Mike Tyson says he just snapped. Now there is an interesting idea.
It is sometimes hard to tell when a confirmed sociopath goes over the edge because the boundaries are so blurry. Much of what Tyson considers normal behavior is regarded as reprehensible by society at large. Actions he now ascribes to "the heat of battle" would be unthinkable under any circumstances for most men.
To believe Tyson only temporarily insane Saturday night, when he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear, one must first be convinced that cannibalism is really out of his character. Where Iron Mike is concerned, you are reluctant to rule anything out.
Tyson claims to have "lost it" during the third round of the WBA Heavyweight Championship, but his actions appeared to be premeditated. He left his corner without a mouthpiece before he commenced chewing on Holyfield, and his behavior was not so bizarre that it could not be predicted.
"He's going to get himself disqualified," said Teddy Atlas, Tyson's former trainer, before the bout. "He'll bite Holyfield. He'll butt him. He'll hit him low. He'll do something if he doesn't get him early with a lucky shot . . .I know this guy. He's got this all set up in his mind - the way out. That's the only way he can face it. That's what this is all about."
Tyson is a classic bully, and in Holyfield he found one opponent he could neither intimidate nor bludgeon. Atlas believes the bite was a deliberate attempt to escape an inevitable beating. Surely his theory is no more outlandish than "I just snapped."
Miami University professor Elliott Gorn, a student of bare-knuckles boxing, has compared Tyson's technique with the "rough-and-tumble" bouts of the 18th century, in which fighters supposedly filed their teeth for maximum penetration.
"He's a student of the history of the ring," Gorn said of Tyson. "He knows about the old eye-gouging fights. I have to wonder if he didn't really know what he was doing."
Regardless of Tyson's intent, the Nevada State Athletic Commission is obliged to deal sternly with his infraction. State law permits the commission to seize only 10 percent of Tyson's $30 million purse, but it is empowered to suspend him for as long as life. Given the unfavorable fallout from the fight - and the potential for class-action suits involving nearly two million pay-per-view customers - the quality of the commission's mercy may well be strained.
That's why Tyson made his prepared apology Monday, in the hope public contrition might serve to shorten his sentence. How well it worked will not be known until next week, when the Nevada Commission holds its disciplinary hearing and assesses Tyson's sincerity. He has been suspended pending that meeting, and his purse has been frozen.
"It would be hard for me to say suspend him for life," said Russ Schneider, former chairman of the Ohio Boxing Commission. "Though that's the easy thing to do. They really have to suspend him for a significant period of time, fine him the maximum amount they can fine him, and then have a parole officer watch over him."
Check Holyfield's past
Since Tyson is already involved with one parole officer - the residue of his rape conviction - other remedies might be recommended. The most encouraging part of Tyson's statement Tuesday was an admission that he was seeking help from medical professionals, presumably psychiatrists, "to tell me why I did what I did."
For this, there are no easy answers. Reflex says Mike Tyson acts like an animal because he is one. Yet the decidedly human Holyfield has also bared his teeth under duress.
In a 1980 Golden Gloves bout with one Jakey Winters, Holyfield was knocked down for the first time in his career. Later, during a clinch, he spit out his mouthpiece and sank his teeth into Winters' shoulder. The desperate bite drew blood, and a one-point penalty. Holyfield lost the fight on a decision.
Perhaps Holyfield just snapped for a second there, but boxers never were a genteel bunch. The best of them are brutes.
TYSON SUSPENDED TODAY'S STORY
on 'THE WIRE'
BORGMAN CARTOON July 1, 1997
TYSON BITES OFF MORE THAN HE CAN CHEW Paul Daugherty column, June 30, 1997
'BITE' OF THE CENTURY June 29, 1997