Danny Williams of Brixton may never make real his dream of becoming world heavyweight champion, but here in the home town of Muhammad Ali he made a brushstroke on the great canvas of boxing history that will probably never be wiped away.
He drew what now seems likely to have been the last of Mike Tyson's venom and then sent him into the night, beaten in the ring and utterly dislocated in life. Williams, 31 and so ill-considered that the bookmakers had him a 7-1 underdog against a 38-year-old for whom self- destruction had for so long been more of a crusade than a curse, won two minutes, 51 seconds into the fourth round with a barrage of more than 20 unanswered punches.
It was only a shock if you hadn't believed a word - as most had not - of Williams' week-long declaration that all of his own notorious fears had been taken away by one overwhelming certainty in a mind long ago written off as too fragile for the upper levels of sport's harshest trade. It centred on his belief that the Tyson he faced in the Freedom Hall was no more than a remnant of the past.
"I told you that Mike Tyson had become a myth and that I would expose him," said Williams, "and the moment I knew I was right came in the third round. I could feel him weakening, I had taken his best shots and I was still around and growing stronger. My plan was to box him, but when he landed some big shots in the first round, I said to myself, 'Let's go to war'." Williams waged it so effectively that Tyson's last scenario of hope - a seven-fight comeback trail which would pay off $40 million worth of debt and return him to the heavyweight title he first won as a 20-year-old - swiftly joined all the other debris of a tortured life.
While Williams cuddled his daughters, five-year-old Nubiah and and seven-week-old Maliajh, and proposed marriage to their mother Zoe at ringside, Tyson limped out into the wet, humid night on his way to a local hospital for a brain scan, stitches to a cut eye and the treatment of an injured knee. An MRI scan later showed complex ligament damage.
Louisville was under a tornado warning, but Tyson's storm, it had never been more clear, had blown out. Suddenly, he looked old and unmenacing. Some things in boxing, like life, slip beyond repair, and in the ageing Tyson there was no question about the most important one. It was aura. He still had a little of it left when he came into the ring. But now it was gone, hammered away by a man who had noted a wide gap between his opponent's reputation and performance.
Like the rest of his entourage, except trainer Freddie Roach, Tyson chose to hide from the world the worst of his pain. Before leaving the dressing room he mumbled to Roach: "I'm sorry - I'm disappointed." Roach said: "We will sit down to discuss the future in a few days' time, but of course this could be the end of Mike's boxing career. Money will not be an issue. What good is all the money in the world if you can't count it. Mike trained well for this fight, we had a good training camp, but the trouble was Williams threw too many punches and showed a lot of heart. People said he didn't have one - but he did."
He also had the nerve to put on one side a shortfall of payment of his $300,000 fight purse by the local Straight-Out promoters. It was a wrangle that for much of Friday had threatened the fight. But Williams decided, with impeccable judgement, that the negotiations could take their course. In the meantime he would seize his moment - and make a new reputation. Now, after four fiercely fought rounds, he has a new momentum - one that he believes can carry him to a title fight with one of the reigning champions: Vitali Klitschko (WBC), Chris Byrd (IBF), John Ruiz (WBA), and Lamon Brewster (WBO). It is a roll call of talent that in the days of Tyson's prime would not have produced a flicker of concern in the camp of Iron Mike - but that was before the days of dissolution and, now, mettle fatigue.
In his own honesty Williams confirmed the view that what he had to break down here was a shell rather than any significant residue of a once-fierce ability. "Tyson always tries to jump out at the start," said Williams. "He gave me a good shot but the key is getting one back at him. I went toe to toe. I used my weight advantage [nearly two-and-a-half stones] and I wore him down. He hurt me for 10 or 15 seconds in the first round but I realised straight away that I could handle anything that he offered - and that gave me tremendous confidence."
It was a conviction that Tyson only threatened briefly with two hammer blows, a left hook and an uppercut which lifted Williams off his feet. That was the point of Tyson's maximum belief, but soon enough it was dwindling before the eyes of a stunned crowd. Williams applied an ability that had previously always been obscured by doubts that had left him sick and in tears before he was obliged to walk down to the ring.
Williams' promoter, Frank Warren, will now seek to exploit the kudos of a victory that puts his man into one of boxing's most select clubs. Only James Douglas, Evander Holyfield (twice), and Lennox Lewis had beaten Tyson, the most ferocious heavyweight of his age, in a professional career stretching over 19 years. Sober analysis says that Tyson's fifth defeat was inevitable against any younger, stronger man who was capable of withstanding his initial fast-burning aggression. That, as Williams said it would be, was the decisive factor here.
"I knew I would be fine if I could stand up to his first six or seven punches," said the man whose Brixton neighbours had poured into the streets four years ago to salute the visit of a Tyson whose image had endured so much more strongly than his talent. "I discovered, like so many others, he can hit hard but once you take the fight to him you can scale him down very quickly." Local referee Dennis Alfred, dismissed as a bad joke by Williams, took two points away from Williams for an alleged low blow and hitting on the break.
It meant that Tyson had a five-point edge going into the fourth round. The trouble was that another scoreboard was clicking away. It was the clock ticking down the last seconds of an explosive career. In the end, the man from Brixton was unstoppable. Though the referee, who had done so much to help Tyson, stretched the count to nearly 20 seconds, it was nowhere near enough. The broken legend thought about getting to his feet only briefly. Then he rested against the ropes a head filled with at least a thousand regrets.Reuse content