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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Would We Have Cheered If Tyson Beat Him Witless?

By Gwen Knapp San Francisco Examiner

Let’s all just admit that Mike Tyson’s petty cannibalism was a hoot. Drop the word “savagery” from the discussion, and quit the pretentious outrage. Otherwise, move right into a recast scene from “Casablanca,” now starring the boxing establishment and set in the MGM Grand.

We’re shocked, shocked to discover that bloody acts of violence and pathological behavior are going on with Mike Tyson in the ring. He broke the rules, spit on the Marquis of Queensbury’s grave. So penalize him, and be done with it. Refuse to be more appalled than you would if Greg Norman illegally moved a ball in the rough.

Consider why the rules prohibit noshing on a boxer’s anatomy. It’s as simple as this: Biting might replace the really vicious stuff, the visible drama of an uppercut. Biting would mean fewer blows to the head, and we certainly can’t have that. Who would pay $49.95 to watch?

If you like Evander Holyfield - and who doesn’t? - be grateful that he left the ring with only a tiny, non-functional piece of flesh missing. In so many ways, dirty fighters are less dangerous than efficient ones.

If Tyson had knocked Holyfield’s wits out, sent him into a coma or worse, he would have been lauded for a job well-done. A professional, a champion, a king - that’s what we’d have called him.

Other athletes maim one another, but not as the central mission of their sport. Darryl Stingley sits in a wheelchair because Jack Tatum wouldn’t settle for a clean tackle. The violence was incidental, however marginally.

Tyson’s career is in jeopardy now because boxing’s definition of extremism is sending an opponent to a plastic surgeon after a fight. Sending him to neurosurgeon, on the other hand, would be the height of professionalism.

It’s a barbaric trade, often suffused with bravery and grace, occasionally practiced by gentlemen and poets. For those of us who watch, it can only be a guilty pleasure. We need to ask ourselves: Might Muhammad Ali, the noblest athlete of his generation, be healthier today if a few opponents had bitten him in the third round?

The whole sport went into spasms over Tommy Morrison’s plans to return after an HIV-positive diagnosis. Tyson’s bite raised some of the same concerns. In a blood sport, after all, one has nothing to fear but infectious disease.

Boxing spends its hysteria in all the wrong places. Tyson sank his bicuspids into an inappropriate spot, and finally, finally, his loud pleas for psychiatric help received universal recognition. Fight fans declared that he was out of control, as if this were an epiphany.

Tyson rammed Beamers into trees, and it didn’t happen. He bragged of beating women during sex, and it didn’t happen. He spoke like a zombie in a television interview with Barbara Walters and first wife Robin Givens, and it didn’t happen. He went to prison for raping an 18-year-old, and it didn’t happen.

Stacked up against some of the other things Tyson has done, the bite looks like a breach of protocol, as if he forgot to boost his pinkie while having tea with the Queen. But for this, he produced a contrite apology, a promise to seek counseling, the most humility he has ever shown in public.

He looked genuinely afraid for his future on the podium Monday, when he read his prepared apology to the media. He virtually begged not to be banned from the sport forever.

The public demanded this scene, the same public that lined up for pay-per-view every fight, the same public that snickered at the goofy headlines and gawked at the pictures of Holyfield’s reconfigured right ear or the action photos of Tyson impersonating a Dracula with bad aim.

A classic fight photograph shows one man absorbing another’s punch while a spray of blood and sweat surrounds his face, like an ironic pink halo. Another staple: grotesquely swollen eyes in a head tenderized like prime beef. By contrast, Holyfield’s wound resembles a hangnail.

But these pictures are unprecedented, weird - far more macabre than brutal. Their power to shock lies in their eccentricity. “Unbelievable,” everyone says, possibly missing the joke because there have been so many punch lines. When someone officially says “rematch,” then maybe they’ll get it.

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