Tyson Fight Officially Called Off

TIM DAHLBERG
AP Boxing Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mike Tyson’s fight with Clifford Etienne was called off Monday, following a week of erratic behavior that once again raised questions about the boxing future of the 36-year-old former heavyweight champion.

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 fighter missed a flight to Memphis for the second day in a row.

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.

Tyson’s manager, Shelly Finkel, still held out hope earlier Monday that Tyson would get on a plane to Memphis, but after Tyson missed the plane again he and the Showtime cable network had little choice but to cancel the fight.

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.

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 5 1/2 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.

Showtime had planned an elaborate night of entertainment and was planning to sell the entire evening of events on pay-per-view for nonsubscribers.

Ticket sales in Memphis had reportedly been decent, though they were helped by a 2-for-1 sale on many of the seats.

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.

Just hours before the fight was officially called off, Young was still optimistic it would happen. Etienne was due into town Monday night, and Young said he was hopeful Tyson would arrive soon after.

“Memphis loves Mike Tyson,” he said. “We’re expecting 14-15,000 people dying to see Mike Tyson on Saturday.”