31.08.04 – By Jose Sanchez: Mike Tyson…you either love him or hate him, yet there little doubt that you will always remember his name. At one point it seemed that his name was destined to shine along with the greats of the sport, perhaps even among the greatest of all sports…alas it was not to be for Mr. Tyson. His boxing career all but done, let us re-examine his life. How will history remember the youngest man ever to win the heavyweight title?
In the beginning…
Some will no doubt remember the early days of the Mike Tyson story. Legend has it that when Cus D’Amato first saw Mike Tyson he immediately said “There is the next Heavyweight Champion of the World”. There were others present that said although raw and lacking technique (not to mention discipline), that the 180lb 12year old Mike Tyson already possessed punching power greater then that of the average heavyweight boxer. He would later be likened to Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier and Rocky Marciano for his vicious seek and destroy mentality.
Mike Tyson never wanted to outpoint you, he wanted to hurt you and knock you unconscious. Cus D’Amato, convinced he saw the future of boxing in Mike, decided he would take the young man under his wing and guide him toward his eventual destiny. Together they stayed up countless nights pondering what the future would hold. Cus telling the young Mike motivating, inspirational stories in which the young man could draw upon during his future moments of adversity. He was told little known but fantastic and interesting things concerning the lives of some of the greatest warriors in and out of the ring. It would eventually be said of Mike Tyson, that he possesses an equal degree of boxing knowledge to that of a learned historian of the sport. Not simply discussing boxing, Cus taught Mike about such things as fear, courage, cowardice, and what it meant to be a professional. Cus was grooming the boy into not only a man, but also a warrior. Not into an athlete like a football, basketball, or hockey player…. that is not the proper comparison. The proper comparison is to a gladiator in the vain of ancient Rome and the Coliseum. That was the attitude of Mike Tyson when he was going into the ring.
A star is born
Once his professional career began, it seemed like all the comparisons he had drawn were warranted. Instantly he became a crowd sensation and a media darling. His reputation was as feared as he himself was physically. It was said Mike Tyson could win a fight just by staring at a man. All over the country, and indeed the world, people sat on barstools and said to themselves….”boy, there is one guy I would not want to run into in a dark alley”. No one ever said that about Larry Holmes, no one ever said that about Michael Spinks or even Muhammad Ali. They said it about fighters like Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Jack Dempsey, Sonny Liston, and John L. Sullivan. Almost all his wins ended brutally and early. It was time for Mike to step up and challenge for the title, to fulfill his destiny. When we saw Trevor Berbick destroyed in 2 rounds, even the critics started to believe. Larry Holmes and Micheal Spinks would reinforce that belief and erase the doubts of even the staunchest critics among us. He might just be the greatest that ever lived, we told ourselves. It may be 15 years before anyone can even challenge him. Only age will allow him to taste defeat, for his skills are unmatched. All this were told, and we ourselves told others…. and we believed, we truly did believe.
Less then 4 years after his first triumph over Berbick, Mike Tyson was knocked out. About 1 year later his home went from a luxury mansion to a federal prison. After his release there was a comeback, but just over 1 year into his comeback he would be knocked out again. In the rematch Mike turned to his gladiator mentality, the part of him we loved and feared when we first saw him…he would bite the ear of his opponent, Evander Holyfield, turning this into one of the most unusual and controversial fights of the decade. He did something else that night, he became a villain to the ‘average joe’. Mike Tyson had made the masses despise and fear him with the very same quality that he had used to win their love and admiration. After the Holyfield rematch, Mike Tyson was never the same man. Never again was he taken seriously by the boxing public. He was more an attraction then a fighter, just a name. Still he would press on one last time for a chance to win the title he first held as a 20-year-old media darling. Although some of his fans still believed, he was once again the victim of a knockout. There would be yet another comeback, but it too would end in a knockout. Perhaps there will be yet another, and another, and another…such has happened many times within the rich history of boxing.
How will we remember Mike Tyson? How will history write his story? Some of us thought we would remember him as one of the greatest boxers of all time, perhaps ‘the’ greatest. Yet that has not come to pass. Still Mike Tyson will indeed leave an enduring and unforgettable mark on the sport, our lives, and the time period in which he lived. When all of us are gray and wrinkled, and likely Mike Tyson is but a memory…. we will sit amongst ourselves, wondering and discussing how it would have been different if only Mike Tyson had been truly committed. If only he had not thrown away everything he had ever been given. We will tell the tale of of a boy who was so feared he could defeat and terrify a grown man just by staring at him. He himself admits to being the most foolish person he knows or has known of. One day the fathers of future champions (in life) will hold their sons close, looking in their eyes and explain to them why talent is not enough to grant you success…. how you also must work hard, be humble and keep motivated. How nothing is just given to you, how you must earn everything. They will tell the story of Mike Tyson, not the best that ever was, but the best that should have been.