You always know when it's time for a washed-up fraud of a fighter named Mike Tyson to earn another $5 million for further humiliating himself against some no-name palooka.
Tyson starts talking crazy.
Tyson drops hints that he's so mentally unstable, there's no telling what he might do before, during or after the "fight." Who knows? He might eat his opponent's ears like they're corn on the cob. He might eat his opponent's children, right there at ringside.
Heck, he might rape an alien and eat his own alien baby, giant ears first, right there on pay-per-view.
So hurry, hurry, step right up and order now!
P.T. Barnum had nothing on Mike Tyson. Barnum, the marketing genius behind the Barnum and Bailey Circus, realized that people would pay to see bearded ladies and sword swallowers. Most people believe Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute" though, fittingly, a competitor of Barnum's actually said that about a stunt Barnum had pulled.
Since Tyson began boxing, at least 10 suckers have been born every minute not counting the ones Tyson has eaten.
But as long as those suckers believe he's a rabid fox, capable of doing things they've never seen before, he can sell ice to Eskimos. People will pay to be shocked, and Tyson has convinced lots of people that he's the ultimate one-man freak show.
Now, the boxing part of his act has become mostly irrelevant. These aren't fights, they're events. Tyson could make $5 million fighting himself.
After all, what legacy does he have to protect? Since Tyson began boxing 20 years ago, he hasn't beaten a single great heavyweight in his prime. At Tyson's pit-bull best from 1985 to '90, he couldn't have beaten any of the greatest from the Ali Era not Ali, Frazier, Foreman or Norton. Tyson beat Larry Holmes when Holmes was 38. He mauled Michael Spinks in 91 seconds because Spinks was nothing more than a decent light heavyweight.
Yet nearing 39, Tyson will fight again Saturday night in a city of Barnums and Baileys called senators and congressmen. In Washington, Tyson will shadow box with a 6-foot-6, 271-pound lug named Kevin McBride. This tomato can or Guinness keg says he has lost 25 pounds and enlisted the aid of a hypnotist.
Maybe the hypnotist can actually make McBride believe he's a real fighter.
No one can hypnotize a roomful of reporters the way Tyson can. Now, no one seems to remember that, a year ago, Tyson lost to somebody named Danny Williams. Tyson claimed he lost because he tore cartilage in his knee during the fight. Now Tyson says he broke his leg.
He's usually pulling your leg.
This man is a marketing genius. On ESPN's "Cold Pizza" Thursday, promoter Rock Newman said one true thing: "People don't understand that Mike is very intelligent."
Not Ivy League intelligent. Not how-to-be-happy intelligent. But dark-side intelligent.
Tyson is a student of human flaws. That's why he understands exactly why people can't take their eyes off him. They live through him. They want to see if he'll give in to the impulses that many of his rubber-necking fans can barely control.
Tyson's enduring appeal boils down to: What might this maniac do next? Tyson knows he can be the devil inside us all. As he once said: "This country wasn't built on moral fiber. This country was built on rape, slavery, murder, degradation and affiliation with crime."
He knows he is a part of us all.
And he knows exactly what we need to hear before he fights. On cue during Wednesday's media session, Tyson told a blustering advisor of McBride's to shut up or, "You're going to get your fighter killed."
When this clown persisted, Tyson said of McBride: "I'm going to gut him like a fish."
Subliminal headline: Tyson skins, fries McBride.
Surely every talk show host in every town in America talked about Tyson's "gut him like a fish" line. That one brilliant jab was worth millions in publicity. Here was a joke of a heavyweight threatening a much bigger joke of a heavyweight, and media members ran with it as if this were Ali predicting what he'd do to Frazier before the Thrilla in Manila.
That's the raw genius of Mike Tyson.
Tyson once said: "At times I come across as crude or crass but I like to be that person. I like to show you all that person because that's who you come to see."
No doubt Tyson is, at his core, a thug. But so are a lot of professional athletes.
Yes, he was convicted of rape and spent three years in prison. Yes, when he realized he was losing a second straight fight to an aging Evander Holyfield, Tyson "went back to the streets," as he said afterward, and bit off part of Holyfield's ear. Yes, he says he was dependent on marijuana for a while and he has fought sexual addiction.
All fairly commonplace NFL behavior.
Yet Tyson has made and spent more money quicker than any NFL star ever dreamed of. Last year, he filed for bankruptcy after making more than $400 million in his career. So our dark sides fantasize about how we would squander that much money.
And he feeds our imaginations with lines like: "I may like to fornicate more than other people."
He flaunts his hold over us by saying, "I can sell out Madison Square Garden [performing sex on himself]."
Sadly, he's quite right.
A year ago, he told the New York Times he was living in homeless shelters. Now he's denying rumors that he's still spending extravagantly on homes and cars.
Reportedly, all but about $250,000 of Saturday night's $5 million payoff will go to creditors, including an ex-wife. Yet even if that's true, how many of us would like to make $250,000 for no more than an hour's work?
No, it's not Tyson's fault that he came along at a time when teenage athletes started realizing that even football is safer than boxing. No, it isn't his fault that he hasn't had much competition, or that the heavyweight division remains so weak and boring that he's still by far its biggest draw.
But after a pudgy and lazy Tyson suffered a 10th-round shock-out by somebody named Buster Douglas in 1990, and then did his prison stint, he lost his rage to win, and gradually realized he was more entertainer than fighter.
So, to fool the public into believing he actually had a chance against heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, Tyson said, "I want to eat his children."
And: "I want to rip his heart out and feed it to him."
And, to reporters about how much he hates his life: "I want to throw down your kid and stomp on his testicles, and then you will know what it is like to experience waking up every day as me."
Tyson says he's on Zoloft, for depression. What might he do next? His face tattoo cinched it. This guy is crazy!
Like a very intelligent fox.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.