Tyson bite: PPV bonanza or big bust?

Saturday night’s bizarre heavyweight championship rematch in Las Vegas, which found Evander Holyfield retaining his title after Mike Tyson’s disqualification for biting both of the champion’s ears, could, ironically, boost Tyson’s marketability in the pay-per-view arena — if he is not barred from boxing altogether.

After the evening’s grisly events, the prospects were bewildering for Showtime Event Television (SET), which suddenly found its pay-per-view meal ticket imperiled for trying to make a meal of Holyfield.

Speculation ran rampant on Sunday that Tyson’s estimated $30 million purse —already being withheld — might be denied entirely and that Tyson might be stripped of his license to box. He might even be in danger of returning to prison for violating his parole after reportedly taking a swing at a Las Vegas police officer who was attempting to restore peace in the ring after the fiasco.

Tyson served three years in prison in Indiana on a felony rape conviction and has remained out on parole the past two years.

New PPV record

SET was already estimating Sunday that the fight — such as it was — had certainly broken the pay-per-view record of 1.6 million buys among home viewers (the majority of them for between $49.95 and $54.95) and could exceed 2 million. The company was expected to have some concrete preliminary numbers today.

But while SET’s exclusive three-year contract with Tyson still has 18 months to run, there was talk on Sunday that viewers who had paid top dollar would demand refunds, though that decision figures to be up to individual cable operators rather than SET.

SET spokeswoman Marina Capurro said Sunday that the company’s phones “were ringing off the hook” after Tyson’s 1995 fight with Peter McNeeley, his first following his release from prison. That bout lasted only into the second round and angered many fans for both its brevity and utter lack of competition.

“A lot of fans wanted their money back after that one,” Capurro said, “but we haven’t received a single call from anyone asking for a refund this time.”

However, those calls are almost certain to come, and several fans who attended the three-round fight at the MGM Grand Hotel Saturday were angrily demanding refunds. Some had paid as much as $8,000 to scalpers for certain choice ringside seats, which carried a face value of $1,500.

Interest to grow

Should Tyson be licensed to continue boxing in the wake of his two-bite attack, his soap opera-ish aura of controversy stands only to grow and flourish, as one pay-per-view executive pointed out Sunday.

“It’s insane, but Tyson’s next fight, no matter who it’s against, will draw gargantuan interest,” the executive said. “People will want to see the animal let out of his cage again and see what part of his opponent’s anatomy he bites next time. No matter how much people feel ripped off by he and (promoter) Don King, they always come back for more.”

A strong draw

Indeed, Tyson’s bouts since 1995 account for more than 90% of all boxing pay-per-view revenue.

“They don’t flock to see Tyson because he’s a great boxer but because he’s a savage, and a disaster waiting to happen,” the executive added. “The disaster finally happened.”

TV viewers who missed the fight on Saturday night will have a chance to watch Tyson-Holyfield II on Showtime July 7 at 9 p.m., an event that stands to bust all viewing records for a single pay-cable program.

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