Tim Graham

Message Board
Friday, May 30
Updated: June 20, 11:13 AM ET
Tyson outburst means more big bucks

By Tim Graham
Special to ESPN.com

Now let's get this straight: Mike Tyson still insists he didn't commit that rape 12 years ago. Yet if given the chance today, he would like to commit two.

There's an Ernie Banks reference in there somewhere, but never mind that.

Somebody has awakened "The Baddest Man on the Planet" ... and he's cranky. Tyson had been quiet for a few months. He hadn't made us scratch our heads since he got that gnarly face tattoo before his 49-second obliteration of Clifford Etienne in February.

But Tyson was back in the headlines with maniacal bluster on Thursday.
Mike Tyson
Iron Mike knows his words translate to big pay-per-view bucks.

Fox News legal expert Greta Van Susteren bravely sat down with mercurial Mike for a story that aired on "The Pulse" regarding his 1991 conviction for raping beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington in Indianapolis. The piece suggested Tyson got a raw deal during the trial -- even though the former undisputed heavyweight champ did himself no favors during the interview.

"No, I didn't rape that slimy b----," Tyson said.

Van Susteren asked Tyson why Washington would railroad him.

"Just a lying, reptilian, monstrous, young lady," Tyson said, shaking his head in dismay. "I just hate her guts. She put me in that state where, I don't know, I really wish I did now. Now I really do want to rape her and her (expletive) mama."

It was a typical Tyson outburst, the sort that -- if Tyson's handlers were smart -- should be followed up with an announcement of his next fight. Why waste all this publicity? I wouldn't be surprised if Tyson's people agreed to the Fox News interview to help sell tickets down the road.

And I'll be damned if it wouldn't work.

It always does.

Whether it's orchestrated or not, whenever Tyson opens his mouth, people get rich.

Tyson stole the headlines on a day when heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis held his training camp media day for his June 21 title defense against Kirk Johnson. Tyson doesn't even have a fight scheduled, but there was his snarling mug in the middle of ESPN.com's boxing page, while Lewis is relegated to the right margin. Even in the United Kingdom, where Lewis calls home, Tyson was the pug du jour.

Lewis must be wondering what he has to do to receive the attention he deserves. He's one of the top few heavyweights of all time and a gentleman besides. He totally deconstructed Iron Mike a year ago, scoring a decisive eighth-round knockout.

"Tyson could spit on the sidewalk and get more press than Lewis will get for fighting Kirk Johnson in Los Angeles on June 21," boxing columnist Timothy Smith wrote in Friday's edition of the New York Daily News. "That's sad and it's wrong."

Nevertheless, Tyson remains the most fascinating figure of his sport.

You don't have to agree with him. You'd probably need shock therapy if you did. But there's no dispute this guy is mesmerizing.

"Anybody else having fun like that is just young boys having fun," Tyson reasoned with Van Susteren. "But with me I'm a big, black rapist. Big, strong, black, young kid wants some (expletive) and she says no because he's an ape. So he hits her with his club, drags her by her hair and rapes her and do as he wants. That's the stigma I'm left with. All that I've been in life -- I've been a lot of things -- but I will be left with the stigma of being a (expletive) rapist.''

Some might argue Tyson remains a captivating figure partly because of his rape conviction. Then there's the road-rage incident in Maryland, where he served time for kicking an old man in the groin and assaulting another. There's the time he gnawed off a hunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. There's the marriage to Robin Givens, etc., etc.

"Any case you can get your dignity back, but for rape? No dignity, buddy," Tyson said.

"Just think, man. This is always going to be hovering over my head, something I did not do. Anything I did, right? I hit that guy in (expletive) Maryland. Let me keep my felony for that because I'm wrong. I hit those people. But I didn't rape this woman."

Of all the infamous quotes Tyson has uttered -- and there have been some doozies -- proclaiming his desire to rape a woman and her mother might be the worst thing he has ever said.
Pound for pound list
Tim Graham's top 15:

1. Roy Jones Jr.
2. Marco Antonio Barrera
3. Bernard Hopkins
4. Oscar De La Hoya
5. Kostya Tszyu
6. Lennox Lewis
7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
8. Erik Morales
9. Ricardo Mayorga
10. James Toney
11. Vernon Forrest
12. Fernando Vargas
13. Shane Mosley
14. Joe Calzaghe
15. Winky Wright

He even blamed the conviction for ruining the rest of his life, for making him such a volatile person, for instilling him with hate. It was one more instance of Tyson allowing his rage to eclipse his sensitivity.

"It just sucks," he said. "I have this stuff hovering over my head. As long as you have that stuff, if you are a decent person, it will never come to the surface.

"Now -- I know you may not want to hear this when we talk about this case -- I'm (expletive) up. I got issues because of dealing with this for 3½ years (in prison). I got some issues, and I'm pretty violent."

So many sports figures have had their careers derailed or even truncated for spouting words half as controversial.

David Wells paid a $100,000 fine and was nearly traded by the New York Yankees for what he wrote in his tell-all autobiography. John Rocker's career has swirled around the toilet after making racial and homophobic slurs. Fuzzy Zoeller will forever be remembered as the buffoon who made racial jokes about Tiger Woods.

There's a long list of mental midgets who have paid the price for saying something derogatory.

Tyson is allowed to go unpunished because he flourishes in the untamed sport of boxing. He's not held accountable to anyone. No teammates. No head coach. No general manager. No owner. No league commissioner. No sponsors.

Tyson only answers to the general public, the same group of folks whose standards made Jerry Springer and Vince McMahon wealthy.

Tyson continues to make money head into fist, snatching a $5 million purse by mugging Etienne. He made about $20 million against Lewis.

Tyson recently passed up a reported $8 million to treat Oleg Maskaev like a gulag time clock on the undercard of the Lewis-Johnson fight. But Tyson wouldn't go along with the idea, and the event went from being a pay-per-view bonanza to a mildly interesting HBO show.

It's hard to argue why Tyson should agree to be the warmup act when so many fans would have been tuning in to see him decapitate someone -- either with his fists or perhaps a Samurai sword.

He will turn 37 on June 30, but he still has a few major paydays dotting his horizon.

He will eventually get a rematch with Lewis, and there's always a possibility Tyson and Holyfield could meet a third time. One prominent promoter recently predicted Tyson could earn as much as $40 million to fight WBA champ Roy Jones Jr.

And nothing Tyson said in that controversial interview with Van Susteren hurt his moneymaking capabilities one bit.

His words only further galvanized his roguish allure.

"They want me to be an animal," Tyson said before his fight with Andrew Golota nearly three years ago. "That's why I set pay-per-view records. There are nine million people who see me in the ring and hate my guts, most of them white. That's OK. Just spell my name right.

"I want your grandkids and great-grandkids to remember me and say, 'Wow, what a bizarre individual.' "

Don't worry. They will.

Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and The Ring Magazine.

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