MEMPHIS Ñ Boxing is very little of the sad, mad world in which Mike Tyson exists these days.
Years ago, he was the baddest man on the planet. Now, at 36, he is, in his words, 'a domesticated animal.'
More than that, Tyson is a sick individual who plays mostly by his own rules. And he's the first one to admit it.
Those around him perpetuate it. That was evident during Tyson's post-fight 'news conference' after Saturday's 49-second smoking of Clifford Etienne, a hand-picked opponent who was only too happy to hit the mat after one punch, remove his mouthpiece, take a 10-count and accept a $1 million payday.
The news conference was really a Tyson love-in with his entourage and hangers-on and other admirers who somehow made their way past security far outnumbering the media.
As a writer who has covered a number of major sports events over the years, from the Olympics to the NBA Finals to the Super Bowl to the World Series, I found this the strangest post-event interview session imaginable.
The man next to me introduced himself as a reporter from a small TV station in Missouri. After Tyson's opening remarks, he joined with many in the audience in applause, and did so often during the fighter's rambling, obscenity-laced 30-minute discourse.
That just doesn't happen with objective media covering a legitimate event. But this was something different altogether.
Tyson has clearly gone through plenty of psychological therapy over the years. On this night, with his training stable standing behind him on the podium, it was as if he were lying on a couch and inviting those in the house to play a little Freud. The large Maori-warrior tattoo dominating the left side of his face seemed tame in comparison.
Iron Mike was honest. Deflecting praise for his performance, he conceded that the one-punch knockout meant little in his quest for a rematch with Lennox Lewis. 'It was exciting for the crowd,' he said, 'but fighters need more rounds. I'm not going to beat no fighter like Lennox Lewis unless I'm active.'
He then laid out the case why he is undeserving of another crack at Lewis, and why he's not sure if he cares. There are more important things to Tyson than boxing, and he's the first to say so. (A warning: Some of the verbiage doesn't work, but you'll get the idea.)
'I accept different alternates in my life sometimes now,' he said. 'I like doing other things, too. I like getting high and hanging out with my kids and having a few drinks. É I like doing a lot of other things.
'I don't have a high crescendo about my boxing career. I have been doing this for, like, 23, 25 years of my life. I haven't received any dignity from it. I've received a lot of pain from it. It made me not like Mike Tyson no more. É I don't like myself. I got a Catch-22 with my own identity. That's why I'm very harsh with you sometimes, because I'm not happy about myself. I've just got some issues. É
'I'm being sincere because I'm in pain. I don't think I've ever loved anybody; I definitely don't think anybody has ever loved me. That's just the way it is right now. Boxing's cool, but I got some serious things I'm fighting.'
A Lewis fight, he acknowledged, 'doesn't fit in with my whole being right now.'
Tyson praised great fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis and their dedication to training.
'Consummate fighters,' he called them. 'I'm pretty hungry but not hungry enough to become the consummate professional. I haven't been a consummate professional in a long time. É I just want to do something that makes me happy. If I want to do something else, if I want to be with a woman and not train, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do what I want to do. If I feel like training, I'll come to the gym every day.'
Tyson paused and sighed: 'I got a lot of (blank) I got to deal with, man.'
It went on and on. Many in the crowd clapped as if on cue during his intermittent pauses. And they laughed, even as Tyson poured out his soul on his inner torment. Pretty funny stuff, a man acknowledging before a room full of strangers that he is one messed-up individual.
It was an audition, ESPN's Al Bernstein believes, for a Tyson reality show. 'I think it's all set up with ABC,' Bernstein told me.
Fascinating stuff, I guess. And we know, after a tuneup or two, Tyson will meet Lewis again. It's the matchup the public will buy, despite Tyson's embarrassing performance the last time the two squared off. It's like scoping the scene of an auto accident as we drive by. We just can't help but look to see what he might do next.
But I ask this: Is Tyson beyond help? Is anybody trying to help? Is he worth saving? Or shall we allow him to continue the plunge toward writing his own sad, premature epitaph?