WHEN the totally inadequate Bruce Seldon hit the canvas in the first round of his farcical World Boxing Association title fight against Mike Tyson last week more damage was done to the sport than the challenger. Professional boxing is in danger of counting itself out and self-inflicted damage is putting it at much greater risk than an army of abolitionists. I did not watch the travesty of a fight because there was not the slightest doubt as to how it would end. And by reliable accounts, when the end came it was as carefully orchestrated as any Las Vegas musical spectacular. Boxing as entertainment must involve fights between men of roughly equal calibre fighting at their proper weight and with a determination to win that is inbred. What is happening now in the heavyweight division - and, sadly, that is where the spotlight falls - is a careful manipulation of fighters, rankings, television and arenas, generally for the greater good of the despicable Don King and his cohorts. Tyson, convicted rapist and mumbling Muslim convert, is the cracked jewel in King's crown - but he's still worth millions if cleverly exploited. It does say little, however, for the intelligence of pay TV boxing fans that they would pay money to watch a sham such as last Sunday's non-event. While they do, however, King will endeavour to emulate the Muhammad Ali 'bum a month' ploy and rake in the money. There are a couple of significant factors which make the current Tyson-King game plan different from that of Ali two decades ago. Ali did, for a time, fight almost literally once a month against questionable opposition - but he was in there regularly. And, of course, he was an absolute mega-attraction. Tyson is not likely to see action on such a regular basis nor is he anything approaching the super drawcard Ali was - or anything like as good, either. American boxing at the top, heavyweight level is rotten and, as a Turkish proverb has it, a fish rots from the head down. Given the machinations of King and those of his ilk at other levels in the fight game, it will not be that long before the entire sport reeks. Basic boxing problems are the lack of centralised control, the exploitation of fighters and widely differing standards in various boxing authorities. New boxing federations came into being to simply ensure more title fights - albeit for dubious titles - and bigger receipts. That has led to a dilution of the merits of a world title and the gold belt. Exploitation of boxers is nothing new. From the beginning, professional boxers have been drawn largely from the ghettoes of the dispossessed. Quick with their fists, much less so with their wits, any number were conned in careers that did not set standards in longevity. It is worse now and has been since television took such a big hand in boxing. In America, fight nights remain good business and the human fodder must be at hand to fulfil audience demands. To an extent, it is also an indictment of the sport that an ambling, however amiable, defensively-weak heavyweight could get to the very top as did England's Frank Bruno. In some American states and in some European countries, boxing authorities are vigilant, demanding and in control. Not so in others and it is to some of these venues that promoters gravitate. The taint of corruption lies heavy on professional boxing - in America at least - and it is not likely to go away while leeches like King run the sport. But amateur boxing, which has always been a chosen sport of mine, is not what it was. The Olympic finals produced some excellent boxing prospects but new-fangled scoring systems and, dare one say it, safety considerations that may have been over the top, definitely took the sting out of many contests. There is also the likelihood that boxing will become the pariah of the modern Olympic movement. The sport is safe for Sydney but it has few champions at high levels supporting its continuation into the next century. These are not good days for boxing at the paid or amateur level and there seems little immediate prospect of an upturn. While the Tyson circus continues, we scan the horizon in the hope that a young, untainted challenger will emerge with the charisma of Ali and the magic of Rocky Marciano. Unfortunately, the count may reach 10 before that happens.