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Tyson Reduced to Vegas Strip Freak Show

LAS VEGAS – Some crowded around the ring with cell phone cameras in hand. Others sat at a bar not 20 feet away drinking beer. Still others ignored it all and smoked cigarettes and played slot machines.

Mike Tyson used to put on displays. On this day, he was just on display.

Down the street, tourists watched lions and dolphins between breaks at the slot machines. In the Aladdin hotel, they didn’t need to move from their seats at the bar to see another curiosity in a makeshift ring.

The former baddest man on the planet has been reduced to this – just another freak show on the Las Vegas Strip.

The signs said he was in training, and that was enough to lure a few hundred people to the makeshift ring set up just outside the casino’s buffet restaurant. Training for what was a question better left unanswered.

Tyson once made $35 million for one fight and more than $300 million in his career before blowing it all. Now he’s a casino sideshow, trying to make a few bucks the only way he knows how in a sport he no longer can stand.

“I truly hate fighting,” Tyson said. “I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth.”

When Tyson won his first heavyweight title against Trevor Berbick

On this day, Tyson is contrite, seemingly embarrassed his life has been reduced to this. He says he’s uncomfortable going out in front of people masquerading as the fighter he once was when he knows it’s all really a charade.

But he owes his creditors millions, needs the money desperately and took up the casino on its offer to make some.

So he gets into the ring to throw a few punches at the mitts of trainer Jeff Fenech as tourists take pictures.

“I’m looking to make a buck like anyone else,” says Tyson.

There’s talk of a series of three-round exhibition fights to earn that buck. It’s a time-honored tradition in boxing, where no one gets hurt and the former champ who is down on his luck gets a small taste of the money he used to make.

Tyson is 40, but he’s an old 40. Look past the bizarre tattoo that stretches across the left side of his face, and there’s a weariness on his face that comes with years of hard fighting and even harder living.

It’s been 20 years since Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion ever by knocking out Trevor Berbick. I remember watching him that night and later seeing him walk around the Las Vegas Hilton with the WBC title belt wrapped proudly around his waist.

His world quickly became filled with riches, women and fame in such abundance that the one-time street tough from New York had no chance of handling it all. He went to prison for rape only to come out bigger than ever, but his new life spiraled out of control almost as quickly.

He doesn’t want anybody’s sympathy, isn’t even sure why they still care. They do, though, because they remember what he once was.

“I had a great life. I had 20 lives. No way should they be sympathetic to me,” Tyson said. “Unfortunately I’m not a wealthy person.”

He still manages to drive a BMW, though he’s quick to say that in the day he would drive Ferraris and Bentleys. The problem was he would buy several and give them away to the hangers-on that were always around in his prime but were nowhere to be seen on this day.

He owned mansions, too, and not just one. When you’re heavyweight champion of the world, you think the money will never stop flowing.

“I blank all that out of my mind,” Tyson said. “If I think or dwell on that I can’t be the person I want to be in life.”

Which is?

“A simple guy.”

Unfortunately, nothing will ever be simple for Tyson. He’s always been tormented by demons he’s been either unable or unwilling to control, and he seems as confused over his future as he was in his past.

He was embarrassed by his knockout loss to an Irish stiff named Kevin McBride the last time he got into the ring 14 months ago, and vows never to fight for real again. But here he is training next to a bank of slot machines trying to get in some kind of shape so he can make a few bucks off of his name.

It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. When I look at Tyson it’s all I can do not to picture him ending up like Joe Louis, who worked as a casino greeter and often was brought out drooling in his wheelchair to ringside so high rollers could say they saw the Brown Bomber.

People loved Louis. For some reason, they’re still fascinated with Tyson.

“People truly believe and support me,” he said. “I realized that over time. I don’t know if it’s for sympathetic reasons or just something that they can relate to me in life.”

Tyson seems happy to be talking about it, happy somebody still cares. He doesn’t really want to be doing this, but the offer of a free hotel suite and some cash brought him up from Phoenix, where he spends most of his time.

Now it’s showtime, time to walk into the casino and go to work.

“Life,” he says, “has changed so much.”

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