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Getting A Belt Out Of Life

With a second-round TKO over Trevor Berbick, 20-year-old Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion ever

An hour after hewon the gold and green WBC heavyweight championship belt Saturday night, MikeTyson was struggling to keep it up around his 34-inch waist. Six belt holes hadbeen punched into it, but the belt broadens so quickly to accommodate thedinner-plate-sized championship medallion that Tyson was able to secure it onlyat the fourth hole. He laughed as the too-big belt slipped down around hiships. "There," said the youngest heavyweight champion ever, as thoughchiding those folks who are trying to turn him into a legend at the age of 20."I am just a kid. I can't even keep the belt around my waist."

Tyson wasstanding in the living room of the 29th-floor Las Vegas Hilton Hotel suite ofBill Cayton, one of his comanagers. The suite was an unplanned but warm havenfor Tyson after a misdirected exit from the postfight press conference had lefthim standing shirtless in the 50° chill outside the hotel.

Throwing the beltover one broad shoulder, Tyson shifted position so that he could better seehimself in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. Smiling, he said, "I'm champion ofthe world." He repeated the words. This was his moment, but he tried tokeep it in perspective. One fight had won him a piece of a title that is sharedby two other men, not a place among the Joe Louises or John L. Sullivans.

With a cannonadeof patient but unrelenting aggressiveness, Tyson had overwhelmed TrevorBerbick, twice dropping the defending WBC champion and leaving him, at 2:35 ofthe second round, standing but unstable, albeit secure in the embrace ofreferee Mills Lane. "If I had let the fight continue," said Lane, aReno district attorney, "if I let him get hit with more of those terriblepunches, it would have been criminal."

At the age of 20years, four months and 22 days, Tyson thus eclipsed the record of FloydPatterson, who had won his championship on Nov. 30, 1956, five weeks short ofhis 22nd birthday.

For his night'swork, Tyson was paid $1.5 million. Berbick received $2.1 million in losing hisfirst defense of the title he had won from Pinklon Thomas last March 22. Buteven before the fight had started, it had not been one of Berbick's betterweeks. He had spent Tuesday in court contesting a suit brought by Thomas A.Prendergast, a Texas promoter who claimed Berbick had breached a contract bypulling out of a fight in 1982. On Wednesday, after experiencing breathingproblems, Berbick had visited four doctors before he could get respiratorymedication that would be approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Andon Thursday, District Court Judge Del Guy had granted Prendergast a writ ofattachment for $495,124.36 against Berbick's purse, contingent on a hearingtentatively scheduled for next February.

"I'm just alittle embarrassed," said the champ. "Prendergast claims Tex Cobbpulled out of the same fight card, and he's suing him for $1.1million."

Life in Las Vegaswas far less complicated for Tyson, who for the five weeks before the fight hadlived in a home in the private enclave of Spanish Oaks, a mile west of, and aworld apart from, the Strip. And there he stayed, except for daily trips toJohnny Tocco's gym, which was secured during his workouts, and forays to avideo rental store. But mostly Tyson stayed in his room, sleeping, playingvideo tapes (mostly of karate movies) or watching cartoons on TV (which is whyTyson's trainer, Kevin Rooney, is now nicknamed Barney Rubble).

"We tried todo our training at home in Catskill, N.Y.," says Rooney. "But I'm kindof a soft guy and I couldn't close the gym to Mike's fans. I had to get him outof there, away from all the distractions. Tocco is meaner than I am; I knewhe'd lock the gym when Mike worked out."

Berbick was lessreclusive while training. He didn't ask Tocco to lock the gym during hisworkouts; he just had him nail a bed sheet over the door to discourage casualonlookers. But then, Berbick always goes his own way.

"My life isthe truth, and the truth is a mystery," Berbick said a few days before thefight. "One day there will be a book about my life which will solve all mymysteries. Like, I should have been dead and gone."


"Well,"Berbick replied, "that is one of the mysteries."

Berbick'sbackground also contains a few mysteries, which is why he opened as a 6-to-1underdog to Tyson, although the odds had dropped to a more reasonable 3-to-1 byfight time. The 32-year-old champ—that's by his own count; he is listed as 34in The Ring Record Book, and 33 in his own press kit—had a 31-4-1 record. Threeof those losses came at the hands of such lightly regarded opponents asBernardo Mercado (KO 1), Renaldo Snipes (a 10-round decision) and S.T. Gordon(another 10-round decision), who's a cruiserweight, for goodness' sake. But healso has victories over Muhammad Ali and Greg Page and he did force LarryHolmes, then the WBC heavyweight champion, to go the full 15 rounds in a 1981loss. And, most recently, there was that upset of Thomas in the second bout ofthe heavyweight title unification tournament which is cosponsored by Home BoxOffice, the Las Vegas Hilton and the self-styled Dynamic Duo of promoters, DonKing and Butch Lewis.

On Saturdaymorning, Tyson arose out of habit at 5:30 a.m. and breakfasted on a bowl ofraisin bran, augmented by some chicken fingers and shrimp left over from thenight before. Berbick, who is normally a big eater, ignored breakfast.

Around 1 p.m.,Tyson ate some pasta. Berbick, deciding he was hungry, went to the VenetianRestaurant with Angelo Dundee, who had come aboard as the champion's latest ina long line of trainers. Berbick distractedly picked at pasta and chicken.

At 4 p.m. Tysonhad a steak.

Ninety minuteslater, as he waited for the car that would take him to the Hilton Center,Tyson, who had weighed in on Friday at 221¼ pounds, fueled up for the last timewith home-cooked vermicelli and tomato sauce, washed down with orange juice.Finally satiated, Tyson left for the arena.

At 7:20, Tysonwas the first fighter to enter the ring, dressed in his customary black trunks,a color choice that cost him a $5,000 fine. Knowing that Tyson preferred black,Dundee, exercising a champion's prerogative had selected that color forBerbick's trunks.

"It will belike cutting the hair off a Goliath," said Dundee.

"How aboutSamson?"


Tyson, whousually dresses only in trunks and shoes, without socks, arrived in the ringwearing a white Hilton bath towel, with a head hole hacked out, as a warmingcape. "It was cold out and we wanted him to stay warm on the walk from thedressing trailer to the Center," said Steve Lott, a Tyson aide. "Wejust forgot to take it off when we got inside the building."

Rooney expectedBerbick to keep the challenger waiting in the ring, and he had added a pair ofpunching mitts to his equipment bag so that he could work with his man in thecorner to keep him at fighting heat. No need. Berbick, 218½, arrived on time, avision in black, including a floor-length hooded robe and knee-high black socksthat he had purchased only that morning.

"O.K.,"Dundee reminded Berbick in the corner, "Don't forget: Box him; moveside-to-side; don't go head-to-head." Berbick nodded even as he wasdismissing the advice. All week the champion had been saying that no little guy(Tyson is generously listed at 5'11"; Berbick is an honest 6'2½") wasgoing to beat him.

Tyson went rightto work, following an angry jab with hooks and right hands that he accuratelydescribed later as being thrown with "murderous intent and precision."His target was Berbick's left ear. "I wanted to bust his eardrum," hesaid.

Midway throughthe first round, a Tyson right whipped Berbick's head about, and thesoon-to-be-former champ staggered backward. After that moment, he was never inthe fight; 20 seconds before the bell another right sent Berbick to his cornerdazed.

"You'rehead-hunting," Rooney told Tyson. "You've got to go to the body first,then the head."

Ten seconds intothe second round, a right dropped Berbick; he jumped up immediately andunwisely. Still he refused to run. "I made a silly mistake," he saidlater. "I tried to prove my manhood."

Near the end ofthe second round, that mistake got him knocked silly. Tyson ripped Berbick witha right hand to the kidney, missed a right uppercut and then slammed a lefthook to Berbick's temple. For a moment, Berbick hung there; then, like a puppetwho had just had his strings snipped, he collapsed onto his back. At the countof three he struggled up but lurched into the ropes. At six, he was up, only totumble over onto his right shoulder. At nine, he stayed up, swaying like a reedin an every-which-way wind.

"No moretonight," Lane told the wobbling Berbick.

More for Tysoncomes on March 7. That is when he meets the winner of the Tim Witherspoon—TonyTubbs WBA title fight, scheduled for Dec. 12 in Madison Square Garden. "Idon't care which one of them it is," says Tyson. "If I am going to begreat, then I am going to have to fight everybody. I want to fighteverybody."



Tyson's incessant and precise pummeling sent Berbick on his way to a quick defeat.



[See caption above.]



While Tyson admired his own work, referee Lane tried to catch up with Berbick as he lurched toward the ropes after a second knockdown.



New champ Tyson obviously liked what he discovered upon reflection in a hotel room.