January 23, 2002 at 5:30 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:12 AM
By ED SCHUYLER Jr., AP Boxing Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Mike Tyson (pictured, right) might have jeopardized a fight that took years to make with one left hand that whizzed past the face of Lennox Lewis.
After Tyson threw the punch Tuesday to start a melee that forced promoters to cancel the press conference announcing the April 6 fight, the bout faces an uncertain future.
So does Tyson, and not only because he must explain to Nevada boxing authorities next week why he went after Lewis. Las Vegas police said they found evidence supporting a woman's claim she was raped by Tyson.
Police have forwarded the case to the district attorney's office to see if it will be prosecuted. Meanwhile, Tyson will try to get his boxing license so he can fight Lewis in a bout that could pay him $20 million.
Asked if the melee put the fight in jeopardy, Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser, said, "It didn't help."
Gary Shaw, chief operating officer of Main Events, the American promoter for the champion from Britain, suggested that Tyson's actions might mean he didn't want to fight Lewis.
"I was wondering whether this was Mike Tyson's way of backing out of the fight of his life," said Shaw, who said he himself was punched both in the front and back of the head.
Also injured in the scuffle was World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman, who was treated at a hospital for a concussion after being pushed and falling on a table.
Tyson himself was cut on his forehead after he came at Lewis and threw a punch that triggered the melee.
A source close to Lewis' camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the boxer reported that Tyson bit him on the left leg.
The news conference began when Tyson, wearing all black, including a leather hat, was introduced first. He strode onstage at the Hudson Theater and then stared in the direction of where Lewis was supposed to appear. When the champion walked out, Tyson quickly walked toward him.
A Lewis bodyguard pushed Tyson and then touched him again. Tyson threw a left hook and a Lewis bodyguard went down, although it wasn't clear if Tyson connected. Lewis threw an overhand right that apparently glanced off the top of Tyson's head and left a cut at his hairline.
The two fighters then rolled briefly on the stage, which suddenly was filled with jumping, falling bodies and flying fists. Sulaiman deplored the melee, but didn't blame Tyson.
"Today's events are but one of the very many that have recently taken place that degrade boxing," Sulaiman said. "It would be discriminatory to single out Mike Tyson because many other boxers have behaved similarly at other press conferences."
After things quieted down, Tyson walked to the front of the stage, and thrust his arms in the air in triumph, then grabbed his crotch.
Someone shouted, "Put him in a straitjacket." Tyson then gestured at the man and cursed him.
Tyson left the theater without answering questions. Instead, he strolled around the block and stopped to sign autographs. A few women kissed him.
Later, he explained his actions in a statement:
"My motivation for approaching Lennox was to stage a faceoff, which I was told both camps had agreed to," Tyson said. "It was Lennox's bodyguard who panicked and shoved me. Lennox then threw a right.
"I was here to promote the fight, not be intimidated. I will never be intimidated by anyone, and Lennox will pay in April."
Lewis' business agent, Adrian Ogun, later read a statement from the champion that said: "As a result of today's events, I will re-evaluate my options after the relevant boxing commission has ruled."
The real fight, a mandatory WBC heavyweight defense by Lewis, scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, must be licensed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which fined Tyson $3 million and revoked his license after he bit Evander Holyfield's ears in 1997. Tyson is supposed to appear before the commission next Tuesday to see if it will grant him a new license.
Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada body, said there should have been better security at the New York news conference.
"I thought it was completely regrettable," Ratner said. "They had an incident when it didn't need to happen."
The fracas recalled the scene when Lewis and Hasim Rahman exchanged words and chest bumps before wrestling on the floor during a TV interview in August. That was 2½ months before Lewis knocked out Rahman in a rematch to regain the heavyweight title.
In Las Vegas, meanwhile, police investigators found evidence they contend backs up a woman's claim she was raped by Tyson, although charges have not been filed against the former heavyweight champion.
"We think there's probable cause to believe a crime occurred," said police Lt. Jeff Carlson, commander of the sex crimes unit.
Results of the four-month investigation were given Tuesday to the office of Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell.
Chermaine Gord, a spokeswoman for Bell, said prosecutors needed more time to review the information before making a decision on whether to file sexual assault charges against Tyson.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)