Ive been wrestling (so to speak) with my conscience over the possibility of a heavyweight championship fight -- featuring none other than Iron Mike Tyson -- being held on the banks of the Mighty Miss...in The Pyramid...right here in Memphis.
As an advocate for anything that helps Memphis, and as an avid sports fan, I have a rooting interest here, to say the least. But Im not sure what to root for. Speaking in general terms, a bout between reigning champion Lennox Lewis and Tyson staged in Memphis would be, simply put, the biggest sporting event in this citys history. Forget the personalities involved for a moment and remember: there is still no spectacle in sports like a heavyweight title fight. None. (How you define spectacle, of course, is part of the equation here.)
From Louis-Schmeling to Marciano-Charles, from Patterson-Johansson to Ali-Liston/Frazier/Foreman, a heavyweight championship tilt is the Super Bowl, the Fourth of July, and Oscar night all wrapped up in one muscle-bound, overhyped, sweatsoaked party of thousands. Heck, I remember when the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight was the only sporting event that mattered in the summer of 1982. When boiled down to its basics, a heavyweight bout to decide the worlds king of the mountain is about as American as sports get.
Think about it. With the possible exception of baseball, name a sport that has captured our hearts at the cineplex more than boxing, specifically more than the larger-than-life heavyweights. Is there another role we would have allowed Sly Stallone to carry for five films -- five, people -- than Rocky Balboa? Whether on the silverscreen or in Vegas or Atlantic City -- or Memphis -- this is sports at its most elementary, yet glamorous, best. Mano a mano. Im the toughest guy on the planet . . . come take my belt!
Considering the Bluff Citys seemingly age-old, slump-shouldered history with sports, how could Memphis possibly pass up an opportunity like this? Well, there are a few reasons, and not all of them obvious. Clearly, Mike Tyson is a troglodyte. With the exception of one or two of the dozens of people Ive asked about this event, the consensus is that even a nickel would be too much to spend for an event where the spotlight will be tilted, not toward the champion Lewis, but toward a washed-up convicted rapist with a taste for human ear lobes. Women Ive asked about the fight are especially repulsed . . . and rightfully so. Tyson fighting in Memphis would not so much be a black eye on our city -- hed fly in and fly out in a matter of hours, hes no Memphian -- but a black eye on something often more difficult to measure and protect: our citys taste.
But you know the main reason we should tell Shelly Finkel, HBO, and the local supporters who are campaigning for the June 8th bout to go do a Sonny Liston off the Hernando DeSoto? Because Memphis is nothing more than Plan-B. Were it not for the very fact that no other civilized community will allow Tyson to legally don his gloves, The Pyramid would not be so much as a blip on the radar screen of Don King and boxings powers that be.
To take the argument a step further, Memphis is Plan-B with an asterisk. Were it not for ten casinos a short drive south -- find a major boxing match and the one-armed bandits will follow -- I doubt Memphis would even be considered as a host for Lewis-Tyson. I dont need to delve into Memphis history and touch on the blemishes this city has had to try and remove (or hide from) over the years. There are plenty . . . and recently, there are plenty more developments that are worthy of celebrating, in the eyes of the local, national, and global communities.
Stereotypes hurt, even when applied to ones hometown. Memphis would do itself proud to avoid being cornered by the most disreputable sports figure of this generation. And by default, no less. Some history is not worth making.