Stars and slobs come out for the 'last fight'

We came here to bury Mike Tyson. We came away almost loving him, afraid to contemplate what once would have been cause for rejoicing: that we might have witnessed the Baddest One's last fight.

We came here to bury Mike Tyson. We came away almost loving him, afraid to contemplate what once would have been cause for rejoicing: that we might have witnessed the Baddest One's last fight.

The match is not one that will linger in the memory for its pugilistic merits; Andrew Golota's deed (which in the real business of war, which does not pay partipants $3m for merely showing up, might be called rank cowardice) saw to that. But if Tyson's pre-fight mutterings are serious, Friday could be the final chapter. Or maybe not: if he stopped fighting, he once wondered, "What the hell will I be - a rocket scientist?"

However, this was an occasion of boxing pedigree. Detroit is an ancient temple of the once-noble art. Joe Louis was a native, Sugar Ray Robinson was long based there, and the promoter of Friday's bout was none other than local boy Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns.

The Palace arena may sit in Auburn Hills, 30 miles north of the city, next to the wooded, reflecting-glass campus which is the new world headquarters of DaimlerChrysler. But on Friday evening, in both spirit and occupants, it belonged to the Motor City of legend.

All the ingredients were there which make a big fight crowd unique. Celebrities, of course, this time including Bruce Willis,beer-bellied slobs, honest fans in jeans and sneakers, less honest ones with gold in their teeth and diamonds in their ears, cool dudes in spats and black fedoras, whores in white mink, and many an ordinary citizen. Most of all there was Muhammad Ali. The great man had come to watch his daughter Laila Ali fight in a supporting bout (which merely added to the evidence that women should be banned from boxing). But when he shuffled to his front-row seat supported by a helper, the place exploded. "Ali! Ali! Ali! Ali!," came the rhythmic chant. It didn't matter that, a few minutes later, he seemed to be asleep.

Even in his decline, the force is with Ali, and Mike Tyson felt it. Surely that, along with the ghosts of Louis and Robinson, was why he behaved himself. In that mood, there's no fighter more compelling to watch. And afterwards, as the stretch limos began gliding back to the other, real Detroit, you couldn't help thinking: if he does quit, we'll miss him terribly.

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