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FILM REVIEW: Tyson versus Holyfield fight as metaphor for Nigeria’s election

…no champion is forever

“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought” – Albert Szent-Györgyi von Nagyrápolt (1893-1986), founder of Vitamin C

By Osa Mbonu, Arts Editor

Historically, there have been good efforts by sports administrators to keep sports and politics as far apart as possible. Yet, besides the increasing cases of politicisation of sports in modern times, sports and politics have proved to have natural close affinities: both have to do with contests. In sports, as in politics, there are winners and losers; there are champions who wear the crowns, belts, titles, stay in offices or positions.

*Atiku versus Buhari, Courtesy, INEMAC

The maxim in sports that “No champion is forever,” has the same meaning with the maxim in politics, “Power is transient.” Between these two maxims, sportsmen and women have been able to come to terms and adapt better to their own maxim than politicians and their supporters. No wonder politicians are usually enjoined to adopt attitudes of good sportsmanship.

Politicians, especially in this part of the world, once they gain political power, despise the truism that “power is transient.” They do everything legitimately and illegitimately, to try to stay in office ‘till death do them part.’ When incumbent politicians or political parties lose elections, it is good for democracy and for the people in a multi-party system. Conversely, when one man or one political party clings onto power, it breeds dictatorship and the people are worse for it.  The fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield for the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship on November 9, 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada, and the second fight which took place on June 28, 1997 could be viewed from the prism of Nigerian politics especially between PDP and APC from February 2015 till date.

In the first fight, Tyson was defending for the first time the WBA title he had won from Bruce Seldon on September 7, 1996, and it was the first fight pitting the two boxers against each other. The ‘INEC’ of that fight was a referee named Mitch Halpern.

Before Tyson won the WBA from Bruce Seldon on September 7, 1996, James Douglas had handed Tyson the first defeat of his career at the Tokyo Dome on February 11, 1990. Then Holyfield in turn challenged James Douglas, said to be grossly out of shape, and took the title from him in his first defence, on a third-round knockout.

“As the rounds passed, Tyson was unable to adjust, and found himself being thoroughly outboxed,” wrote an analyst. “In the fifth round, Tyson landed a fierce combination, his best of the match, and Holyfield did not stagger. In the sixth round of the fight, a headbutt from Holyfield (judged to be accidental by the referee) opened a cut over Tyson’s left eye, and Tyson also suffered a knockdown, as Holyfield caught him with a left hook to the chest…with 15 seconds left in the seventh round, Tyson lunged at Holyfield as Holyfield came forward, resulting in a hard clash of heads. Tyson cried out in pain and his knees buckled, but again, the referee judged the headbutt to be unintentional.”

At the end of the tenth round, a punch from Holyfield sent Tyson staggering across the ring. Holyfield chased him into the ropes and landed a series of devastating blows. By the sound of the bell, Tyson was out on his feet and defenseless, but his corner allowed him out for the eleventh. Holyfield quickly landed another brutal extended combination, sending Tyson back into the ropes.

The referee had to stop the fight, giving Holyfield one of the most famous upset victories in the history of boxing.

At the post-fight press conference, Tyson was to say to Holyfield: “Thank you very much. I have the greatest respect for you.”

A rematch initially tagged “The Sound and the Fury” and later infamously referred to as “The Bite Fight” was scheduled on June 28, 1997. It was called “The Bite Fight” because after Holyfield had beaten Tyson to a pulp, Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear which led to Tyson’s disqualification from the match and loss of his boxing licensce.

Holyfield had surprised Tyson by controlling the contest and knocked him down in the sixth round.

At 32 seconds into the second round, Holyfield unintentionally head-butted Tyson, opening a large cut over the latter’s right eye.

Tyson began the third round with a furious attack. With forty seconds remaining in the round, Holyfield got Tyson in a clinch, and Tyson rolled his head above Holyfield’s shoulder and bit Holyfield on his right ear, spitting out the piece of ear onto the ring floor.

During another round, Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear again, this time on the left. When the second bite was discovered, the referee stopped the fight. Tyson was disqualified, giving victory to Holyfield.

Holyfield later told journalists that Tyson bit his ears because he knew he was going to get knocked out; that he chose to lose through disqualification than to be beaten like that.

No champion reigns forever. Mohammed Ali, one of the greatest boxers that ever lived was also at one time beaten. So it is too in politics. In advanced democracies like the United States, contest for political power has been a dog-dog play between the Republicans and Democrats – one dog falls for the other in an election and the other falls for the one in another through largely free and fair election. That way, politicians become wary of the people, knowing that they will be voted out in the next election if they did not perform well. This is one of the secrets to the political advancement and economic prosperity of western democracies.

The country took the first step ever in that journey of political advancement in 2015 when Nigerians, for the first time in history, voted an incumbent president (PDP) out of power. To his credit, the former president, in a show of magnanimity and sportsmanship, conceded the defeat with one of the greatest political statements ever made by a Nigerian leader: “My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”

Former President Jonathan did not take to violence and bloodshed like Mike Tyson, whether during or after the election, neither did he contest the result in the electoral tribunal. This is a legacy worth preserving by Nigerians.

As the country goes to the polls this week, it is important that the title holder approach the contest with the understanding that no champion reigns forever; that even his defeat by the opposition will translate to the political advancement of his country which he claims to love. To bite off the opponent’s ears and throw the entire country into unnecessary violence just to continue to be in office will be graver sin than the corruption of which he has serially accused the opposition.

It is also important that champions recognise when they are spent mentally and physically and quit when the ovation is loudest. It is not necessary for them to wait to be knocked out of the ring, or manipulate the process in order to hang on to power. Even if one is given the privilege of being a life champion, one should remember that one day, death will knock at one’s door.

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