Boxing: Tyson: Legend in crisis

Harry Mullan says the ex-champion needs advice from `real' professional s
Click to follow
The Independent Online
For boxing fans of a certain age, "Where were you when you heard about Tyson and Holyfield?" is probably destined to have the same historical resonance as "Where were you when you heard Kennedy had been shot?" In my own case, the answers, in reverse order, are in a cinema in Dublin and under the shower in a Manchester hotel room, talking on the bathroom phone to a Radio 5 reporter who had rung in hope of a calm, reasoned analysis of Holyfield's victory and instead found himself breaking the news to a stunned and soaking audience of one.

It was a result which defied belief, even more startling than Tyson's previous defeat by Buster Douglas in 1989. Douglas was a young man who, on that one night alone, blocked out his distractions and self-doubts and reached the heights. Holyfield, though, was on all available evidence a "shot" fighter, with so little left that we seriously feared for his very survival. Disregard the dispute about whether or not he had a heart condition: judged purely on boxing form, he looked finished, and had no business taking on the most dangerous and damaging heavyweight of modern times.

But such is the glorious uncertainty of boxing that the unthinkable happened. Signif- icantly, Ron Borges, the only writer to pick Holyfield, explained that he did so because he was convinced by the certainty emanating from the challenger and his camp. That does not mean that he is gullible, or easily persuaded. Sometimes a fighter's aura, for positive or negative reasons, is almost tangible: I was similarly swayed by Steve Collins's attitude before his first fight with Chris Eubank and by Terry Norris's demeanour before he trounced Ray Leonard. But since accountants rarely endorse reporters' views on the importance of actually being on site for major events, I was unable to share Mr Borges' uniquely profitable vision of the outcome - he invested $200 at 12-1.

Holyfield's was a victory for the old-fashioned virtues of professionalism, hard work and courage, only the last of which was discernible in Tyson. Whatever his faults, the man is no quitter. He took his lumps against Douglas and fought to his limits against Holyfield too and when it was over he showed commendable grace and even dignity in defeat. Yet it need never have happened. With the kind of teamwork which made him champion for the first time a decade ago this week, he would have developed into a genuinely unbeatable fighting machine. But when the crises engulfed him against Douglas and Holyfield, there was no Kevin Rooney in the corner to extricate him, to browbeat him into using the upper body movement which turned his lack of height into an asset, or to devise an alternative strategy when the crude mugger's tactics were so demonstrably inadequate.

Grand prix drivers are only as successful as the men who build and maintain the cars they race, and so it is with champion boxers. All the natural ability in the world counts for nothing without the expertise of a top quality back-up team and Tyson's were little more than cheerleaders. Until they are replaced by "real" boxing people, top pros who know their job, there is no hope for him. He may beat Holyfield in a rematch, though I doubt it on last week's showing, but even if he does, the man who was once destined for legend now stands exposed as an ordinary fighter, a typical bully who crumbled when the other man didn't run away.

Tyson is still young enough to emulate Holyfield and Muhammad Ali by winning the title for a third time, but he will never again be seen as The Intimidator. When Ali lost to Joe Frazier and later to Ken Norton, public affection and regard for him remain undiminished. Tyson's case is subtly different. People were entertained and dazzled by Ali, but terrified by Tyson. Outside Don King's office, there will be few tears shed for his defeat - except perhaps by Lennox Lewis, who saw a huge pay day for a winnable fight disappear into the desert air on Sunday morning.

This was not a classic fight, but it confirmed the sport's integrity. The result cost Tyson and King nine-figure fortunes, so not even the most cynical could claim this one was fixed. It was heart-warming, too, to watch the good guy win for a change and in doing so cause us all to revise our perception of a destructive ogre whom we thought rated comparison with Dempsey, Louis and Ali. The washed-up old veteran, buoyed by an unwavering faith in his own ability and a strong religious belief that owes nothing to the "Praise the Lord" posturing which is suddenly fashionable in sporting circles, did not just dominate Tyson - he destroyed him.

Christians 1, Lions 0.

Comments