Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: No tears here for Iron Mike

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Mike Tyson had applied for a second visa - but that too has been denied by the Immigration Minister. Photo / Supplied
Mike Tyson had applied for a second visa - but that too has been denied by the Immigration Minister. Photo / Supplied

Here is a small list of things that I care about more than Mike Tyson coming to New Zealand to tell us about his new life:

* Crocheting

* Tarantulas

* Ironing

* Nose hairs

Yes, folks, I couldn't give a big, fat, hairy rat's heinie that "Iron Mike", the former self-professed "baddest man on the planet" got the big left hook from associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson re a visa.

The egalitarian part of me recognises that Tyson served his time, paid his debts to society and should be allowed to raise money for charity. The nasty, suspicious journalist side tends towards the feeling that he is an unrepentant convicted rapist here to earn himself some money and who has nothing to say that I want to hear.

Unrepentant? In a TVNZ interview recently, he was asked about his conviction for raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington in 1992 - for which he was sentenced to six years and served three.

"I didn't do the crime, I was set up, I don't care what people say. I didn't do that f***king crime," he said. Reviews of his Broadway show have also professed that Tyson paints the 18-year-old as a villain, makes her one of his "targets of contempt", questions her credibility and tells the audience he owes her no apology.

Tyson has always maintained that he was set up after consensual sex. Doesn't matter. It's a bit daft to insist on your rape innocence 20 years later, when he is simultaneously trying to convince people like me that he is a changed character - a vegan, a Muslim, a family man. Even if he is innocent, his protests deepen the feeling that nothing has changed. It's even dafter to snap out a response containing the "f" word. Tends to make people think the Tyson temper is intact and that he thinks stability is a facility where horses are kept.

Let's be clear about the charity thing. The $60,000 targeted for charity is usually what is left after speakers take a fee and pay for overheads - like his PR machine which is crooning little tunes to us from across the Tasman that Tyson is a changed man.

He earned US$300 million in his boxing career but filed for bankruptcy in 2003. That is not a totally unknown occurrence in boxing but Tyson was one of the biggest earners of all time. Now he is having to earn a living and said two years ago that he was broke and living from paycheck to paycheck.

So that's why he wanted to come here. Now that his visa has been revoked, he and his handlers are looking to play the charity card again and enter the country. Former MP and radio host Willie Jackson, of the Urban Maori Authority, stepped in, saying he wants Tyson to address disadvantaged South Auckland youth, visiting a marae and speaking to kids.

But you wonder what those kids would have seen. Would it have been the reformed man, the family man, the one who has allegedly turned his life around or will they still see the bad-ass dude who used to say things like: "I want to rip out his heart and feed it to Lennox Lewis. I want to kill people. I want to rip their stomachs out and eat their children"; and "I try to catch them right on the tip of his nose, because I try to punch the bone into the brain"; and "I could feel his muscle tissues collapse under my force. It's ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm."

Kids from that part of New Zealand are already subject to so much influence from the US. Some still wear their baseball caps backwards, the baggy pants pulled down low past the hips as if they've had a faecal mishap, the slouching, swaggering walk that some call the 'pimp roll' - all faux 'gangsta' cool copied from the US.

Still, what do I know? I'm a middle-aged honky with fewer life-altering issues than kids in South Auckland or than Tyson had when he was growing up on the bad streets. Only it wasn't always that way. We lived in Otara. My mum was a single parent, bringing up three of us. We were poor as dirt. I went to Otara Intermediate (though, to be honest, it was a good school and more based in Papatoetoe than Otara and when we played rugby against the kids from the 'real' Otara intermediate school, they all seemed about 25 and beat us by cricket scores). I don't remember wanting to join a gang, nor wanting to hit someone's Nasal bone into their brain nor having rape urges.

The problem with hailing a bad-ass dude's ascent into a better life is that the bad-ass bit is the frame of reference. Mike Tyson being a vegan isn't half as interesting as Meat-Eating Mike biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. I mean, that's why everyone would want to go and see Tyson, right? It isn't to see him roll out his prayer mat and aim towards Mecca.

Tyson also represents much that is the worst of boxing. It's a badly flawed sport with many flawed characters but still has a gladiatorial aspect. There is still, among all the mess and bullshit, some nobility, skill and technique there; it spawned Muhammad Ali - the greatest sportsman ever to grace the planet and who actually changed the planet, not just sport.

"I ain't the same person I was when I bit that guy's ear off," Tyson said recently. Just as well. His former trainer, Teddy Atlas, won kudos for correctly predicting that a fading Tyson would be disqualified against Holyfield, saying that Tyson planned it and essentially that he had an image to protect as the baddest man on the planet - which he did by chewing down on Holyfield's ear. That's the same Atlas who once held a gun to the head of a teenaged Tyson, saying he would kill him if he ever again touched a member of Atlas's family - an episode sparked by Tyson's alleged attempt to force himself on Atlas's 11-year-old niece (which Tyson denies).

Atlas, asked whether he thought Tyson could have been the greatest if mentor Cus D'Amato hadn't died, said in an interview last year: "How could someone be so stupid to say he could be the greatest? He had no character. He didn't have the ability to overcome controversy like Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. They overcame personal issues ... Tyson didn't have that ability."

When you add it all up, I simply had no interest in hearing Tyson talk about his life. Even if he had turned it around, the scent of convenience was too strong.

Those who inspire do so by actions, not by putting on a Broadway show.

Debate on this article is now closed.</strong>

- Herald on Sunday

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