One night in 2005 Mike Tyson took up position on his bum, with his back to the ropes, and for the final time in a boxing ring he heard a referee save him.
Since that foul night against the towering Irishman Kevin McBride, a man with dimensions to match the size of his huge heart, the fighting obituaries for ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, once the baddest man on the planet, have been written over and over again.
He was the saviour, the bully, the rapist, the fool, the fragile kid, the fighter who lost 300 million dollars and a ring genius in so many eloquent, fond farewells. The man, well, he slipped away with stops on Broadway, in cult films and then he became a lost soul with kindness in his eyes finally. People have started to like this new, cool, relaxed Mike.
Today Tyson is building a legal weed empire in Las Vegas, where vast car lots are now vast dope cornucopias, but during the last two months he has confused everybody with his short films from the gym – is he going to, at nearly 54, fight again? The simple answer is no, but boxing is never simple and there is a disorderly queue right now for one final pension payment.
Evander Holyfield was for so long Tyson’s nemesis, a decent man living in what appeared to be the opposite of Tyson’s hateful life. There is, it has to be said, a fair bit of fantasy in that assumption. They had history as teenage amateur boxers and met twice in truly memorable and gruesome fights in 1996 and 1997. Holyfield won twice, lost a bit of his ear and Tyson’s legacy as a boxing animal was secure forever. Wow, those were crazy, crazy nights and now Holyfield is back in the gym.
The rugby player Sonny Bill Williams has been mentioned for a fight with Tyson; Danny Williams, once known as the Brixton Bomber, has offered Tyson the chance to get revenge for their epic fight in Louisville in 2004; former champion Shannon Briggs wants a piece of the action; even Tyson Fury’s father, the eponymous Gypsy John, has issued a challenge. There are also hardnuts from the worlds of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts desperate for a final pay cheque.
Tyson has continued to train, continued to smile beatifically when names and plans and challenges are mentioned. But, then again, that might have more to do with his new profession as a supplier of high-grade marijuana. He is also and always has been a copious weed fiend.
This Mike Tyson is the nicest Mike Tyson ever and even when he was heavily sedated and had his medical intake for his mental issues under control about 20 years ago, he was never this nice, never this calm. Trust me, I was there in Glasgow in June of 2000 when a mangled Tyson, wearing a kilt, danced on the roofs of cars. He jigged and talked about death, destruction, mayhem, the voices in his head and somehow managed to get a licence to fight one night at Hampden Park in the rain. On that night, which was 24 June, Tyson beat Texan Lou Savarese in 38 seconds of the first round, but struck the referee in the angry rush to finish Big Lou. He was later fined by the British Boxing Board of Control – that is a bit like fining a shark for biting, a donkey for s******g. The Tyson in the ring that night was the most damaged boxer I have ever seen in a ring.
Tyson will be 54 at the end of the month, he has not fought with small gloves and without a vest since looking in the sympathetic eyes of the referee, Joe Cortez, that night against McBride. Ten men worked in the corner with Tyson in a career that started in 1985 when he was just 18 and it was never easy to get the fighter’s attention, never easy to get him under control. That kid was a marvel, the future of the sport, make no mistake.
The new Mike Tyson could raise millions of dollars larking about with a variety of fighters, making a joke about the bite, the fouls, the anger and that would be fine in most sports. However, boxing is not a gentle game, not a sport that can be manipulated easily without looking like a civic centre panto in Norfolk in the Seventies. Holyfield has warned Tyson to not let “anything serious go” if they meet for a third time in an “exhibition” and that should be enough of a warning.
Mike Tyson might look sharp, fast, focused and relaxed in the heavily edited films of him mercilessly pounding away at a body-bag – it’s a padded shell worn by a trainer – but the soft leather padding does not hit back. And, even in the short, short clips, Tyson slows down with the third and fourth punches.
We are slowly coming to admire Tyson again, respect him for those beautiful wins, we enjoy him for his humour and for his stoned grin. There is no need for a fight – we all like you again, Mike.