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When Mike Tyson Ruled The World

by Aaron Tallent

Mike Tyson is making a comeback . . . again. Last Tuesday he announced that he would fight Kevin McBride at the MCI Center in Washington, DC on June 11.

“I feel pretty well,” says Tyson. “My leg’s pretty much healed and I’m looking forward to the fight and starting my career again.”

The title of the fight, “Redemption,” is nothing new, a tired retread of a tired retread. Only two things make this fight any different than the other gazillion chances boxing fans have given Tyson:

1) The bout will be held in the Capitol City and Tyson has never fought there.
2) It is 99% likely that the fight will not be held on pay-per-view because no one will pay to watch Tyson fight after his loss to Danny Williams in July.

Even Tyson knows the boxing world’s not expecting much. “It’s a no-win situation for me,” he said. “If I knock (McBride) out in two seconds, he’s a bum. If he gives a shellacking, I’m a bum.”

The Irish McBride is a colossal journeyman who now lives in Brockton, Massachusetts, the hometown of Rocky Marciano. However, that is the only similarity he shares with The Brockton Blockbuster. McBride’s most notable victory is . . . well, he does not have a notable victory. With Tyson, he wants to change that. “I want to shock the world,” says McBride.

I have got news for McBride. If he beats Tyson, he will not even shock the MCI Center. He will only disappoint the rubberneckers, vultures, and few boxing fans who think Tyson can still contend in what is a very weak heavyweight division.

Yes, there are a few boxing fans that still feel that Tyson has something left in the tank, though it may hinge more on nostalgia than rational thought. The heavyweight champion also holds the title of “Baddest Man on the Planet,” and if you were part of Generation X, no boxer ever symbolized that distinction more than Tyson.

Unfortunately, years of bad boxing, obscene remarks, and arrests have made many people only remember the Tyson that punctuated a threat to eat Lennox Lewis’s children with “Praise be to Allah.” They forget the kid that legendary trainer Cus D’Amato took out of a reformatory and turned into the most dangerous combination of speed and power ever unleashed on professional boxing.

D’Amato also trained heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and light heavyweight champion Jose Torres. For Tyson’s style, he created a modified peek-a-boo, which consisted of a bobbing motion and aggressively firing powerful flurries to places like the tip of the chin and the liver.

It worked unbelievably well for Iron Mike. He took only 40 minutes and 25 seconds to dispatch his first 15 opponents. In his 28th fight, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at age 20 when he knocked out Trevor Berbick in the second round.

Don King put together a heavyweight tournament in 1987, which Tyson won with decisions over James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Tony Tucker. This made him the first undisputed champ since Muhammad Ali.

Tyson then put in one of the busiest six months of any heavyweight champion in the last twenty years. In January of 1988 he knocked out former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in four rounds. In March of that same year he destroyed former WBA heavyweight champion Tony Tubbs in two rounds.

Tyson ended that run the following June with his crowning achievement as a fighter, a 91 second demolition of Michael Spinks. At that time, Tyson seemed indestructible and positively marketable.

Advertising executives loved him. Companies like Diet Pepsi, used him for endorsements. Nintendo created the now-legendary Mike Tyson’s Punchout.

The eyebrows began to be raised with his disastrous marriage to Robin Givens and the rumors of domestic abuse. Boxing writers and fans wondered if Tyson was truly focused on the sport. Regardless, it did not seem to matter. Tyson only had to spend six rounds in the ring in 1989 to take care of Frank Bruno and Carl Williams.

Going into his bout in Japan with James “Buster” Douglas in January of 1990, the 23-year-old Tyson was 37-0 and the only formidable fighter left in his path was Evander Holyfield, who at that time was thought to be nothing more than a blown-up cruiserweight. Even boxing experts thought Tyson would stand atop the heavyweight for at least another three years.

We all know what happened next. Whether or not Tyson came in ill-prepared is irrelevant now. Douglas, spurred by the death of his mother, stood toe to toe with Tyson, shook off an 8th round knockdown, and jabbed his way to a 10th round knockout.

Tyson was never the same after that fight. He forwent flurries and focused solely on power shots. He quit leading with his jab. He quit bobbing his head. And he resorted to clinching twice as much as he used to.

Sportswriters equated Tyson to the schoolyard bully who cowers as soon as someone stands up to him, but that was not the case at all. Tyson simply lost his discipline in the ring and has winged it for the rest of his career.

His behavior throughout most of the 1990s is also quite disturbing and has caused many revisionist historians to question the legitimacy of his first run as heavyweight champion. People began to say: “He came into one of the worst heavyweight eras in history. Holmes was old and washed-up and Spinks was just a scared, blown-up light heavyweight when he fought Tyson.”

Those insinuations are ridiculous. Bad or not, Tyson literally cleaned out the heavyweight division during the late 80s. He ducked no one.

That argument about Larry Holmes is understandable. The Easton Assassin was pushing 39 when he fought Tyson and Holmes has always said that he only had a few months to train for the fight. However, Tyson is the only boxer to ever knockout Holmes, who was by no means in the twilight of his career. A few years later, a 42-year-old Holmes went the distance with then-undisputed heavyweight champion Holyfield.

The rap on the Spinks fight is only a testament to just how great Tyson was at the time. Spinks had cleaned out the light heavyweight division, beating legends like Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He moved up to the heavyweight ranks because of a lack of opponents and for the money. When he did, he shocked the world, taking the heavyweight title and boxing immortality away from Larry Holmes, who would have tied Marciano’s record for most consecutive wins as heavyweight.

Spinks then beat Holmes again in a rematch by a controversial split decision. He followed that up with knockouts of Steffan Tangstad in September 1986 and Gerry Cooney in June 1987. After the Cooney fight, the ballyhooing for a fight with Tyson began.

What culminated with Tyson/Spinks was unfair to both fighters. Spinks was a great fighter but he, like every other heavyweight during that era, was no match for Iron Mike. Spinks then retired, leaving his obliteration by Tyson as his lasting image in boxing fans’ memories. This, coupled with Tyson’s losses to Douglas, Holyfield, Lewis, and Williams, has caused many to gloss over the significance of that fight.

The negative speculation, along with his 1992 rape conviction, the ear-biting incident, the press conference with Lewis, his financial woes (which are not surprising when you look at his expenditures), and his many brushes with the law, make it hard to ever think of Tyson as anything more than a thug who seems more fit on VH1’s The Surreal Life than in a boxing ring.

“This is a hard world out here,” said Tyson, “and if you don’t make the decision to be a man and deal with the responsibilities at hand, you’re going to be a total and full-out problem. It’s all about sacrifice.”

Even though he may not deserve it, boxing has given Tyson another chance. And the division is weak enough for a 38-year-old to pick off an alphabet soup belt. Tyson will never again rule the heavyweight circuit the way he did in the 80s. He simply does not have the speed and power. But if he can find that discipline that once vaulted him to unprecedented heights, Tyson will not only exceed everyone’s expectations, he will remind everyone of an era when he was truly the “baddest man on Earth.”

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