Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Tyson future in limbo after fight cancellation



By Tim Dahlberg
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - Mike Tyson's handlers have to figure out when - and if - the former heavyweight champion can fight again after he pulled out of a comeback bout with Clifford Etienne that could cost him millions.

After waiting days for Tyson to give them some sort of signal on his willingness to fight, Tyson's handlers finally pulled the plug on the scheduled Saturday fight 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 had left his trainer waiting for him at the gym for three straight days and had gotten a large tattoo on the left side of his face.

Even the official press release announcing the fight was off hedged on just why, saying Tyson "reportedly came down with a severe case of the flu."

There were no immediate plans to reschedule the bout.

The cancellation came even as local promoters in Memphis were waiting for Etienne to arrive Monday night and hopeful that Tyson would soon follow. They weren't alone in being kept in the dark about the fight, with Tyson's own trainer left out of the decision.

Trainer Freddie Roach said he talked briefly to Tyson on the phone Monday, who told him a doctor was at his house examining him. Roach has not seen Tyson since he began skipping workouts last Wednesday, the day after he got his new tattoo.

Promoters in Memphis said some 10,700 tickets had been sold, and the Showtime cable network was using the fight and a concert by rapper Jay-Z as part of a big promotional night.

Tyson's handlers issued a statement quoting the former champion as saying he has been bedridden for five days with the flu.

"I'm sorry to let down all of my fans in Memphis and around the world, but I am not at 100 percent and I do not want to perform at less than that," the statement quoted Tyson as saying.

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 has fought an average of only five rounds a year in the last 51/2 years - and eight of those came while he was taking a beating in his fight last June against heavyweight champion Lennox 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, though he conceded Showtime may lose interest in him because of the fight being canceled. Still, he said, there will always be a market for Tyson.

"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 was supposed to be both a comeback fight and a tuneup fight for a possible June 21 rematch with Lewis. But unless Tyson's fight with Etienne is quickly rescheduled, Lewis would likely look elsewhere for a June opponent.

"You can't analyze it on a rational basis," Arum said. "If he's displeased with what he was getting paid, he should have let someone know early on. First of all, you don't tattoo your face."

Jay Larkin, who heads boxing for the Showtime cable network, said on Sunday that it might be possible to reschedule a Tyson fight for late March.

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.

"Memphis loves Mike Tyson," he said before the fight was canceled. "We're expecting 14-15,000 people dying to see Mike Tyson on Saturday."




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