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Tonight's Tyson documentary reminds boxing of what it's missing

September 7, 2010 |  3:23 pm

Tyson One of the people director Reggie Rock Bythewood interviewed for his ESPN documentary that airs tonight at 5, "One Night in Vegas," was a cab driver who remembered how a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas meant a month's worth of pay in one night, and contact "with a bunch of different elements; criminal elements."

"The hotels would offer the cab drivers a free buffet if they'd come by and pick people up," Bythewood said.

"One Night in Vegas" brings viewers back to Sept. 7, 1996, the last night Tyson walked out of a boxing ring as a world champion (he beat Bruce Seldon by first-round TKO at MGM Grand), and the same tragic evening when Tyson's friend, rapper Tupac Shakur, was gunned down outside the hotel and later died.

Bythewood recalls "the intrinsic danger in the air," at Tyson's Las Vegas bouts, but as a boxing fan who's named his son Cassius he also reminds us what the sport is missing without a compelling heavyweight champion to follow.

"It just feels like it's all about MMA now," Bythewood said.

The director recalled how Tyson filled the void of the division after Muhammad Ali's championship years, wearing black trunks and a towel, embodying what one rapper calls the spirit of "a hip-hop champion." "There was so much grit there," Bythewood said.

Tyson, 44, who participated in the documentary with an interview, told Associated Press in a Tuesday story that his biggest regret about Shakur's death was the fact that he never was able to "smoke weed" with the controversial rapper.

Bythewood said Tyson "showed up, was guarded, not trusting," for the documentary interview, "but when the cameras came on, he opened up for whatever reason." Bythewood said he undertook the project intrigued by the fact it was Tyson's final night as a champion in the ring, only to later learn how close the fighter and rapper were.

"I've wondered, 'If 'Pac had survived, would Mike have been a different fighter?" Bythewood said, referring to Tyson's subsequent consecutive losses to Evander Holyfield, including the ear-biting bout. "Maybe not, but this bond -- like Joe Louis and Sinatra, and Ali and Sam Cooke before it -- was compelling.

"There's something that seems to be missing. It's not the same right now."

-- Lance Pugmire

Photo: Director Reggie Rock Blythewood, left, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and Tyson's daughter Milan attend the premiere of "One Night In Vegas" at the Dwyer Cultural Center in New York City on Aug. 31. Credit: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images