Steve Bunce on Boxing: When we were kings - the coronation of Iron Mike Tyson


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The Independent Online

Two hours after Mike Tyson unified the three world heavyweight titles in August 1987 he was sitting on a red velvet throne, surrounded by six men wearing Beefeater uniforms and blowing trumpets.

Tyson had just defeated the previously unbeaten Tony Tucker to add the IBF belt to his WBA and WBC baubles. He looked unbeatable, the only man that could clean up the chaos and confusion. He was, as the posters proclaimed, "The Baddest Man on the Planet".

At Tyson's side that splendid night in Las Vegas were Don King and the three heads of the sanctioning bodies that were desperate to recognise the boxer's achievements. The heavyweight division had been in turmoil for more than five years, a period that was beautifully dubbed "The Lost Generation" by Tim Witherspoon, who was one of boxing's great wasted talents. In attendance as suited and smiling courtiers were Bob Lee, of the IBF, Gilberto Mendoza from the WBA and the WBC's Jose Sulaiman, as King's elaborate coronation took place.

There was a red carpet and some of Tyson's victims were introduced and walked forward to parade in front of the new king. Step forward "Sir Pinky", aka Pinklon Thomas, and "Sir Bonecrusher", aka James "Bonecrusher" Smith, both of whom had held world titles and suffered at the fists of "King" Mike. I have no idea if they bowed as they walked in front of Tyson, but I'm guessing that for their attendance fee King would have insisted on a minor genuflection at best.

At first Tyson was loath to wear the robe that King produced, a little chinchilla number that came with a jewelled sceptre. However, when Muhammad Ali appeared on the stage carrying a mink-lined crown Tyson added the regal touches over his street clothes. Ali placed the crown on Tyson's head and the trumpeters heralded a new dawn in heavyweight boxing.

Tyson was asked to give a speech – and remember, this was a long time before his one-man show was an off-Broadway hit last year – and at first refused before taking the microphone: "Does this mean I'm going to get paid bigger purses?" All hail the new dawn!

Tyson would make six more defences of his world heavyweight title before a fight at dawn in Tokyo in February 1990 ruined his career and ended his reign. The veterans of the coronation were on hand that morning to do their best to keep their fallen "King" on his throne. Mendoza, Lee and Sulaiman, all major jesters at the 1987 ceremony in Las Vegas, wasted very little time after James "Buster" Douglas had knocked out Tyson to show their allegiance to the fallen idol. They "suspended the recognition of anybody as champion". Thankfully, it took just 24 hours for sense and sanity to take over and Douglas was finally declared the world heavyweight champion. King Mike was finished.

A couple of years ago I asked Tyson what happened to the crown, the robe and the sceptre and he just laughed: "I forgot about that night." He is entitled to a lapse in memory because that night took place before $300m vanished, a marriage or two, three years in prison for rape, dozens of bloody scraps, a suicide attempt and the loss of people that truly loved him.

A few years ago, when Vitali Klitschko ended his exile, his return to the ring was illuminated by a series of holograms. The world's greatest living heavyweights each appeared with a message for "King" Vitali as he walked to the ring. There was Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis and Tyson. It was good, trust me, but not as good as the night King put on the coronation of King Mike Tyson.