by Jackson Baker and John Branston
Mike Tyson and Memphis each underwent a metamorphosis at The Pyramid last Saturday night. In Iron Mike's case, the onetime king of pugilistic beasts became a pussycat.
Much of that, of course, was the doing of current champion Lennox Lewis, the British fighter whose methodical thrashing of Tyson made the former champ look vulnerable and harmless -- a KO victim in the eighth round of their long-awaited bout -- and converted Lewis into an awesomely impressive figure whose heavyweight reign is now undisputed by most fans and boxing commissions. But much of the change seemed, in retrospect, to have been there in Tyson all along, just waiting to surface.
A flash of it was first revealed to the audience inside The Pyramid when, during an intermission between undercard bouts while the arena was still filling, Tyson was shown on the overhead Jumbotron entering the building and, flanked by his retainers, walking down a corridor toward his holding area.
The Pay-Per-View audience at home saw the same thing. The heavily muscled fighter in the powder-blue T-shirt turned to one of the network technicians, a young woman walking nearby, and made a sudden move, kissing her on the cheek. But the home audience only saw her blanch before the screen image shifted to a boxing clip and then to commentator Jim Gray.
The people in the arena saw the rest of it -- Tyson turning back over his shoulder to give the woman a sweet smile, which she returned with a sort of relieved pleasure. The folks in The Pyramid applauded and cheered lustily. So much for the specter of Tyson the rapist.
During the long intermission between the second of two featherweight matches that served to prep the audience for the larger-than-life spectacle to come, the crowd turned to star-watching.
Cameras located the celebrities who milled about on the floor and in the aisles. There was Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Bacon, and Denzel Washington. My man! There was Michael Spinks, a champ from the distant past, and Evander Holyfield, one from the recent past. But, finally, one of the celebrities at ringside yelled something which everybody nearby heard and which everybody everywhere would surely have agreed with.
"Let's get this [expletive deleted] on!" hollered Cuba Gooding Jr., and a cheer went up to second him. That was nothing compared to the next cheer, only minutes later, as a phalanx of yellow-shirted security personnel flooded the ring -- a reminder of the mayhem that had broken out at the battlers' New York press conference in January, forcing the fight to relocate from Las Vegas, and a clear indication that the arrival of the fighters was imminent.
Iron Mike was up on the big screen again, unsmiling now and wearing a scanty, white dashiki-like cover as he and his handlers made their way to the ring. A ripple of boos started, then a prolonged chorus of cheers, more or less duplicating the sequence that had flooded the arena during the earlier Jumbotron sighting.
That first time around, Lewis' arrival had been tepid by comparison. It had looked to be a Tyson crowd, and typical had been state Rep. Joe Towns, one of the first Memphians to have lobbied hard for the fight back in January when it was chased out of Nevada. From the box where he sat overlooking the floor with two legislative colleagues, state representatives Ulysses Jones and Bubba Pleasant, Towns said, "I'm with Mike. He's bad! And he's American. Going to bring the title back home!"
Most of the support for the champion had earlier seemed to be restricted to a middling-sized claque of Lewis fans off in a corner of the arena, brandishing the Union Jack and chanting, "Lew-is! Lew-is!" By the time the arena seats had filled and Lewis was making his own way to the ring, however, the chant had enough to it to begin to balance things out.
The security people, forming a buffer line between the two opposing corners, stayed in the ring even as Michael Buffer announced the bout, his traditional "ready to rumble" flourish seeming overblown and superfluous.
And then it was on, with a typically ferocious first-round rush from Tyson that had referee Eddie Cotton repeatedly cautioning Lewis for clenching. It looked like a Golden Oldie was under way -- an old-style Iron Mike bash session designed to lead to victory by attrition or annihilation, like those of Tyson's heyday 10 to 15 years ago, before some unexpected losses, a rape conviction, and various other scrapes with adversity tarnished his edge.
Tyson's rush was blunted, however. Cotton took to reprimanding Lewis -- for clenching again, for holding, and finally for pushing, an offense which cost the champion a point after Tyson was shoved to the canvas in the fourth round. It was then made obvious that the roles had been reversed. Tyson, flat on his back and forlorn, looked like a fighter down on his luck, shove or no shove. Lewis, the bigger and plainly more confident man, now had the crowd on his side -- not just the Commonwealth contingent that had hollered itself hoarse for him earlier but all of it. "Lew-is! Lew-is!" resounded through the arena.
As the fight wore on, Tyson kept taking shots. Punch after punch from Lewis sprayed the ring with perspiration from Tyson's head. He was cut over both eyes and couldn't land a single good blow in return, much less a combination. The outcome began to look as painful and inevitable as that of a suddenly and visibly old Muhammad Ali trying to hold his own against Larry Holmes in 1980.
Lewis used Tyson's increasingly stationary head as a speed bag for his jab and then, via uppercuts and right crosses, as a heavy bag. When Tyson went down -- hard -- in the eighth round, it was a formality. He was a spent case long before. So, it seemed, was his era.
Thus it was that, after a week of being denied the opportunity, Memphis had finally gotten to see the reclusive Lewis spar. As it turned out, the workout had been the main event, and the overmatched sparring partner was Mike Tyson, his iron now demonstrably rusty.
In a brief joint interview with Lewis after the fight, the revived Tyson, who had done more than his share of trash-talking before the bout, was suddenly the model of contrition, a veritable Boy Scout. He professed his regard for the champion ("He knows I love both him and his mother"), said that all his bad-mouthing had only been to hype the fight, and said, almost plaintively, that he'd like a rematch.
That little-boy voice that always before sounded so ironically menacing now just sounded like a little boy's. An Eddie Haskell on his best behavior. But the result was nothing that Ps and Qs could alter. As the English say, the king is dead. Long live the king!
Later, after Lewis, flanked by manager Emanuel Steward and Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, met the press and sounded some grace notes toward both his fallen foe and the host city of Memphis, Tyson was heard from again in some comments distributed to the media pack by a pool reporter. The former champ explained the mutual-politeness pact between himself and Lewis by comparing it to the pigeons he had taken to keeping. The birds would scrap ferociously until they were fed, he said. Then they became placid and still.
Intentionally or not, the metaphor carried over to the ring, where the issue had been joined and resolved, and the eight-figure purses enjoyed by both fighters had surely sated their appetites -- at least for a while. As for that putative rematch, the other pigeons, the ones who paid the huge ticket prices Saturday night -- well, they'd been fed too. And might even be willing to bite again.
Fight fan Herenton had won a $10 bet with one of his security people by picking Lewis, but as the mayor of Memphis, Herenton had risked and won a lot more than that.
"Our pride was in this," said Herenton, who was mainly responsible for the fight being held in Memphis. "Memphis should be a major fight venue. We pulled off a major sports event in a relatively short period of time. If they have a rematch, we deserve an opportunity to host it."
Contrary to some reports, Memphis had not embraced the fight wholeheartedly. Memphis banks wouldn't put up the letters of credit for the $12 million site fee, which came from Dyersburg instead. Corporate leaders did not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Herenton, as they had in the NBA drive. There were plenty of skeptics and moralists in the local media until the saturation coverage began the week before the fight. Tunica casinos provided both impetus and lodging and got a nice boost in business and publicity. Nashville contributed promoter Brian Young.
But Tunica, Dyersburg, and Young wouldn't have mattered without Herenton, who sold Memphis as a fight location in a way that politicians in Nashville, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit did not.
Just as Tyson and Lewis owned discernible attack styles, so did Herenton, the polished former city schools superintendent who has been mayor now for 10 years. He brought the same determination to Memphis' efforts to host the match as he had earlier to courting the Grizzlies or, even earlier, when he stalked a 1997 "city-killer" annexation bill all the way to the state Supreme Court, where he got it declared unconstitutional. At 6' 5", eye-to-eye with Lewis, the 60-year-old Herenton is himself a former amateur boxing champion who maintains he got sidetracked from his destiny to be a headliner at the pro level. "I never got beat once I got my growth," he once said, reminiscing about his days in the ring.
Now he's making sure the city gets its growth. Herenton never rested until the post-fight press conference was over. Before the fight, he was seen strolling the concourse with a cell phone to his ear and a serious expression on his face. No tuxedo or preening in the television lights on a night when the reputation of Memphis was at stake and America was still at war with terrorism. When it was over, he was still working The Pyramid like a civil servant as the crowd cleared out.
The one thing that could dim the mayor's glow is the bill. Announcing the fight two months ago, Herenton said he would not be "nickeled and dimed" by cost concerns. He won't be. With all those motorcades, security checkpoints, police overtime, and even the mother of Lennox Lewis getting city-funded 24/7 security at her rented house in the Gardens of River Oaks, the cost will more likely be in the millions, which could be offset by an increase in hotel and entertainment taxes.
Memphis had not calculated its security costs at press time, but Tunica County administrator Ken Murphree said his county spent "well over $100,000 for overtime for our sheriff's department" for events at the casinos.
"It was well worth it," Murphree said. "Tens of millions of people watching on Pay-Per-View all got a good dose of Tunica."
Whatever the cost for Memphis, the argument will also be made that it was worth it too. More than 15,000 fans showed up, many of them less than an hour before the fight, and roared their approval even when it was clear after the third round that Lewis was going to win. The Pyramid's general manager, Alan Freeman, said the gross would be $16.5 million instead of the predicted $23 million -- still a record payday. "I'm happy," he said.
Ticket brokers who bought blocks of tickets hoping to sell them at a premium created an artificial scarcity that held down the crowd. At least 4,000 tickets were unsold even though tickets were being apportioned by lottery weeks before the fight and buyers willing to pay $1,400 for a ticket were told that there were none available until it was too late.
What is it they say? No growth without growing pains.
Henry Turley is the developer of many of downtown Memphis' burgeoning residential properties -- a fact attested to by a pair of golden duck feet imbedded with his name in the sidewalk outside The Peabody. Nobody knows the traffic patterns and logistical facts of life in downtown Memphis like Turley; it was a revelation, therefore, that Turley, who owned a block of tickets to the fight,had been asking all week, "How do you get to The Pyramid?"
It wasn't a question about simple geography, of course. What he meant was how were ticket-holders meant to access the facility on fight night? By foot, by shuttle, by cab? Just how? One of Turley's main gripes -- shared by many habitual downtown revelers -- has been that The Pyramid is traditionally closed off on its Front Street side by police barricades during events, detouring all traffic to the periphery of the area.
Even on Thursday night, as the first of several planned gala parties -- this one hosted by Mayor Willie Herenton -- was getting under way at The Peabody, vehicles were inching along bumper-to-bumper on the downtown streets. It had almost the look of Midtown Manhattan. By Friday night, when additional crowds were coaxed downtown by the prospect of seeing guests like Wesley Snipes and Washington at a party to be hosted by ex-NBA great Magic Johnson at singer Isaac Hayes' new club, traffic was virtually immobile. Unfortunately, Snipes, Washington, and even Johnson turned out -- like so many of the other billed big names at other venues all week -- not to have turned out. Not until the wee hours, anyhow.
The no-show problem was just one of many growing pains for a city experimenting with hosting the biggest event in its history. But even without stars to gape at and reduced to cheering Cadillac convertibles as they dropped off minor luminaries like Dave Chapelle, who would be doing feeds back to Jay Leno's show on NBC, the hordes downtown had a good time getting off on themselves. But, whatever the final roster of entertainment and athletic stars, there was no doubt about one thing: The entire hierarchy of the big-time boxing world was present and accounted for.
Laurence Cole of Dallas, a ring official who is, at 38, unusually youthful to have achieved so prominent a role, has worked many a big fight in various capacities and was signed on to serve as an on-air personality for HBO/Showtime's Pay-Per-View presentation of Tyson-Lewis -- his primary duty being to watch for fouls and then be able to offer expert testimony on them for the viewing audience.
On the eve of the fight, Cole, who seconded the majority opinion that a victory for the gentleman Lewis would be better for the sport of boxing, nevertheless offered a theory that Iron Mike had been a scapegoat of sorts in the famous ear-biting match with Evander Holyfield. "Holyfield is not a clean fighter," Cole explained, physically demonstrating the former champ's brawling methods, which allow him to lock arms with his opponent and head-butt with impunity. As he went through his demonstration, it became obvious why, if you were on the receiving end of the treatment and had trouble suppressing your rage like Mike Tyson, you might be tempted to take a bite out of your assailant's nearest appendage, which, interestingly enough, would more than likely be his ear.
As Cole was explaining this downstairs in the Cook Convention Center Saturday morning, Holyfield himself was upstairs defending himself against charges of dirty fighting at a press conference. The happenstance that, only last week, he had disabled his most recent opponent, Hasim Rahman, with a headbutt was lost on no one.
"I just come in close and mix it up," said Holyfield. "Sometimes, when you get in close, things just happen." The former champ, vanquisher of Tyson and loser to Lewis, thought nevertheless that Tyson would win.
"I know one thing," the once and would-be future champ said. "Whichever one of these guys wins, they better arrange to fight me. That's if they want to make some real money."
Gracing the ranks of media types covering the fight this week was Budd Schulberg, the celebrated cotton-haired 88-year-old eminence whose 1941 novel The Harder They Fall chronicled the rise and fall of an oversized foreign fighter whose path to the championship was paved by mob figures. The book was based on the real-life saga of 1930s heavyweight champ Primo Carnera, an Italian import and onetime circus freak who was enabled by his unscrupulous handlers to rise to the top of the heavyweight heap before his virtual annihilation at the hands of Max Baer.
"They can still fix things," Schulberg averred on Saturday morning. "But it's done by a different kind of mob now." It's harder to get fighters to take dives than it was in Carnera's time, the venerable author said. "When you see something funny now, it's usually officials who are the ones." Without charging improprieties as such, he mentioned the first Holyfield-Lewis fight, the one that ended in a universally deplored draw, as an example. "It may not be a payoff. It may just be that the officials read the temper of a crowd and base their judgment on that," Schulberg said.
Who did he think would win the fight? "Lewis," he answered. "In eight or nine." Who did he think was the crowd favorite? "Tyson," he said.
Schulberg was right on both counts. In the judgment of some observers, he was on the money about the role of officials too. Former New York Daily News boxing writer Mike Katz, who did daily takes for The Commercial Appeal, was not the only one who thought referee Cotton had been oversolicitous about Tyson's welfare.
For all the venom directed at Tyson by so many, there had been no doubt that he, and not champion Lewis, had dominated pre-fight proceedings. Either out of fidelity to his role in the pre-fight hype or because it was his nature, he alternated between ferocious WWF-like posturings and hammy gestures like embracing gay demonstrator Jim Maynard.
By contrast, the fastidious Lewis, who upon his arrival in Memphis the previous week was the subject of a motorcade parade through Beale Street, proclaimed aloud, "I love Memphis." He spoke to reporters at length at his media-op at Sam's Town then played 10 minutes of chess with a local high school student before gallantly conceding. He finished by climbing into a ring and going through an extended workout routine, showing off his fast combinations and hip-hop footwork to an amplified reggae soundtrack.
At Thursday's separate weigh-ins at the Cook Convention Center, the two fighters stayed in character -- Lewis keeping a low profile and Tyson playing to the crowd by flexing his biceps like Mighty Joe Young. "A psychopath," said HBO analyst Larry Merchant, standing off to the side at Tyson's weigh-in and shaking his head sadly.
No doubt the Tyson-Lewis bout had, as Merchant noted, been unacceptable to most places on the established landscape of professional boxing, but it was pure opportunity for an up-by-the-bootstraps place like Memphis, which, as Merchant saw it, had gone after the fight "the way it would after a new automobile plant."
Ultimately, Merchant said, "a big fight is good for boxing. Even if it's boring." Nobody imagined that this one would be. And it wasn't. Let the record further show, in the phrase that came to local officials' lips so often that it rapidly became a cliché, that "Memphis won."
In his post-fight warm-up suit, Lewis looked more like a man who had finished a couple of vigorous sets of doubles than one who had gone eight rounds with Iron Mike. Sitting behind a table with a quietly satisfied Willie Herenton and others and facing a horde of respectful media people, the champion alluded to the only bit of controversy in the fight -- the one-point penalty he was assessed by the referee. Lewis, who speaks elegantly enough to host Masterpiece Theater if he ever gets tired of the fight game, shrugged and explained, "It didn't seem like the right thing to argue with the referee."
Doing the right thing was the order of the night. There were no incidents of violence in the crowd. Tyson fought bravely, if ineffectively, even after the seventh round, when he told his trainer, "I'm done." In defeat, he was sweet to both the champ and his mother. Lewis was gracious in victory. And with a successful week at the center of the world's media stage, Memphis had clearly done the right thing too.
by Mary Helen Randall
But somehow, through an unlikely career path merging with a lot of good fortune, not to mention a great friendship with a certain sports figure's manager, I've gotten to a lot of things that would have otherwise been off-limits to me. Thanks to John Daly, pro golfer, and his manager Donnie, I've been to media tents at PGA events, celebrity-filled parties in Palm Springs, and yes, the Tyson-Lewis fight.
When I first heard about the fight, I started looking online for bargain airfares to Mexico. Not only did I not want to be in the city, I didn't want to be in the country. But, as the fight date grew closer and the hype began to build, I started to rethink the whole deal. And I wanted to go. I mean really wanted to go.
And just like that, the phone rang and the invitation was extended. And I went.
The night of the fight, there was a knock at the door, and Daly's wife came bouncing in to tell us the limo had arrived. "I love your little house," she said, looking all around. I wondered what this place must look like through her eyes and whether she had any idea what the Neighborhood Texture Jam poster next to my fridge is all about or why there's a clothes dryer in the closet not even hooked up. I'm just hoping that the windows in the Hummer they've parked outside my house in Midtown will still be there when we get back.
Riding in the limo, the excitement began to build. As we drove toward downtown, there were lots of predictions, lots of friendly wagers being made. As we inched our way though the gridlock, John rolled down the window to blow cigarette smoke out and the car was instantly mobbed. A woman ran up screaming for her friends to come over. "Ooohhhh, you just swing them clubs, baby," she squealed, taking her picture with John, body half inside the car. John laughed good-naturedly, and we continued.
Pulling into The Pyramid was an event itself. We swung into the "limo only" line and were dropped off practically at the entrance. Stepping out, John caused quite a commotion, and I just happened to be in the crossfire -- not that I would have been anywhere else at that moment. We were shuffled past the waiting crowd and hustled through security with barely a glance at my purse.
As I was led though the crowd, I looked over my shoulder to see Matt Dillon waiting in line. We had just breezed past him. Stopping in front of his entourage, I smiled at him as if to say, "Sorry for jumping ahead of you." He returned my look with a disarmingly sexy grin that couldn't have meant anything but "Who in the hell are you?"
As we entered The Pyramid, the media and paparazzi went crazy, screaming and vying for John's attention. John's wife and her friends, very bored by all this, kept going, but I, like a deer in a headlight, froze. I watched, when I wasn't being blinded by camera flashes, as they all tried to get a piece of John Daly. Although I knew no one was yelling for me, I was right in the middle of it, and it was amazing. Quick interviews were given, more pictures taken. I couldn't stop grinning.
As we walked into our first private party, Evander Holyfield was walking out. John was spotted, and there was a growing buzz as every businessman type in the room tried to talk to him about this course or that game or get a few freebie pointers. We left soon.
Walking through a series of tunnels, we ran into Steven Van Zandt, who stopped and gave everyone a warm handshake. Next stop: snack bar, where we spent some quality time with Justin Timberlake. He told me how much he loves being in Memphis, how he loves the music and the food and the atmosphere. I watched his massive bodyguard watch me and felt my palms inexplicably sweating.
This was just too surreal. Killing time before heading to our seats, I watched as Morgan Freeman then Denzel Washington cruised past us, waving hello and smiling. Penny Hardaway stopped to talk. Everyone in this inner sanctum is so rich or famous, or both, that there's no mobbing or autograph-hounding.
As we moved to our seats, I was shocked at the energy in the arena. I was also shocked at the price of the seats. Mine cost more than I earn in a month, and all I can do about it is giggle. Giddiness has taken over, not to mention tons of champagne. The excitement was palpable.
We were close enough to see the expressions on both fighters' faces as they were led out -- and the tense jaws of the yellow-clad security guards lined up diagonally across the ring. You wouldn't have seen those expressions from the $250 seats.
After the fight, the arena went nuts, as wave after wave of "Lew-is! Lew-is!" filled The Pyramid. The night was over for many but just beginning for others. As we left, I stopped to talk to the Rock and shake his enormous hand. He grinned and slapped me a high five.
As we climbed back into the limo and headed for The Peabody to regroup, I saw how tired John's face looked. He'd been a great sport, signed countless autographs, been bothered to death about golf, and stopped every three feet to have a camera and microphone shoved in his face. It was just another day in the life of a celebrity.
But for me, it was a chance of a lifetime. To walk the red carpet and be like one of the rich and famous. To be blinded by flashbulbs and hustled past everyone else, no lines, no waiting. To see what it was like to be one of them.
It was great. Almost great enough to want that life for my own. To be that rich, that loved, that famous.
by Janel Davis
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see Lennox Lewis put the hurting of the century on Mike Tyson, and my star-sightings were fewer than the leftovers at a Weight Watchers convention. Nevertheless, I did engage in some fight-week revelry, along with the thousands of other people packing the streets, clubs, bars, and trolleys. And some of it was better than anything found inside the ring.
My par-tay events started with a Thursday night of fun with two other Flyer reporters. Destination: Magic Johnson's pre-fight party at the River Terrace Yacht Club on Mud Island. The night began with promise. After we parked, we were treated to a golf cart ride to the door. We breezed past the entrance attendant, our breath held tightly in our chests, and entered an empty room. Expectations crushed, we decided to wait for Magic to show. After almost two hours, we determined that we must have been mistaken. Magic would never disappoint his fans (never mind those who paid big bucks to see his face). No, we decided, the party must have been given by "Ma'jic Johnson," and we must have misread the promo. Right. Sorrowfully, we left the party, shuttled back to our car by a golf cart driver who said the only people he had driven to the door all night were "a lot of drug dealers." Well, no wonder Magic didn't show!
Determined to find the stars, our journey led downtown. In my zeal to get jiggy with, uh, anybody, I almost bumped the Memphis police officer directing traffic right in front of my car. Outside my window, a wheelchair-bound man chided my lack of driving skills. Once the cop moved, it was a quick turn here, another one there, and we were smack-dab in ... traffic. While waiting, the three of us discussed our annoyance with the deeply tinted windows of all the limousines lining the streets. Don't the stars know that they owe us regular people at least a glimpse of their "starness"? Anyway, I leaned out my window and dared a passerby to open the nearby door of a stretch Lincoln Navigator, but he refused.
Forced to find our own fun, we decided to park the car and get with the "people." (Read: Traffic was too congested to continue driving.) Picture three young ladies in stylish (read: short and tight) dresses strutting down Union Avenue. In fact, we were so fly that three young men asked to walk with us. "No," I replied. "Besides, you boys are only 12."
"No, I'm not," said the tallest. "I'm 15." Well, shoot, come on then!
As we walked, our popularity increased with the passing motorists, who yelled out of their windows for our attention. Since we weren't wearing clothes with our names emblazoned across the chest like J-Lo, they were left to make up something. "Snowflake" and "Snowbunny" were the names of choice for my companions, while I was left with "Chocolate," "Slim," and, simply, "Hey, You." I can just hear our parents saying to themselves, "Why didn't we think of that?"
Next stop: Beale Street. Rowdy crowds of drunken people, bad clothing, and loud music. We were home! My companions were immediately asked to forget their wonderful Flyer jobs and pose for Hustler. While Hustler Man was spinning tales of nudity and the fame that comes with it, I was staring into the face of a drunk Englishman.
Drunk Englishmen became a theme for the evening, as bar stops led us to three such men. Because only one of us could seem to understand "drunk" English, she was asked where Memphians buy weed. The other two of us thought he was saying, "Will you all give us a lap dance?" We immediately left the bar. Our Flyer translator later informed us that in England they refer to smoking marijuana as "taking a crap." File that away for future reference.
The night ended with us walking back to the car after taking dance lessons from some New Yorkers in Club 152.
The second night of wonderment came on Saturday, after the Rumble on the River became the Meltdown on the Mississippi. This time my quest led to Central Station for another "celebrity party." While my interview with the Rap Hustlaz was nothing but F-U-N, party security was funnier. One officer pulled me aside after I was searched and asked my age. Thinking she must be worried about underage drinking, I assured her I was of age. But, drinking be danged, she was just worried about me looking so young. I guess she thought my cameraman/husband was an R. Kelly protege.
With the crowds on Beale Street sending up a steam cloud of heat and body odor, we decided our fight fun was over and headed home behind a trolley full of people singing Prince's "Raspberry Beret."
All together now: "I was working part-time at a five-and-dime. My boss was Mr. McGee ..."
by Mary Cashiola
"How much did you pay to get in here?" "Too much," the woman said and shook her head. It was after 1 a.m. Sunday morning at The Peabody Grand Ballroom and a party that was supposed to be a star-studded affair had fallen a little flat. The woman and her two friends, all fashionably dressed, attractive, and in their mid-20s, watched the sparse crowd glumly from a windowsill. Tickets to the event had cost from $250 to $1,000, and there was no sign of Denzel or Halle or any of the celebrities that had been seen shopping at Saddle Creek.
I sympathized with the women for a while. Ostensibly, I was reporting on fashion, but one thing had become abundantly clear: In Memphis, there was only one thing to wear to a fight -- little silk trunks -- and even those weren't appropriate for the after parties. With the dress code ranging from black tie to silk tie to what's-a-tie, it didn't matter what you were wearing, because you always looked out of place. The only common thread was lots and lots of skin, likely a ploy to catch a celebrity's eye. But you have to find a celebrity before that can happen.
The closest I got: Martin Lawrence's brother grabbed my ass.
Or a guy who said he was Martin Lawrence's brother grabbed my ass. Since I didn't meet any other celebrities, and he did look like Martin, I'm choosing to believe him.
My quest for celebrity skin started with a bunch of friends Thursday night at an exclusive party downtown guaranteed to be filled with the famous. We walked in and literally didn't see anyone at all, except for the people who worked there. One of the bouncers assured us the celebs would be by any minute. They never showed. No one ever showed.
We headed over to the Radisson, because the word on the street was that there were more NFL players there than at the Super Bowl. At the door, they told us they'd give us a discount on the ticket price: $300 for the three of us. We brandished our press credentials and hopeful smiles; they gave us two minutes to get our story.
Luckily, it only took two minutes to see that the only resemblance this place had to the Super Bowl was the Budweiser marketing.
Next: on to Beale, where it looked like Brooks Road had relocated for the night. Everyone was either dressed to impress or (more often the case) undressed to impress. There were short-shorts that cracked public decency codes and tops so tight you could count ribs, not to mention moles.
Finally, at Club 152 on Beale, we scored. Evander Holyfield was shaking his groove thang in the corner. We danced over, trying to get a picture, but he chose that minute to leave, security covering him like a blanket on his way out.
Saturday my friend Val and I started our paparazzi act pre-fight at The Peabody lobby. The place hummed with excitement. It was a strange scene, a mixture culled from the pages of Ladies Home Journal, VIBE, and Elle and enough skin for a double issue of Playboy. There were aging debs lounging on couches wearing silks and sequins. There were men in nice suits and men in shorts. Men with visors to the back and oversized everything. Women in halter tops, backless tops, strapless tops, and every combination in between. It was hip hop meets Hef's house. It was Miami.
Without Madonna or Donatella or Will Smith, that is.
We did some bar hopping and ended up watching the fight at Central Station, where Naughty By Nature was expected to appear. Other celebs were supposed to be doing walk-throughs. No one was there, though, so I scanned the crowd behind Tyson on television to see if I could see Leo or Toby at The Pyramid.
Afterward, Val decided to call it a night; I'm scheduled to appear at a party at The Peabody Grand Ballroom. The valets at the hotel promised to call Val a cab and, after a wait longer than the fight itself, we walked over to one of them to see what was going on. He told us our best bet was to stay right there (on the red carpet) and grab the first cab that dropped someone off.
It took only 17 seconds for the Peabody staff to realize the red carpet had been violated. We were hustled back onto the stone tile on the other side of the velvet rope faster than a Lennox Lewis jab. Then we watched as Lisa Raye got her picture taken, and I felt the power of celebrity.
It got worse when I got to the party. I got the distinct impression from security that I might be on the list, but I might not be, or there might not be a list at all. Am I famous? No? Too bad.
Outside, it was complete confusion. The woman in line next to me told me she came earlier to watch the fight, but for some reason, the party didn't have Pay-Per-View as promised. She ended up shelling out another $100 at the New Daisy just to watch the fight. Two Tennessee Titans were on my other side, cursing their agent.
Once inside the Grand Ballroom, this party, like the others, was mostly hype. There were scantily dressed women and steep drink prices. And I just didn't care anymore. I heard there were celebs in the VIP area and I even saw Jamie Foxx, but I was over it.
I left with two distinct thoughts. The first was that the next time I have a party, the invitation to it is going to read something like this: "All your favorite celebrities, including whoever is on the cover of Vanity Fair this month, have been invited to attend, and we expect them to show."
The second: This weekend wasn't about the Tyson-Lewis fight. It wasn't even about the celebrities. It turned out to be Memphis' own citywide Pimp-and-Ho party.
by Rebekah Gleaves
It's a sport of gladiators and fools, men with ripped torsos and battered brains. Ordinary mortals who become extraordinary after a scant few bouts, emerging from anonymity into stardom, enjoying dynamic but short careers before disappearing off the radar again.
Boxers fascinate us. They enter the ring as angry brutes and exit as friends. It's a game of kinetic chess, where mind meets muscle after months of careful strategy and intense conditioning. It is a sport both loved and hated. We should have evolved past this, some say, we should no longer revel in the blood and the sweat, the battering of one man for the glory of another.
But for boxers, it's an addiction. Boxers, like gamblers, rarely quit while they're winning, which is why Las Vegas and professional boxing suit each other so well. Boxers make the biggest wager of all: They bet their health and safety to gain fame and fortune.
"King" Arthur Williams destroyed Darryl Hollowell Friday night only one minute into the second round. Williams, the undercard fighter whose bout preceded Laila Ali's at the DeSoto County Civic Center, is the current International Boxing Federation (IBF) cruiserweight champion and the man some boxing analysts believe is most likely to beat Roy Jones Jr. For Williams, that's the utmost compliment.
"M-man, I hadn't heard that," Williams told a fan, stuttering slightly. "Me and Roy, we grew up together in Pensacola. That's why I had to get out and go to Vegas. Pensacola's not big enough for both of us."
Williams is a nervous guy, only at ease when his hands are taped and gloved and the spotlight's glare illuminates his battering jabs. He nearly dances in the ring, dominating, gliding, and attacking. But the years of boxing have taken their toll. His mind is sharp, but somewhere between his brain and his tongue the neurons misfire and Williams' words come out staccato and jumbled.
The only thing recognizable about Zeljko Mavrovic was his signature mohawk haircut. Having dropped about 50 pounds since his 1998 loss to Lennox Lewis, Mavrovic looked more the part of reporter, his current job, than heavyweight contender. Perhaps more than anyone else in The Pyramid Saturday night, the soft-spoken Mavrovic understood Mike Tyson's pain.
"He never got relaxed in the ring," said Mavrovic. "He was tense the whole fight. You have to get relaxed and enjoy the fight or you won't do well. Lennox came out relaxed and listening to reggae. He had the chi. You've got to have the chi to win."
In 1998, Mavrovic lost to Lewis in a grueling fight that would become his only defeat in 29 professional bouts. Unlike Tyson, Mavrovic went the full 12 rounds with the champion and can still say he has never been knocked out. After watching the pummeling Lewis inflicted on Tyson, Mavrovic was sympathetic.
"There was one instant after Tyson was down that he opened his eyes and seemed to consider getting up and fighting. But his eye was bleeding badly and he was disoriented. There is no way that Tyson could have won the fight at that point and so he stayed down. I think he just wanted it to end," said Mavrovic.
Tall and lanky, Mavrovic credits his dramatic weight loss to a mysterious kidney disorder, which, he said, baffled doctors and kept him hospitalized for weeks.
"This is my natural weight," Mavrovic said, waving his right arm down the length of his body. "When I was fighting, I would eat every two hours so that I could maintain as a heavyweight. I did that for 10 years. It was not healthy. My kidneys could not process all the food."
Obsessed now with a macrobiotic diet that shuns all meats and processed foods, Mavrovic said that he feels better and happier than he ever has."When I was fighting, I never enjoyed myself. All I could think about was training and winning. You have to enjoy each moment, live in each moment. Now I enjoy my life."
His training sessions now begin with yoga-inspired breathing before he shifts to boxing. But he won't train or spar with gloves on. He said that it would seem too official.
"I haven't had boxing gloves on since my last fight," he said. "I don't want to put them on again."
Latrell Sprewell is an avid boxing fan. With his history of aggressive behavior in the NBA, it makes sense that he'd follow the sport. He follows his favorite bouts on tape so he can watch them over and over again. He even follows women's boxing and can talk about Laila Ali, Suzy Taylor, and Lucia Rijker as easily and fluently as he talks about Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, and "Sugar" Shane Mosley.
"Tyson had that first round, maybe not by much, but he had it," said Sprewell, talking excitedly. He jabbed at the air with his left fist then executed an impressive uppercut at an imaginary opponent.
Genuinely sweet and considerate despite his image, Sprewell said he can relate to Tyson on some levels because he believes he has also been treated unfairly by the media.
"They want you to be this bad guy," he said, "so that's all they talk about." He shrugged, seemingly resigned to his role as basketball's bad boy. "But that's not who I am. That's not what I'm about. I'm a nice guy, but you've never read that, have you?" he asked.
Don Barden, who owns Fitzgeralds Casino, hosted Mike Tyson's training camp. It was a move that caused him to feel a little torn.
"Emanuel Steward, Lennox Lewis' trainer, is my best friend," he said. "He was in my wedding when I got married. It's hard to be on the other side from him."
But as the week progressed, Barden became more comfortable with his fight week loyalties, particularly after spending nearly three hours talking with Tyson on Tuesday night.
"He's not at all like he's portrayed as being," said Barden. "He's very nice and very intelligent, much more grounded and stable than you'd believe after reading about him."
Barden was so impressed with Tyson that he said the two even talked about going into business together, possibly in Tunica.
"We talked about building a facility here where we could host more fights together," Barden said. But that was before Tyson's loss on Saturday. Maybe, post-Lewis, Tyson's boxing future will be defined by promotion rather than fighting. Maybe he'll go the George Foreman route and do product promotion. That's something Sprewell said he'd hate to see happen. "Tyson is still better than most of the fighters out there. There's still lots of guys he can beat." Then he paused and reconsidered. "But Foreman has made a lot of money off that grill. I've got one of those grills. I use mine all the time. If Tyson came out with something like that ... ," he said, his voice trailing.
The world saw Iron Mike Tyson go down Saturday night and watched him as he lay beaten and bloody in the squared ring. So what does a champion do when he begins to lose?
Las Vegas is full of beaten fighters and broken gamblers. All can map their return to greatness, insisting they can win again. But, soon enough, every boxer's day comes. The smart ones like Mavrovic take the physiological hints and leave with their health and dignity intact. But for others, the allure is too strong. Months after a loss, it's easy to forget the agony of defeat. Sticking around for another fight may not be Mike Tyson's best move, but it's the one he'll likely take. A gambler always plays one more hand.