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Gorman: Can Mike Tyson save boxing?

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 9:53 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez talks with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson after he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game against the Brewers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at PNC Park.

Fight fans flocked to Monroeville Convention Center on Friday night to see Mike Tyson, along with a pro boxing card his Iron Mike Productions was promoting that featured three Pittsburghers.

But mostly to see Tyson.

Watching the scene led me to wonder: Can Mike Tyson save boxing?

The question is farcical on its face, given its grand irony after his career's incredible peaks and valleys.

After becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever in 1986, Tyson did as much damage to the sport as any modern-day fighter.

He was convicted of rape, serving a three-year prison sentence. He lost his boxing license after biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear. Despite $300 million in career earnings, Tyson filed for bankruptcy in 2003. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction, along with other demons.

Given that Tyson admits he “can't take care of himself that well,” why would we expect him to save a sport?

Maybe because boxing's only hope is for its fighters-turned-promoters like Tyson, Oscar de la Hoya and Roy Jones Jr. to change boxing from within by canceling the corruption.

So I asked Tyson how he would be different than the men who promoted him.

“I won't steal their money,” Tyson said with the straight face of someone who once sued his promoter, Don King, for $100 million. “I got into the business because I love the fighters. These guys are young fighters. It's not like I'm going to make a bunch of money off these guys or anything. I just love being around fighters. I have the best interests of fighters.

“I don't want to be where it's insincere, where no one really cares about the fighters, like it's meat. I just don't feel that way. People always say, ‘You can't be in the boxing business without being a pig.' ”

Never mind that Tyson hogged the attention this week in promoting the ShoBox card in Monroeville. Or that video highlights of his greatest knockouts played on a loop during a news conference Wednesday at Latitude 40 in Robinson instead of the fighters he's promoting.

Simply put, Tyson sells.

“Listen, I just want to do what it is that I do: I promote them. They don't work for me. I work for them,” said Tyson, who later sat ringside with Steelers great Franco Harris. “My job is to use my notoriety, my popularity, to make these guys known and let the people know that they can do what they say they can do.”

Boxing fans still revel in seeing his one-punch power, even if it's his one-liners instead of one-timers.

Tyson can be disarming, both in the danger he represents and the self-deprecating humor he uses to ease tension.

With Tyson standing just behind Rod Salka's shoulder at the podium, the Bunola boxer quickly quipped, “I'm a little nervous having Mike Tyson this close to my ear.”

All kidding aside, Tyson has the power to lend his name and tribal-tattooed face to something greater than a promotional company.

The guy who went from Sports Illustrated cover boy with headlines of Kid Dynamite and King Mike to Madman and Monster's Ball could change the sport by becoming its most outspoken advocate.

Tyson has the platform and power to lead the charge for reform in boxing and says he would like to see government regulation of the sport.

“Hell yeah, I would change it,” Tyson said. “I would have the government overlook boxing and make sure everybody got what they get. Everything would be on the table. Boxing is the only sport that nothing is always on the table. There's something underneath the table that we don't know about. Boxing should be government-run, there's no doubt about that.

“The promoters don't want the government to regulate the sport. They don't want that, but it's the right thing to do.”

Tyson might be selling himself, but fighters like Monessen's Sammy Vasquez can benefit by association. A few months ago, his father was promoting his cards at Rostraver Ice Garden. Now he was fighting on Showtime.

“My father and me, we were paying everybody out of our own pocket, hoping we can make it,” Vasquez said. “We can only get so far without the backing and the money and the names. With Mike Tyson now, the sky's the limit.”

If only boxing could say the same.

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