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Mike Tyson, We Hardly Knew Ye

Mike Tyson will not be doing anything with a horse and carriage in Prague this time around.
Mike Tyson will not be doing anything with a horse and carriage in Prague this time around.
I know I speak for many of my fellow RFE/RL colleagues when I express my disappointment at the news that Mike Tyson will not be visiting Prague this week.

The former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World was supposed to arrive in Prague on October 19 for a series of events that would have included a party at the Zofin Palace (replete with live Cuban and classical music and a charity auction), a TV appearance, and a visit to a children's hospital. Tickets for taking part in these events were being sold for several thousands of dollars.

In a letter to his fans, Tyson noted that "one of the oldest clocks in the world resides in your town square and if time permits (no pun intended!) I would like to visit the palace and so many other famous monuments, but of course they are too numerous to mention." He also expressed a desire to "take a drive in the horse and carriage aound the coity [sic]." Sadly, that equestrian outing will have to wait.

On the evening of October 18, I received an e-mail from the public relations agent handling Tyson's tour, announcing an "EMERGENCY PRESS CONFERENCE" to be held at a Prague hotel to discuss "an unexpected change and overall change in program." About two hours later at the Ametyst Hotel, in walked Swiss boxing promoter Ray Karpf, his Czech partner Petr Hravda, Tyson's English manager Carl Holness, and several large, mean-looking men in suits. "I have sad news," Karpf said. "We couldn't make it happen.... Unfortunately we are not able to sell enough tickets."

Holness, perhaps embarrassed that his client was unable to generate sufficient interest in the Golden City, responded to this charge coldly. "Unfortunately, both [Karpf and Hravda] had failed through their own admission to come up with the funding and finances for Michael to come to Prague," he said. Tyson, he assured the assembled journalists, was "very disappointed" that "he could not attend due to financial commitments not being met." Asked by one of the press flacks (who was simultaneously translating the awkward exchange for the Czech-speaking media) if he had more to say, Holness replied, "I think, in fairness, I've said enough."

Next to speak, via cell phone from Las Vegas, was Tyson and his wife, Kiki, who were in the process of putting one of their children to bed. "[The promoters] are saying it's a lack of ticket sales to make their case," she said. Her husband had been "very excited to come to Prague to learn from the culture and people." No doubt Tyson would have also provided a much-needed boost to the city's world-famous sex-tourism industry, currently suffering as a result of the global recession.

She handed the phone over to her husband, and we finally got to hear that trademark falsetto. "Are you there? Hello. I am Mike Tyson," the ear-biter and rapist declared. The connection wasn't good, however, and so Holness put the phone up to his ear and relayed the message for us. "He didn't expect to come to Prague without a fee," Holness explained. Tyson was "really embarrassed to call...this has never happened to me before."

I asked Karpf how many tickets he had managed to sell. "It's a sad story. Almost nothing." Indeed, I suspected something was amiss when, two weeks ago, I e-mailed Karpf to see if it might be possible to arrange an interview with Tyson while he was in town. "Almost everything is possible," he wrote back. "Buy a Platinum ticket for 25.000 [Czech crowns, about $1,500] and you are a part of the show."

I had to gently explain to Karpf that I had no interest in being part of any show, and that it was not normal to charge members of the press for interviews. My query went unanswered.

When I first heard that Tyson was planning a visit to Prague, I was slightly bewildered. Did he have a following in the Czech Republic? Perhaps it had something to do with his cameo role in "The Hangover"? (Tyson will be traveling to China and Thailand later this year to promote "The Hangover 2," Holness said, lest we doubt that he is on his way to a comeback.)

I asked one of the Czech sports journalists in the room what Tyson's reputation was among his countrymen. "We think he is crazy," he replied. "Some sort of creature." They may be a little cold and shy at first, but don't let anyone ever tell you that the Czechs are not an eminently sensible people.