Etienne if he balked.

"He's going to fight, and if he doesn't, we'll replace him," Finkel said.

Tyson's handlers waited days for him to give them some sort of signal on his willingness to fight. They decided to cancel the bout after the boxer missed a flight to Memphis for the second day in a row Monday.

The official word was that Tyson was too sick to fight. But even before he became ill Friday, Tyson left trainer Freddie Roach waiting for him at the gym for three straight days while still having time to get a large tattoo on the left side of his face.

Even Monday's news release announcing that the fight was off had hedged on why, saying Tyson "reportedly came down with a severe case of the flu."

Tyson's change of heart not only stunned fight promoters, but it came as a real shock to Roach. Tyson called the trainer Tuesday morning to say he was going to fight.

"I told him, 'Mike, as your friend, I don't think you're ready for the fight,"' Roach said. "He said, 'I'm going to knock him out. Are you going to be with me?"'

Roach said he told Tyson he would be there if the fighter was going to Memphis to win. Tyson hasn't trained in a week.

"We'll get a couple days in, the best we can, to get him back" in fight shape, Roach said.

Etienne hadn't been expected to present much of a problem for a fit Tyson. The former champ was a 7-1 favorite against a fighter hand-picked by promoters for his willingness to stand in front of Tyson and trade punches.

Yet Tyson reportedly was unhappy over his purse for the fight, which at about $5 million was large by most standards but small compared to the $20 million or so he made in his June loss to Lennox Lewis.

The Showtime cable network had a big investment in the fight, which combined with a rap concert by Jay-Z was to be a feature evening of programming for the network and a chance to attract new subscribers.

After the fight was called off, Showtime executives decided to move an undercard headed by Olympian Jeff Lacy to Bally's hotel-casino in Atlantic City and televise it along with some interviews with Tyson and Etienne in place of the main event.

"We actually pulled off an amazing logistical task in 24 hours," Showtime boxing chief Jay Larkin said. "I assure you this is not a publicity stunt. We went to astounding gymnastics to pull this off."

Once the most fearsome heavyweight around, Tyson has shown little inclination to fight in recent years and has lost three of his last nine fights, two by knockout.

Tyson fought an average of only five rounds a year in the last 5 1/2 years - and eight of those came while he was taking a beating in his fight against Lewis.

"Everybody should just throw up their hands and let this guy live whatever life he has. Forget about putting him in the ring," rival promoter Bob Arum said. "It's almost cruel now."

But Finkel said Tyson remains a big attraction.

"In the crazy world of Mike Tyson, one thing you have to know is Mike Tyson will always be in demand," Finkel said. "He's still a star - he's the star. He won't be hurting for places to fight."

The bout with Etienne has been planned both as a comeback fight and a tuneup fight for a possible rematch with Lewis.

Brian Young, one of the local promoters, said 10,700 tickets had been sold for the fight, but that ticket sales dried up over the weekend as speculation mounted that Tyson would not fight.

Young estimated he would lose about $1.4 million if the fight didn't come off.