Boxing: Depressing final act in Tyson's wild career of hits and myths

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As he lay there, beaten by Britain's uncelebrated Danny Williams, who found the best of himself at the most important moment of an inconsequential fighting life, Mike Tyson's face might have been the dead slab of a gravestone. It was all about his past because the future had gone.

It spoke of a dull pain and an unutterable weariness. It told of what happens in your mind and your heart when you know you are finally done and there is nothing to fall back on but the reality of both your age and your self-destruction.

Most poignantly of all, and carrying beyond any moral judgement of this man sprawled so abjectly on the canvas, it conceded that there was no coming back.

Tyson, incontrovertibly, was finished, eviscerated. He thought about getting to his feet - you could see him mulling it over through the mist and the pain - but what would have been the point? A little more gratuitous punishment? A small spit of defiance? His days of wine and roses, of rapacious anarchy, self-pity and rage, of braggadocio and bile, of unparalleled excess and never more than fleeting remorse, had, past any practical hope of redemption, come crashing down at the age of 38.

Yes, he had largely done it to himself but then it was also true that the world was perhaps not entirely innocent.

It had, after all, obliged him to grow up in one of the poorest quarters of Brooklyn in a tenement where rats ran freely and drug dealers hooked pre-teenagers into drug habits as though they were handing out sweeties.

It had him sodomised in a youth correctional institution. It called him "fairy boy" because of his lisp, even as he put on a ski mask and robbed old ladies in the street. It had so many of his friends imprisoned or dead from overdoses before they were out of their teens. It did, as he once said, "make diamond-wearing pimps the men you looked up to in the neighbourhood".

And, when he fought out of that morass, what did he find? Nurturing mentors or a man like Don King, America's ultimate opportunist, plundering the profits - he recently had to agree to pay back $14m (£7.9m) - while dazzling boxing's highest earner with jewellery and cars and a flotilla of girls, all coming, relatively speaking, from the small change of his vast generation of wealth. Did he find a mate for life? No, he had so many one-night stands they became a blur, and then an actress called Robin Givens, who embarrassed him on national television, racked up vast publicity and a divorce settlement which meant that she would never need to ply her trade ever again.

If Mike Tyson occupied a corner of hell here last Friday night it was not as though he had hit virgin country.

Those who had been around him, both awed and repulsed since he emerged as an ungovernable and brutal force of nature in the mid-1980s, could only run their minds back through nearly 20 years of rampage and waste in pursuit of the impossible for a single moment or reason which told you it was always going to end like this.

As Danny Williams of Brixton, holding his nerve as never before in a career undermined by fear and uncertainty, laid down the barrage of more than 20 punches which brought the last phase of Tyson's ruination here on Friday night, you knew the mystery would always be unsolved - a fact which gave a blighted life its last forlorn breath of fascination.

There was just that one point of uncertainty as Tyson was helped into a limousine for the run to hospital after his crushing defeat two minutes and 51 second into the fourth round of a fight which was supposed to the first of seven that would free him from $40m (£22.5m) worth of debt and restore the world heavyweight title he first won as a 20-year-old, the youngest champion in history, in Las Vegas in 1986. Wordless, but for a whispered apology to his trainer Freddie Roach, he had to have a cut eye stitched, his brain scanned and treatment for the torn knee ligaments which, he claimed, prevented after the first round the vital pivoting required to throw a devastating punch. But who could mend his broken spirit?

Freedom Hall, in Muhammad Ali's home town, was the name of the venue where Tyson was supposed to stand and fight for what was left of his life. Freedom Hall? No, it was another prison cell like the ones in Indianapolis and Maryland - another place where the wages of manic indiscipline had to be counted.

Before that full and dispiriting audit it was necessary to gauge the immediate meaning of Friday night, both for Tyson and Williams.

For the latter it was an extraordinary - and deserved - lift out of the mediocrity he had long inhabited because, his critics insisted, of a failure to underpin undoubtedly decent talent with any substantial spirit. He carries now a vitally lucrative cachet as a man who beat Tyson and if Williams, with an honesty rare in his cynical trade, was the first to say it was a Tyson eroded almost beyond recognition, it was also true there were old stirrings in the first and second rounds. He put himself into position for a title fight with one of the near anonymous inheritors of heavyweight boxing's drastically reduced legacy: Vitali Klitschko of the WBC, Chris Byrd of the IBF, John Ruiz of the WBA and, least magnetically of all, Lamon Brewster of the WBO. "I look forward to a title shot," Williams said. "I look forward to some decent money."

He said that as haggling was still going on over his $300,000 (£169,000) pay cheque for Friday's work, a difficulty with the local promoters which had threatened the fight at lunchtime on Friday. At 31, Williams, who insisted he took the challenge that could define his life in boxing, can look forward to his promoter Frank Warren negotiating for him a first million-dollar deal.

For Tyson, who was earning $5m for his bankruptcy fund and $2m for his back pocket on Friday night, that suddenly looks like a generous reward for one night's work. Before anything else, he needs a knee operation. Then, the choice is a return to the ring - Williams also said he would welcome a rematch - or the final acceptance that his time as a serious fighter is over. Maybe he will now listen seriously to offers from K1, the no-holds-barred circus that is highly popular in Japan, where Tyson retains a monstrously lurid appeal.

All of this was marginal to the meaning of Friday night. It was the end of not so much a boxing era as a convulsion, a journey into the darkness of his life and the world that charted it half-way between revulsion and fascination.

Of all the images of that volcanic past two dominate. One is of the sheer animal fury of his first assault on fame, which saw him ransack the spirit of all who stood in his path, and the other is of the wildest confusion.

He had fast hands and a malicious spirit, as we saw with gut-wrenching shock when he tortured his former US amateur team-mate Tyrell Biggs in Atlantic City's old convention hall on an October night in 1987. It was then that Tyson gave an insight into the worst of his future. Tyrell was held up by Tyson long after he was a beaten man and he yelped in pain until being put away in the seventh round. "He cried like a girl," said Tyson, with shocking relish. A few years earlier Biggs had mocked Tyson's clumsiness with girls, a random cruelty which would levy the cruellest price.

Scarcely two months earlier he had been crowned undisputed heavyweight champion of the world after a points win over Tony Tucker in Las Vegas. King was already working his influence, prising Tyson day by day away from his first managers, Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton, and an expression of this was a ceremony of stupefying tastelessness in the ballroom of the Hilton hotel. King had Tyson march, with transparent embarrassment, into the great room wearing a cloak and a crown. Tyson's face was as tormented as it would ever be in the courtroom in Indianapolis when he went down for rape or in the ring in Vegas when he ran like an uncaged animal after biting the ear of Evander Holyfield, or in the theatre in New York when he bit Lennox Lewis's leg.

It was then that Richard Giachetti, an old fight man who long worked the corner of Larry Holmes and would briefly be in charge of Tyson's said: "Look at the kid, look at the pressures on him, and how can you not fear the worst? How bad will it finish? Maybe a bullet in the head in some late-night bar or a back alley."

All these years on, the image is still haunting and never more so than when Tyson limped into the Audobon Hospital here last Friday night. As he did so, James Buster Douglas, who delivered the first ambush in Tokyo in 1990, was telling America: "The fire is gone and there's just no telling what will happen to him now."

Iron Mike had never been more vulnerable, not even on that night 17 years ago when he was handed a fake crown. It was the nightmare version of the American dream and now Mike Tyson has to live it for the rest of his days, however long they may be.

Comments