Wednesday, April 6, 2011
For McBride, finally life after Tyson?
By Kieran Mulvaney
Kevin McBride is remembered as the man who felled "Iron Mike," but he hopes the story isn't over.
It was not, to put it mildly, expected to be much of a contest.
Kevin McBride could fight. He fought well enough as an amateur to make it to the Olympics in 1992, at 18 the youngest super heavyweight to do so. But his skills weren't exactly silky smooth. His nickname -- the "Clones Colossus" -- which deliberately echoed countryman Barry McGuigan's "Clones Cyclone," highlighted the fact the one real advantage he carried into the ring was his bulky, 6-foot-6 frame.
He fought well enough as a professional to go undefeated in his first 20 fights. But in his 21st contest, he lost -- to Louis Monaco, who entered the ring that night in Las Vegas with a record of 4-6-2, who finished second in his three previous contests and who would win just two of his next 17. McBride lost again every time he stepped up in competition -- to Axel Schulz, to DaVarryl Williamson. And even when he won, commentators would describe his performance with such glowing adjectives as "lumbering."
All of which seemingly made him the perfect opponent for Mike Tyson. Not, of course, the Mike Tyson who hit opponents in Las Vegas so hard that they landed in Albuquerque. Instead, this was the Mike Tyson who had most recently been stopped by Danny Williams of all people (albeit after tearing the ligaments in his knee), who no longer had the conditioning or desire to be a real fighter, who kept boxing simply because he was broke and because he didn't know how to do anything else.
Everyone expected even that Mike Tyson to wipe the canvas with McBride.
Well, almost everyone.
"I remember saying before the fight that if it went more than five rounds, all bets were off because I didn't think Tyson could last any longer," said veteran boxing journalist George Kimball, who covered McBride's first U.S. fight and was ringside for many others.
Tyson and McBride met in the ring in Washington, D.C., in June 2005, and for five rounds the empty shell of what had once been the heavyweight champion stood flat-footed in front of his giant opponent, ripping him with punches but failing to make much of a dent. By the sixth, as exhaustion and frustration enveloped him, Tyson resorted to the unsanctioned tactics with which he had become increasingly comfortable in the latter stages of his career.
"He tried to bite my nipple off, he tried to break my arm, he head-butted me," McBride said. The last transgression opened a cut above McBride's left eye and earned Tyson a two-point penalty. At the end of the round, McBride leaned on Tyson, gave him a slight shove, and the former "Baddest Man on the Planet" went down like a sack of potatoes. As the bell rang, Tyson sat on the canvas, back against the ropes, looking at referee Joe Cortez as if pleading to be helped to his feet. When Cortez wouldn't oblige, Tyson slowly dragged himself up, slouched to his corner and quit.
It was, and will always be, McBride's greatest win. Yet even in the immediate afterglow of victory, all the attention was on the fallen idol, who announced his retirement by dismissing his conqueror's credentials.
"I'm not going to disrespect the sport any more by losing to this caliber of fighter," he said.
"I think Kevin took more out of him just leaning on him than punching him, but it was obviously the high point of his career and they should have been able to capitalize on it," Kimball said of McBride's handlers. "Instead, he didn't fight for almost a year."
"I shocked the world fair enough when I beat Mike Tyson, and I was promised all these different fights," McBride said. "None of them materialized, but that's boxing. It's an unforgiving business. The iron was hot, but it cooled off pretty quick."
Eventually, he fought again -- a victory over someone called Byron Polley -- before he suffered two stoppage defeats, to Mike Mollo and Andrew Golota. And thereafter, for three years, McBride disappeared from the ring.
"It was hard to have the hunger after beating Mike Tyson," he said.
When he came back, it was against Zack Page, whom he outweighed by nearly 80 pounds and who had 29 losses against just 20 career wins. McBride lost. His only win since 2006 has been a three-round split decision in a "Prizefighter" tournament.
But now he's back, taking on Tomasz Adamek on Saturday (Integrated Sports PPV, 9 ET, $29.95) in front of what promises to be a partisan crowd of Polish fans at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
"I know I'm getting older, and I know this is the last chance for me to do what I've got to do," McBride said. "It's all on the line."
McBride, now 37, is engaging and self-deprecating -- "Write something good, won't you? Or write something bad, it doesn't matter" -- but still seemingly full of hope. He talks of needing to land only one big punch, and of how power is the last thing a fighter loses. He envisions victory on Saturday providing a springboard to a late-career resurgence. But even as he does so, a hint of realism creeps in.
"I've plenty of power," he said. "I'm fit. I've trained with a fitness trainer. I'm up to benching 425 pounds. There's nothing wrong with my strength, there's nothing wrong with my physical fitness. OK, I'm a bit heavy, but that's heavyweights. I'm fit to go 12 hard rounds. There's only two ways I'm going to be leaving that ring, and that's with my hand raised or on a stretcher. And hopefully it's not on a stretcher."
The truth of the matter, of course, is that he got the call to fight Adamek because the Polish fighter wanted more experience against big, tall heavyweights before fighting Vitali Klitschko in the fall. McBride is expected to lose on Saturday -- is almost certain to, in fact.
But that was what he was supposed to do that summer night in the nation's capital almost six years ago. If he had, he would be at best a footnote in boxing history. Instead, he'll be forever known as the man who retired "Iron Mike," a man who had a fleeting moment of glory, a man whose biggest victory remains -- and likely always will remain -- as implausible in retrospect as it seemed in advance.
"Twenty years from now," he said, "people will still be saying, 'Jesus. Kevin McBride beat Mike Tyson.'"