20 Years of Mr T

02.03.05 - By Richard Fletcher: EXACTLY 20 years ago on Sunday, an 18-year-old heavyweight made his professional debut with a first round knockout in Albany, New York. Even now, the finish is vivid. The powerfully-built youngster unloaded a series of quickfire left hooks to the body until his cowering opponent folded, peering submissively between his gloves at the victor.

Bring back memories? I'm giving you no more clues, not even the opponent's name. If you don't know who I'm talking about, you must have been asleep for the past two decades.

Ideally, we should be talking about a boxer who has long since retired but, astonishingly (or perhaps not), he has just announced that he is to continue fighting.

If you still don't know, the answer is Mike Tyson. At the age of 38, and with 50-odd fights behind him, the man I thought would become possibly the greatest heavyweight ever could soon be appearing again in a ring near you.

You see, to some (and fans are among them), it doesn't matter that Tyson is fighting on memory. It doesn't matter that he could get beaten, suddenly, at any time. To them, he is still a draw, a man who remains capable of generating huge excitement, however long the latest instalment lasts.

But it's not funny any more. It's sad. I used to love Tyson. Early on, he was nothing short of a super hero. But, like everyone else, I've watched him fall and rise and fall again.

I've seen all the fights, interviews, tantrums and assorted re-inventions. I saw the impact he made when he came to Britain only a few years ago. But now I'm worried he's going to get hurt.

Now I'm not saying Mike Tyson can't look after himself. He can still knock out any one he hits. But he's human, he's vulnerable and, let's be frank, the 2005 version is a scalp waiting to be claimed.

Last time out, a fight that was supposed to pave the way to another title run-in ended disastrously when Tyson was knocked out by England's Danny Williams in Louisville.

Now it's back to the drawing board. Tyson says he wants two or three easy fights, starting in May, before chasing the big guns. Trouble is, there are no easy fights at 38. Tyson can't do the things he did at 20. Nor can I but I'm not a fighter chasing something I lost more than 15 years ago.

At his peak, Tyson was a force of nature. He was beautiful to watch, as long as you weren't staring into his eyes from the other side of the ring. Not only could he punch prodigiously but he hardly ever got hit in his first 28 fights. He bobbed, he weaved, never staying still, and often exploded his punches on opponents from a defensive crouch.

This was never more in evidence than in his fight with Reggie Gross at Madison Square Garden five months before he first won the title. Gross went all out in the first round, hurling lefts and rights from every angle in a desperate bid to catch Tyson. An uppercut did but, with one swivel of the hips, Tyson responded by flooring Gross with a perfect left hook. Seconds later, it was over.

But gradually, the influence of trainer Cus D'Amato wore off and Tyson relied more on pure power. He got hit more, getting rocked by outsider Frank Bruno, and came apart completely when suffering his first defeat against Buster Douglas, which shattered his aura of invincibility but certainly not the public's enduring fascination with him.

Despite four more defeats, that still survives today, which is why Tyson's latest comeback is guaranteed to sell tickets and put viewers in front of TV screens.

Tyson may or may not go all the way to the title again but, sooner or later, it's all going to go wrong. I wish it wasn't happening because I prefer to remember him the way he was.

Article posted on 02.03.2005

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