Mike Tyson was put in pugilistic purgatory Wednesday, renewable or reversible on a year-by-year basis and as open-ended as Evander Holyfield’s right ear.
Closure? Not even close.
In a measured, legalistic response to an incendiary incident, the five-man Nevada State Athletic Commission unanimously voted to revoke Tyson’s boxing license, and fined him the maximum it could - $3 million, or 10 percent of his $30 million purse for the June 28 heavyweight title bout against Holyfield.
Tyson was disqualified after the third round, during which he bit Holyfield’s ears.
At its heart, the commission’s action will shut down Tyson’s hugely profitable career for a minimum of one year - until at least July 1998, the earliest he will be allowed to force the commission to reconsider his right to fight.
Beyond that time frame, the commissioners only gave hints and shrugs, claiming that they took the most severe course possible to signal they would not tolerate such acts, and pointing to the Nevada law that allows them to deny Tyson year to year, as many times as they wish.
Attorneys for the commission said the possibility of suspending Tyson (which would only freeze his license, not take it away) for longer than a year was considered but dropped when potential legal challenges were raised. Also, a suspended fighter in Nevada can be fined a maximum of only $250,000.
“We handed a very severe penalty, a very large fine - in fact I can’t think of any fine that large by anybody but the Securities and Exchange Commission,” commissioner Lorenzo Fertitta said after the hearing.
“His license has been revoked indefinitely. From a legal standpoint, he can come back and apply for a license (in) one year - but it could be a three-year or five-year revocation, it certainly could.”
Said Joe Rolston, the deputy attorney general who drew up the complaint against Tyson: “He’ll be able to reapply, and they’ll be able to deny him year after year until the end of time if the commission so desires. We felt real satisfied with that.”
Tyson, who was reportedly in New York, did not attend the disciplinary hearing to avoid questions from the media assembled and because the commission’s actions were predictable given the controversy over his biting a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear, said Oscar Goodman, Tyson’s lead attorney.
Goodman said he retained the right to take this matter to federal court, but said that he doubted Tyson - who publicly apologized for the incident last week - would want to pursue that path.
Tyson, 31, almost certainly will not try to arrange a fight in another country to skirt the ban, Goodman said, and even before the hearing generally accepted that he would be out of boxing for a year. Other states are expected to honor the commission’s action.
Given his recent one-fight-every-nine-months schedule, if Tyson misses only a year, Goodman pointed out that he would probably miss only one fight that he might otherwise have undertaken.
“I knew what was going to happen today - it had to happen,” Goodman said after the hearing. “They had to do something to appease the world, the lynch-mob atmosphere, the blood-thirstiness on the part of the public.
“When everything’s cooled down and the world is thinking about other things and other sports and other problems, I’ll be able to go back there. If I have the same commission, I feel very very confident that you’ll see Mike Tyson fighting in a year.”
Holyfield is in South Africa, visiting President Nelson Mandela, and was represented at the hearing in City Council chambers by his attorney, Jim Thomas.
But the deeply religious Holyfield has said he forgives Tyson and only wanted a penalty that would prevent other fighters from believing they could get away with flagrant fouls.
“I’m very satisfied with the commission’s decision,” Thomas said, “because it’s clear the commissioners took their work very seriously, weighed the circumstances very carefully and came up with the appropriate decision in light of the legal constraints they were under.
“Evander never wanted anything personally in this. But it was and is important to Evander that his sport be respected, and that no one individual ever be considered more important than the sport.”
If there was any chance of avoiding a revocation, several commissioners implied - though commission chairman Elias Ghanem stressed it would not be a mitigating factor - it was lost when Tyson did not show up.
“If Mike Tyson applies for a license again in Nevada, I think he should appear himself,” Ghanem said after the hearing.
“I wanted to ask what you normally ask somebody,” commissioner Luther Mack said of Tyson. “Walk me through what happened. What took place with the mouthpiece, explain to me what happened, why did you take it out the first time? What really happened the second time?
“I really wanted an honest answer to that. That would have helped me quite a bit.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Tyson case Developments on Wednesday in the Mike Tyson case: The verdict The Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked Tyson’s license and fined him the maximum $3 million, plus administrative fees, for biting Evander Holyfield’s ears during their June 28 WBA heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas. The upshot While the ban is in Nevada, other states are required by federal law to honor it. And since Tyson has two years’ probation left from his 1992 rape conviction, he might not get permission to leave the country to fight overseas. Tyson’s future In doubt. He can apply for reinstatement in one year and every year after that, but there’s no guarantee the commission would ever give Tyson his license back. Tyson’s reaction None. He did not show up to plead his case before the commission.