It never ends well, not for men whose unique pathology requires a
life of hand-to-hand combat, but it rarely ends worse than this:
a once gifted fighter, at times the richest and most notorious
athlete of his generation, now sitting on the canvas in a
Louisville field house, his right arm draped casually along a
lower rope, his left knee propped up--as if comfortable at
last--examining his pitiless future through gauzy eyes.
That Mike Tyson had been driven there by a British heavyweight
named Danny Williams, whose previous fame in boxing came from
his admitted tendency to cry before big fights, made the point
beyond any possible ambivalence: This really was the end. At 38,
almost a decade past his last meaningful win, Tyson could no
longer subdue even the glorified stuntman promoters had found
for this latest and most desperate comeback. He had been denied
a certain measure of redemption--of his reputation as well as
his finances--and dissipated any fear of him that remained
within the sport. It was over.
The shock of it, the unlikely sight of Williams hammering Tyson
with as many as 27 unanswered punches late in the fourth round
before Tyson simply sank against the ropes (without even a
knockout punch; the final blow hit Tyson's glove), was emphatic
enough to preclude further fantasy, or any additional gassing
about Tyson's properties as a meal ticket. That this was a
pay-per-view event, earning him as much as $8 million, meant that
there were still plenty of viewers who would place a $45 bet that
Tyson could reinvent himself. That was a lottery-sized
proposition, this being Mike Tyson, but the potential payoff was
huge, this being boxing, heavyweight-celebrity division.
But not even the crushing burden of personal debt--he is $38
million in arrears--should lure him back to the ring after this.
A knee injury from the first round, torn cartilage, his camp
says, will not likely be used to explain his diminished
effectiveness on Friday. (Tyson, for whatever you think of him,
does not cling to excuses; anyway, he had bigger problems than a
bum knee.) Instead it might more easily justify his exit.
The larger fact is, even as he remains the reference point for
heavyweight boxing, both good and bad, he can no longer support
big-budget promotions. His PPV days are done if he cannot beat
Danny Williams. And do you believe that Tyson would endure any
grassroots, George Foreman-style comeback, fighting D fighters
on undercards in Phoenix? And just so he could one day fight ...
whom? Danny Williams?
No, it has to be over. And just when he seemed to be getting back
It would be nice to believe that it wasn't just the motivation of
his debt that prompted the emergence of this new Mike Tyson, his
fury refined for another round of mass-market consumption. Well,
there was that debt. Spending $412,000 on lion, tiger and pigeon
care alone, getting divorced and not being timely with government
bills can get a guy in a hole. But getting out of it was going to
be a cinch. Lawyers submitted a plan to bankruptcy court that
would put Tyson in the ring seven times, skimming just $2 million
a fight for himself, the rest for creditors.
This seemed, if anything, overly modest in a heavyweight division
ripe for the plucking. It's true, he hadn't fought in 17 months,
but the current champions--Lamon Brewster, Chris Byrd, Vitali
Klitschko, John Ruiz--were so lacking in box-office punch that it
was easy to imagine Tyson, even just slightly retooled, competing
for a title. The prospect seemed so likely that promoter Bob
Arum, who once called Tyson "deranged," was willing to get on
board with a $100 million contract.
Yet this didn't appear to be entirely about money, at least not
for Tyson. He really did seem rededicated to boxing, as sport
this time, not spectacle. Whereas he once bit Lennox Lewis on the
leg during their prefight buildup (and, additionally, threatened
to eat his children), he was now sympathizing with his often
overwrought foe. "Fighters have things to cry about," he
Tyson understood that he had squandered his place in boxing
history; his phenomenal promise during the late 1980s vanished in
a haze of high living, not to mention three years away for a rape
conviction. Still, he was above all else a boxer, retro in his
tastes, admiring of fighters who spent their careers in honest
effort. While he was in Louisville, he made a point of visiting
Muhammad Ali's childhood home, an homage of sorts.
"Isn't it cool," he said, earlier in the week, "to be fighting
Was it possible that Tyson, unpredictable and volatile, a petri
dish of psychoses, was finally at peace with himself? He was at
least more charming than usual. He invited reporters--the same
ones he once said he wished he could batter senseless--to his
hotel room and showed them the eight Birmingham Rollers in an
adjoining suite, soon to join the rest of his considerable fleet
of pigeons. He joked about his public image. (Kentucky
politicians went to enormous lengths to distance themselves from
him.) "I come to town, I'm like Genghis Khan." He laughed about
his new good behavior. "My kids are on the Internet now," he
said. "I don't want them reading anything bad about me."
No matter his crimes, it was now almost possible to root for him.
He had gotten rid of the lion and tigers, the entourage, the
houses and a lot of cars. He'd lost 35 pounds in training. He was
humble, pleasant. However he'd offended our sensibilities over
the years, he'd given us some thrills, too. Didn't he deserve
better than Chapter 11?
All that was required of him were a few spectacular knockouts,
and where better to begin than with the 31-year-old Williams, who
had certified his shakiness by losing to people like Julius
Francis and Michael Sprott. Williams is a likable man with no
illusions of grandeur. "I know why they brought me here," he
said. "They think I'm a knockover."
But Williams knew also that Tyson was only a bully, and an aged
one at that. Anybody who'd ever fought back--Buster Douglas,
Holyfield, Lewis--had shattered Tyson's tactics of intimidation.
"You've just got to give it back to him," explained Williams
Friday night, before a nearly packed house, Tyson stormed forth
at the opening bell and set a blistering pace, and Williams's
game plan seemed painfully naive. Tyson uncorked an uppercut in
the first round, a real moneymaker that stunned Williams, and
then Tyson dug to the body with horrible left hooks.
But Williams weathered that storm and began employing a scheme
last enacted by Holyfield. Using his weight advantage--265 pounds
to Tyson's 233--Williams tied up the smaller man, pressed on him,
pushed him around, wore him out. He even cut him above the right
eye in the third round.
In Round 4, thus emboldened, Williams unleashed the final flurry,
an uppercut early in the sequence perhaps doing the most damage.
Throughout the barrage, Tyson attempted just one half-hearted
swing, before going down, more in resignation, it seemed in the
end, than from actual percussion.
The referee was late with the count, but it hardly mattered.
Tyson simply sat there, looking idly at the ref, then sweeping
his eyes across this familiar and discouraging panorama of
defeat. It looked, for a moment anyway, as though he'd never get
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NEAL PRESTON TIME'S UP Tyson came out smokin' but faded fast and was countedout after Williams battered him in Round 4.