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Tyson's Last Stand ?

Nov 3, 2000


THERE have been some doubts expressed as to whether the fiasco in Detroit, two Fridays ago, was really Mike Tyson's last fight.

Tyson said it is. Others, citing his alleged financial constraints as well as the chance to become a three-time world heavyweight champion say no.

But suppose this was, indeed, the final fling for "Iron Mike," what is the legacy of one of boxing's most phenomenal - and controversial - figures ever?

The overall impression is that Tyson could have, maybe even should have, become an all-time great. Yes, he was only 5' 11'' with a reach of 71'' and never weighed more than 223 in the ring - physical limitations that are even more magnified in the current era of lumbering giants. But, Tyson was an awesome force of power with a tightly muscled, barrel-chested frame, intimidating biceps and large hands - all generated by devastating speed. He rose up the ladder by destroying opponents every three weeks and was 27-0, with 25 knockouts, by the time he became the youngest ever heavyweight champion on November 22, 1986 at the age of 20 when he knocked out Trevor Berbick in two rounds to win the WBC title.

Berbick was a large man. So too were James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes and several other fighters that Tyson easily destroyed in his prime. Along with unifying the heavyweight title by August 1987, Tyson also cleaned out the division: transferring many of the top contenders - most notably Biggs - into the journeyman ranks. For the man that trained in the hills of Catskill, New York, universal recognition as the top heavyweight came in Atlantic City on June 27, 1988. That was when he knocked out former champion, Michael Spinks, in 91 seconds. It was the peak moment of the still-young Tyson's career: that easy demolition of a man who had been regarded as the division's outstanding fighter. Back in secondary school, I remember us thinking that Mike Tyson could never be beaten.

But, it is part of Tyson's legacy that his fall came immediately after his rise. The egregious decision to join the Don King camp and the ill-fated marriage to actress Robin Givens soon came about. So too did a propensity to injure himself, both in the gym and by driving Mercedes Benz's into trees. This gave way to longer than usual gaps between fights, an obvious dip in his boxing skills and rumours that his commitment to training was not what it should have been. All of this culminated in his spectacular upset at the hands of James "Buster" Douglas. In subsequent fights, Tyson's technique would appear even more eroded.

Even during Tyson's prime the public started to gain an insight into the other, darker side of his character. This was the side that was accused of fondling women's buttocks, attacking a car park attendant and being involved in stormy domestic disturbances with Givens. However, we all brushed the incessant incidents aside - preferring to focus on Tyson's ring exploits. Even when he was accused of raping a beauty pageant contestant in Indianapolis in July 1991, we all concentrated on his impending title challenge against Evander Holyfield. Then, we were all forced to confront reality in March 1992, when Tyson was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison.

Tyson won early release from incarceration in 1995 and returned to the ring within five months. But his second career was dominated by his other self. That person viscously bit Holyfield's ears, hit Orlin Norris after the bell and continued pummeling Lou Savarese in spite of the referee's instructions to stop. That same person also spent another couple of months in jail for attacking two motorists whom accidentally struck his wife's car. It was eventually confirmed that Tyson does have some psychological problems and needs to be under medication in order to be kept in check - an indication that there are, finally, some people around him who are concerned about his problems.

If this really is the end, then it is sad that Tyson's last fight, through no fault of his own, turned out to be just as bizarre as his previous bouts. Sad that most people are no longer concerned with the man who severely dominated his opponents more than a decade ago, only with a self-destructive individual who needs to be under guard: no longer concerned about the man he was, or should have been.