Taking Back What’s His: Mike Tyson retires from boxing

13.06.05 - By Tony Fondacaro: Forgive me if I seem a bit too attached to the idea of Mike Tyson (photo: Tom Casino/Showtime) being the heavyweight champion of the world; after all, it was his career that spanned a greater portion of my young life. When Tyson turned pro, I was six years old. When he beat Trevor Berbick and became champion, I was seven. When Tyson blew out Michael Spinks in probably one of the greatest known blowouts in boxing history, I was nine.

At that point, I was used to the idea of Tyson as being both undefeated and champion. His win over Spinks cemented the impression that he was untouchable, and rightfully so. To me, the sensitive young boxing fan I was, it was one of the best things of my world. I felt a sense of overwhelming contentedness with Tyson, most likely because if anything in the world seemed to be reliable and secure, it would be that Tyson would always be heavyweight champ.

He was too good to not be; and when it was over, it would be when we were all satisfied with Tyson as champion. Just as when he came at the proper time, so it would be when he left.

When Tyson lost to Buster Douglas in 1990, I was eleven. And I was devastated. I remember literally crying while I read the article in the paper. Knocked out in the tenth. Massive upset. A bit about Douglas going down in the eighth and the count being too slow. Surely there would be some kind of investigation into that, it was the only thing that could explain why Tyson lost. Douglas had been down for thirteen seconds. I was furious with the whole situation. It was a betrayal of the order of things; and Octavio Meyran (the referee) was wholly to blame. I acquitted Tyson of all charges.

When I spent a year in England doing a Master’s degree in English Literature, I listened to Tyson lose to Lennox Lewis on BBC radio at four in the morning. After a lackluster 1990s, I felt he deserved to lose.

Flash forward to Saturday night, June 11th. From watching Tyson in my living room on HBO in Philadelphia as a kid to my apartment on my computer, I braced myself for another thrilling knockdown. It didn’t come. There was no ferocity, there was no devastation. For someone who was a jackrabbit in the ring, who moved, ducked, slipped and attacked effortlessly, he looked absolutely frozen. I gave rounds one and two to McBride. I thought Tyson had the better of round three, and round four was dead even. Round five went to Tyson. In the sixth round, Tyson resorting to “street tactics” (his words), and then Tyson sat down against the ropes. He wasn’t punched out, or outboxed, or outwitted… he merely sat down, hoping the ref would either count him out or DQ him. The ref looked at him as if to say, “What should I do?” So Tyson got up, very slowly, went to his corner, and sat down again. Kevin McBride's corner starts to celebrate.

Strangely enough, I didn’t think back to 1990, but back to the Danny Williams fight and the Lennox Lewis fight, where Tyson seemed to reach a certain point, fade, and then quit. It became all too clear after the interviews and the post-fight press conference questions. Tyson had finally reached a point in his life he had been trying to reach for more than 15 years, the point where he could leave the sport without feeling like he had to fight because it was the only thing he had.

So now, I have to put the idea out of my mind that Tyson is a fighter. How strange it feels; and yet I do not think of his loss to McBride as a shocker, or an upset in anyway, even though I feel that the Williams fight was an upset, and the Lewis fight was when Tyson was outclassed.

Strange too is how there seemed to be every indication that Tyson would disintegrate in the ring, yet the media and the fans hardly picked up on it. Tyson was in Gleason’s earlier this year, and mentioned how he would ask himself “what was it all for?” Then Fenech mentions in an interview not too long ago, that if Mike wants to come in and work out, he will. If not, no problem. That was a bit problematic, but I chalked it up to the relationship Fenech and Tyson seemed to have, and thought that it was best for Mike anyway not to feel cornered or locked in.

So boxing is losing, perhaps not a boxing legend, but a figurative legend. There will probably be, besides Muhammed Ali, no one as recognizable in the sport of boxing as Mike Tyson. No one will be as equated with destruction as Mike Tyson. People ask Mike how he will be remembered, and he answers that he’s just proud to be remembered. I would take that a step further, and say that if Mike isn’t enshrined in our minds as a great fighter, then we will be as the youngest man ever to win the title, and at one point, the most dangerous man to ever enter the ring. Would he have lost to Lennox Lewis in 1988? Would he have crumbled if he had never gone to jail? Would the Danny Williams of the world be as smug as they are now had he gotten up from being knocked down by Buster Douglas and beaten the pants off him?

All those questions are pointless.

To try and answer the Mike Tyson “What If?” question would be to further ignore the truth about his career, accomplishments, and the reality of his decline. We can construct a round-by-round analysis of how we think Tyson would have done against Holyfield had Tyson stayed with Kevin Rooney, but ultimately it would not leave us with a clearer understanding of what happened to Mike Tyson between 1990 and now. We can assume that the emotions expressed on Saturday were a reflection of his frame of mind over the past decade and a half; and perhaps this can give us a reference for how he performed in the ring, especially when he was biting ears, and toppling referees. Or more specifically—when he stopped fighting against Lennox Lewis, and when he seemed to not want to move against guys like Etienne, Williams, and McBride.

But inevitably, and quickly, the Mike Tyson “What If?” machine must be disconnected and burned. It is good for the sport for Tyson to leave at this point, it is not good to suppose that he still has the power to win a belt, if only he would come back. If only he would rekindle that fire. If only he would team back up with Rooney. I think part of what Tyson did on Saturday was try to take back a chunk of his life he felt had gotten away from him with the “if only” paradox. I can imagine for someone like Tyson how the fame, and the legacy he has in America must weigh on his mind. When he says, “I don’t have the heart for this no more,” he could actually be saying, “I don’t feel as though my life is in my hands.” This isn’t an indictment of us, the fans, as much as it is a step further towards peace and maturity for Mike. This is, after all, the fighter who needed his immaturity to fuel his malcontent with his world and his opponents. They were all the embodiment of his rage, and he directed every ounce of strength at them. It was thrilling to watch, but I’m sure if we had a further psychological understanding of the events when Tyson was fighting in his prime, it would be horrifying. We are happy that Tyson has calmed himself, has come to terms with being a father and a member of the human race; but when we expect him to turn it off and on, we are being unreasonable. Tyson is a man of emotional absolutes; both his rage and peace are pure and possessing, and he does not go between the two easily.

With time, Tyson/McBride will become like Ali/Burbick, where the end is so apparent, and yet there is still a glimmer of hope. We should only hope that the clarity Tyson has gained can be understood by the people who have judged him for so long; us.

Article posted on 13.06.2005

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