If you had a camera crew follow Mike Tyson a la MTV’s “The Real World” this past week, you’d see him go to the tattoo parlor and cry like a baby while getting his eye tattoo. You’d see shots of his trainer Freddie Roach waiting futilely in the gym for Tyson to show up with some angry hard rock song in the background. And, if you watched closely enough, you’d see Tyson pioneer the sport of boxing into sports entertainment.

Just when it seemed like Mike Tyson had gone back to his cave, out he came with yet another crazy story to tell his grandkids. Only a week before tomorrow’s fight against punching bag Clifford Etienne, Tyson pulled out a mousetrap from his bag of tricks. And everyone else went for the cheese.

Pay-Per-View, which broadcasts main event-worthy boxing matches, thought little of this fight and handed the rights to Showtime network. Showtime was treating this Tyson fight with hardly any dignity either. It planned to have the fight as one half of a double bill with a Jay-Z concert as the other act. However, the magician Tyson outworked his own manager and promoter, Shelly Finkel by making this ho-hum matchup into must-see television.

Tyson backed out of the fight early last week citing sickness. Little did we know that he had no-showed three days of training to get the tattoo. Then when Tyson changed his mind and said the fight was back on, Etienne declared independence from the nation of Mike Tyson and said he wouldn’t fight. Finally on Wednesday, Etienne realized he’d make a million dollars off this fight and decided he would fight.

Etienne fell for Tyson’s trap and became another infamous opponent in Tyson’s long career. Whether it’s Tyson knocking out Michael Spinks 90 seconds into the first round or him biting into Evander Holyfield’s ear like a Slim Jim, Tyson opponents are remembered. How else could Peter “The Hurricane” McNeeley land a Pizza Hut commercial or Buster Douglas get his own Sega Genesis video game (Yes, I was one of the very few who bought that horrible game)?

If Etienne were to fight a star boxer other than Tyson, he’d be a nameless face with no personality. Using a 1980s WWF analogy, Etienne would be the guy with the ordinary tights and the ordinary name like Jim Steele, who’d be pitted against the Ultimate Warrior or The Million-Dollar Man. Tyson, however, has brought out a personality and even some quotations from Etienne.

“I’m going to show [Tyson] I don’t have to live by Mike’s rules. I think he has mental problems, but ike has to live with that,” Etienne said when he threatened to back out of the fight. When was the last time you heard something like that from a no-name opponent. Because of Tyson’s antagonizing tactics, Etienne has gone from simply Clifford Etienne to Clifford “I’m not Mike Tyson’s B-” Etienne.

Tyson managed to pique the public’s interest in this fight by creating a personality in Etienne. No longer is Etienne victim number 50 on the Tyson retirement tour. Instead, we know something about the opponent, which makes the fight all the more interesting to watch. Forget about high-quality boxing, it is all about drama for Mike Tyson.

If there is anything that Tyson has learned throughout his schizophrenic career, it’s that boxing is a joke and that you shouldn’t take it seriously. Why else would he take a week off from training right before a fight and get a tattoo in an area of the face that will be punched repeatedly? Might I emphasize again the fact that this was a week before the fight date. No matter how bad the opponent, you just don’t go AWOL and get a tattoo.

In a way, Tyson is ahead of his time. Inevitably, the sport of boxing will cross the line from sport to sports-entertainment. Kids used to believe that pro wrestling was real and then finally Vince cMahon and the WWE admitted most of it was fake. No doubt the hits in boxing are real, but the sport no longer has the seriousness, nor does it capture the spirit of the nation like it did in the 1920s or even as late as the Ali era. Nowadays, ring announcer ichael Buffer is more famous than some champion boxers and heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis carries less than one-tenth of the prestige that legendary predecessors such as Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis did. Just as pro wrestling evolved, boxing must evolve in order to stay alive. Tyson realizes this and is ushering the sport into new territory.

At 36, Tyson knows that he’s past his prime. But in this game of survival of the fittest, he has adapted and left his contemporaries behind. Look at Evander Holyfield now. The former champion still hasn’t retired and continues to fight no-names into oblivion. You could argue that Tyson has the same skill level as Holyfield now, but Holyfield won’t be getting a chance to fight Lennox Lewis ever.

Mike Tyson will.

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