I made myself a promise, a vow, that I would never waste more column space on Mike Tyson. But in the wake of his latest meltdown, I had the insatiable urge to do it again about the ear-chomping, arm-snapping, head-butting former heavyweight champion. Here is one last Tyson column for the road. It had been almost a year since Danny Williams sent Mike Tyson tumbling to the canvas, tumbling to what could have been the end of his career. But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement: Tyson, whose gross earnings exceeded three hundred million dollars, was in debt. Tyson needed money. A lot of money. More money than the gross national product of some third-world countries. Enter Kevin McBride.
McBride, who looked to be an Irish no-hoper, was next in the long line of sacrificial lambs. It mattered little that this lamb was guaranteed to become lamb chops. Tyson was the circus act, the unpredictabl, pay-per-view selling, after-the-bell-hitting wild man. McBride was replaceable, a mere prop in the traveling circus show that had become Mike Tyson. Based on McBride’s past ineptitude, he was fortunate to get paid for being one ring in the Tyson circus.
McBride had never beaten a legitimate heavyweight contender. He couldn’t take a punch. He couldn’t break wind with his fists. He was slower than the line at the DMV. His chin would vaporize at the first sign of contact. He was perfect.
The Tyson hype machine was churning. He was supposedly refocused, had a trainer, Jeff Fenech, who he respected, and was fully recovered from an injury suffered in the Williams fight. The Tyson quote machine was back, and he promised to gut McBride like a fish” Once again, I bought into the Tyson myth. Once again, I looked past the fact that he hadn’t beaten a legitimate heavyweight since the days of hair metal and the pet rock. I overlooked his recent inactivity, his two knockout losses in his past three fights.
Still, in light of these facts, I bought stock in Tyson. I bought the fact that he would knock out this Irish pug and move on to bigger things. Brewster. Ruiz. Klitschko. Toney. They would all fall like dominoes, like Trevor Berbick, Marvis Frazier, and Michael Spinks did so many years ago.
But when Tyson walked to the ring, he was not the same scowling menace of yesteryear, charging into combat with black trunks and bad intentions. The MCI Center looked like the last place in the world Tyson wanted to be. When the bell rang, the ravenous Tyson returned, the one who bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, hit Orlin Norris after the bell, and attempted to break Fran Botha’s arm.
When he realized that McBride wouldn’t allow himself to be bullied around the ring, he tried to snap McBride’s left arm like a twig. He head-butted McBride with ferocity. And when those cheap tactics failed to work, he quit. He sat in his corner, refusing to come out for the seventh round. And that’s how the Mike Tyson saga ended. Once the most feared bully on the planet, Tyson became the bullied, scared child who just had his milk money taken away.
When Tyson’s place in history is written, McBride will be nothing more than a footnote. During the mid to late eighties, Tyson energized the sport, made boxing the center of the universe on many a Saturday night. He infused interest into a heavyweight division, that was still reeling from Muhammed Ali’s retirement and was not captivated by the undeniable skills of Larry Holmes. He made the tide rise in Atlantic City, and the cold night desert air of Vegas that much hotter.
In the wake of the McBride debacle, which went in the books as sixth-round technical knockout for McBride, Tyson’s glorious early days tend to get lost in the shuffle. Most casual boxing fans remember the ear bite, the pre-fight brawl with Lennox Lewis, the crazy quotes like “fading into bolivian”, the rape conviction, and his bizarre facial tattoo. But for those who care about the sport, Tyson, for better or worse, was a lightning rod. He put boxing on the front pages and asses in the seats, just like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Ray Robinson did at their peaks.
I promised last time around that, these will be my final Tyson related words. But some promises are meant to be broken.