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Grudge Match—Tyson vs. King

The former heavyweight champion of the world and the world's most notorious boxing promoter are battling in court over millions of dollars.
Geoffrey Gray
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 8)

On the phone Tyson didn't want to talk about his future, his legal battles, his waning public image or the maelstrom in his mind. It was 4:30 a.m., and Tyson said he was up thinking about the first bout between the great Jewish lightweight Benny Leonard ("one smart nigger!") and "Lefty" Lew Tendler, a Jewish southpaw from Philadelphia, in 1922. He wagered that Arnold Rothstein, the famed Jewish gambler and underworld mastermind, was backing Leonard and that the renowned gambler from Philadelphia, Maxie "Boo Boo" Hoff, had a piece of Tendler. He imagined that poor Jews from the East Side had wagered a couple of weeks' pay on Leonard; the same with Tendler.

"I would have loved to have been there," Tyson says. "It must have been off the hook!"

What about the fight against King? Can Tyson reclaim his fortune? Again, he doesn't like to say. He prefers to discuss the great ghosts of the ring like Kid Gavilan, who died recently, half-blind and penniless, buried in an anonymous grave without a headstone. "It doesn't make him any less of a man," Tyson says about Gavilan's grave. "Life's so ironic. On a gravestone, you know that dash?" Tyson says, referring to the line that separates the years of one's birth and death on a tombstone. "That dash -- it's so small, but really, that dash is everything."

Geoffrey Gray is a writer living in Manhattan who often covers boxing for The New York Times.

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