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Some fear Tyson fight could ruin Olympic bid

(Published February 25, 2002)


Staff Writer

Washington’s business community, churches and activists are punching away at Mike Tyson’s chances of fighting heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, or anyone else, in the nation’s capital.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade informed Mayor Anthony A. Williams that it ardently disagrees with his decision to support the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission plan to host Tyson. Members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) protested outside the boxing commission’s offices, and church pastors began petitions that urge the mayor to reconsider.

"Mr. Mayor, having just returned from the wholesome atmosphere of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, you understand better than anyone how much time and hard work it takes for a city to protect its image so that future possibilities become present opportunities," Board of Trade Chairman Linda Rabbitt wrote in a letter to the mayor. City leaders are hoping to host an NFL Super Bowl and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

The boxing commission is made up of three mayoral appointees – Arnold W. McKnight, Michael Brown and Melva Boatwright. Last week the commission voted unanimously to accept an application to compete from Tyson. That is the first of many steps the boxer must complete to get licensed, but just that small step has been hit with heavy opposition.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose said she wants to abolish the boxing and wrestling commission, and Ward 4 Councilman Adrian Fenty sent a letter to the mayor urging him to bar Tyson from boxing in the District.

"My biggest concern is chaos. He’s only had one press conference [with Lewis] and it turned into a melee," Fenty said. Fenty added that he has received a horde of e-mail messages from his constituents opposing the commission’s decision to even consider licensing Tyson to fight in the District.

The Tyson-Lewis fight is expected to pull in an estimated $200 million to become the highest grossing prize fight in history. Las Vegas, New York, Georgia and California turned Tyson away before Washington welcomed the former heavyweight champion. The bout is tentatively set for June 8 at MCI Center, although RFK Stadium also has been mentioned as a possible venue.

On NOW’s Web site, Membership Vice President Terry O’Neil said she is "outraged that Mayor Anthony Williams supported the license, even going so far as to say that a Tyson fight could have a ‘very positive impact on the city. Allowing a convicted rapist — someone charged with numerous counts of abuse and other violence — to headline an event in the nation’s capital is an insult to women everywhere."

Supporters of the fight being staged here point to the boost the local economy is sure to get. At-Large Councilman Harold Brazil, chairman of the council’s Committee on Economic Development, said he supports the Tyson-Lewis bout "because it will demonstrate that Washington is an exciting destination, a fast-emerging sports town."

"World-class boxing, Grand Prix style auto racing, major league baseball and then the Summer Olympics – the sky is the limit for Washington," Brazil said. "Washington is the place to be. I want the hotels, restaurants and taxis filled to capacity, and the revenue to boot."

Williams said he believes the city needs to take advantage of such an event since it would generate huge revenue for the local hospitality industry, which is still reeling from the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We are trying to bring our hospitality and tourism back, and this is a big part of it," the mayor said.

But opponents of a Tyson fight contend that this event will do harm to the city’s reputation and go against the city’s efforts to land the right to host future events.

"Mayor Williams and his administration need to be looking for less polarizing and more women-friendly, family-friendly ways to bring revenue to the city," O’Neil said.

Tyson and Lewis have been talking about fighting each other for the past seven years. Boxing enthusiasts say there are few interesting heavyweight match-ups besides this one and that the next big payday in the heavyweight division may be a rematch to this fight.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator