Going into this past weekend the sporting world was gearing up for one of the most memorable three-day stretches anyone could recall.
Giddy with anticipation, sports fans spent the better part of the last work week figuring out viewing schedules to allow them to watch a lineup that included the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight bout, War Emblem's Belmont bid for the Triple Crown, the NBA Finals, hockey's Stanley Cup Finals, the French Open, as well as interleague baseball matchups pitting Pedro Martinez versus Curt Schilling and showcasing Barry Bonds's first trip to Yankee Stadium. And don't forget the quadrennial World Cup, particularly the blood feud contest between England and Argentina.
On paper it appeared to be the kind of weekend the crack engineers at La-Z-Boy had in mind when they went about inventing their famous chair. Settle in and witness the best that sport has to offer.
But, as the old saying goes, they don't play the games on paper. What transpired this weekend was hardly anyone's best. Instead of history being made, we were treated to a fairly mediocre few days. All that anyone will remember about this weekend is how its promise fizzled out.
The three main culprits for this were (in descending order of intelligence) Lennox Lewis, War Emblem, and Mike Tyson.
The Lewis-Tyson fight was only slightly more exciting than watching the Mississippi River flow past the Pyramid. The fight did not live up to the hype, fairly pathetic when you stop to consider that the advance billing didn't promise anything more than a reigning title holder taking on a washed-up but interestingly erratic former champ. The fight, such as it was, was no fight at all. Lennox Lewis spent the evening throwing uncontested jabs straight into Iron Mike's face.
Tyson played the role of the sparring partner brought in to camp to warm up the champ by absorbing his blows, all the while forbidden from hitting back. It was kid gloves all the way from a man once considered boxing's most fearsome practitioner. Tyson connected on fewer than 50 punches; Lewis connected on nearly 200. And of Tyson's punches, a grand total of one seemed like it could have possibly stung.
It was no secret going into the bout that Lewis likely would capitalize on his height and reach advantage to keep Tyson at arms' length and feed him a diet of sharp jabs. Lewis is at his best when he is most clinical and methodical. And it was no secret that Tyson hadn't fought a decent fight in a decade. Since this fight didn't appear to be anything other than a reprise of Lewis's fight against the Samoan fireplug David Tua (albeit with better tattoos), why should anyone have cared?
There are three reasons why anyone would have ponied up fifty bucks for the pay-per-view privilege of watching what promised to be a fairly lousy fight. One, because a heavyweight fight is arguably the greatest spectacle in sports, regardless of how lame the matchup. Two, because it was the only opportunity to see Chris Webber in action during the NBA Finals (he was ringside with Tara Banks). And three, to see if Tyson would do anything crazy. Try to name any other fighter guilty of cannibalizing an opponent in the ring, as Tyson did Evander Holyfield.
So though his skills may have deteriorated, it wasn't a bad bet to think Tyson might pull something unexpected. And in one manner, he didn't disappoint.
After getting his head bashed in, a bloodied Tyson, eyes nearly swollen shut, was uncharacteristically nice and gracious and humble. What about all those nasty things he'd said about Lennox in the weeks leading up to the bout? Didn't mean 'em. Just promoting the fight. Tyson politely requested a rematch from Lewis with manners one might expect from a tea-party attendee, which, come to think of it, is about how Tyson fought.
(After the bout Tyson waxed philosophical, in an incoherent sort of way, babbling that now he might just "fade into Bolivian.")
Tyson had stiff competition for the title of Biggest Chump on Saturday. A win in the Belmont Stakes would have guaranteed War Emblem racing immortality as just the twelfth horse to win the Triple Crown (and the first since 1978). A record crowd turned out to see history made, but what it saw instead was a pretty good horse unable to go the grueling mile-and-a-half at the sort of pace required of a champion. War Emblem finished 20 lengths back, and the Sport of Kings will have to wait at least another year before embarking on the increasingly elusive quest to produce a worthy heir to Sir Barton, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, or Secretariat.
Letdowns were the order of the weekend in a host of sporting endeavors. The NBA Finals? The real finals were played the week before, when the Lakers edged the Kings. The series against the Nets is just a formality for Los Angeles, an epilogue to a spectacular playoff run that culminated in winning the West.
Same with hockey. Does anyone really think the Carolina Hurricanes can defeat the NHL Hall of Fame Traveling Road Show that is the Detroit Red Wings? Hardly. The Canes may have scraped a win in the first game and nearly taken another on Saturday, but they have no chance to take Lord Stanley's Cup.
After these letdowns, everything else seems superfluous. Barry Bonds homered in the House that Ruth Built, and Schilling's Diamondbacks outlasted Pedro's Red Sox at Fenway. Big deal. Same with the French Open. On the women's side one Williams sister beat the other. What else is new? And on the men's side, no-name Albert Costa defeated the lesser-known Juan Carlos Ferrero. Could anyone have possibly cared? And it's certain few Americans care very much about the World Cup in the Orient, especially with those games kicking off during graveyard shift hours.
If there's a sports fan in America who doesn't feel a little bit ripped off after this weekend, then he's either Juan Carlos Ferrero's cousin or (even more improbably) he had a tenner on 70-1 longshot Sarava in the Belmont.
Maybe it'll teach us a lesson. Maybe it'll spur us to do some yard work or read a book. Far-fetched? Perhaps? Then again, who'd ever heard of Sarava before this weekend?
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