There was perhaps no worse villain in all of sport than Roberto Duran when he introduced the phrase "No mas" to the American sporting lexicon in the eighth round of his rematch with Ray Leonard in New Orleans in 1980.
You would imagine that if there is any scandal worse than a star of the sport quitting in a huge fight, it's a star of the sport losing intentionally. There's no coming back from that, right? Wrong.
It wasn't until 1960 that former middleweight champ Jake LaMotta admitted that he'd thrown a fight against Billy Fox in '47. But you'd have to have been blind not to know it was a fix when LaMotta, whose iron chin was legendary, caved in against Fox, an unremarkable light heavyweight, in the fourth round. Everyone knew he'd taken a dive.
LaMotta did it to get a shot at the middleweight title, which he did, and from there he continued his career, winning and losing the title and continuing his wonderful series with Ray Robinson. Never a beloved figure in the first place -- at least not until the film Raging Bull was made, some 20 years after his last fight -- LaMotta didn't suffer too greatly from his scandal.
LaMotta wasn't the only big name from that era suspected of throwing a fight. Though he vehemently denied it, Willie Pep was accused of throwing a fight against Lulu Perez in 1954. A huge rush of late money on Perez raised eyebrows and when Perez knocked out the great Pep in the second round, those suspicions intensified. Nothing was ever proved, however, years later the magazine Inside Sports ran a feature that implied that Pep threw the fight. Pep sued for libel and the jury returned a verdict in the magazine's favor.
Today, no one holds it against Pep or LaMotta for doing what they did because the good work they got done before and even after their indiscretions overshadowed everything else. Some scandals, however, are so big and are perpetrated on such a grand scale that even if their effects are overcome, they are never forgotten.
It is unlikely that anyone who saw Mike Tyson bite off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear in the third round of their rematch in 1997 will ever be able to think of Tyson without also recalling that night. That Tyson chose that fight, which garnered a huge pay-per-view audience, to snap, was, depending on how you look at it, either wonderful or terrible for the sport.
From a purist's perspective it was a blow to the game to have it embarrassed in that way, an opportunity lost to have boxing uplifted in front of the masses. The other school of thought held that Tyson's sheer lunacy reinforced the belief that anything can happen in a prize ring and your best bet is to tune in to be sure you don't miss anything.
At any rate, the enormous fall-out from "The Bite" didn't diminish Tyson's drawing power. He remained a huge draw in fights against such nondescript opponents as Frans Botha and Orlin Norris, and his eventual loss to heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in 2002 was a tremendous financial success, due wholly to Tyson's strange, compelling charisma.
Of course, the incident was only one of Tyson's myriad scandals. Others include the rape of Desiree Washington, for which he was imprisoned for three years, the alleged battering of his one-time wife Robin Givens, several assaults, a recent drug arrest, the list goes on. Tyson is a magnet for scandal, but none of it ever had any effect on his ability to put fans in seats. If he could fight at all he could fill an arena. Say what you will with the benefit of hindsight, but if Tyson came back tomorrow and put together 10 wins you'd pay to see him try to regain the title, scandals or no.