So now Mike Tyson has suffered two highly visible international defeats in the course of his turbulent career in and out of the squared circle.
The first, inside the Tokyo Dome on February 11, 1990, happened courtesy of a superb four-punch combination thrown by James “Buster” Douglas during the 10th round that put paid to his undisputed reign as the heavyweight champion of the world.
Conventional wisdom has it that Douglas was little more than a lucky tomato can who happened to catch his opponent on a very bad day. But that’s to shortchange the challenger’s readiness: James Douglas won because he was ready to win, because he wasn’t afraid.
After all, even on the worst of days, Tyson still ranked as the baddest man on the planet – his previous fight saw him dispatch an opponent in just 93 seconds – with a winning streak in heavyweight boxing that ranked second to none.
The other week it was the turn of New Zealand’s Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson to score another kind of knockout, denying Tyson permission for what would have been a 20-hour visit later this month to perform his one-man show at Auckland’s Vector Arena.
Conventional wisdom has it that the government’s decision was made solely on legal grounds. But that’s to shortchange the role of the news media in creating and sustaining the faux controversy over the proposed visit, even while another media personality, RadioLIve’s Willie Jackson, fought in his corner to have Tyson visit at-risk Maori kids.
Of course, Tyson’s life in America was studded with lots of other defeats, too. His father lit out when he was two.
He grew up rough on the streets of New York. He struggled with chronic asthma and even more with bad company. He went to juvenile hall.
It was only thanks to an enterprising businessman, Cus D’Amato, who saw something in this oddball tough, that he ever got out, educating himself by watching endless reels of old boxing fights and marshalling his skills to become one of the world’s great fighters – and earners.
Most notably in light of the New Zealand situation, of course, there was the rape conviction handed down in the early 1990s, after a woman he was dating, Desiree Washington, went back to a hotel room with him at 2am for a romantic interlude but later claimed that the sex had not been consensual. He did three years for that.
Not surprisingly, Tyson battled clinical depression – something he refers to, a little tearfully, in the terrific documentary released here a couple of years ago – and which probably helps explain some of his more, shall we say, colourful antics in the ring over the years.
Almost anyone who has seriously followed his in-depth media appearances over the years knows that he not only has a hell of a story but is able to share it with insight, self-awareness, even literary erudition.
A captivating interview he did in 1995 with New York writer Pete Hamill, for example, was as much a primer on Greek philosophy, the ways of Islam and helping troubled youth as a rap about the sweet science.
Not as popular
But boxing isn’t half as popular as it used to be, especially among middle-class types. In the lead-up to this month’s scheduled visit, those covering the Tyson story generally made do with a few old clippings, and some clumsy web searches having to with the historic rape allegation, to sustain a sense of reportorial outrage over a subject they otherwise don’t understand.
Why else would Paul Holmes, a talented columnist and not uncompassionate man, gas on about Tyson’s “barely comprehensible manner of speaking” and a moral status “so low he could parachute out of a snake’s backside?”
Elsewhere in the same stable, Matthew Backhouse of the New Zealand Herald brought word that “questions are again being raised about whether Tyson should be allowed into the country” after Stop Demand, a group working to stop sexual violence, “urged Mr Jackson to withdraw his support.”
Never mind the fact that Stop Demand probably has about as many active members as Tyson’s one-man stage show, or that Mr Holmes these days seems to be working out of a very well-lit glass house amply stocked with stones.
Meanwhile over at Fairfax Media, the country’s most predictable draftsman, Trace Hodgson, produced an editorial page cartoon that wouldn’t have been out of place in the pages of something published in the old American South: a lurid caricature of a drooling black savage getting egged by a dubious Maori broadcaster to come on in and deflower the blameless folk in New Zealand.
The irony of media outlets freely importing their own narratives in the service of banning a real-life narrative seemed lost on all concerned.
Except, I guess, for the Maori youth and anyone else who might have paid to enjoy a great night out. That’s not just a knockout. That’s sad.
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