Friday, June 10, 2011
Mike Tyson reflects on his HOF career
By Dan Rafael
Mike Tyson has a new life now. The former heavyweight champ is married for the third time, to Kiki, raising children and working for a living, be it in movies (like the summer hit "The Hangover II") or his Animal Planet reality series about his beloved pigeons or appearing on Argentina's version of "Dancing with the Stars."
Whatever Tyson is doing, it's far removed from boxing -- even if boxing is why he's famous, beloved by some, reviled by others.
He electrified the world as the youngest heavyweight champion in history at age 20 and was knocking guys dead while carving out a legacy as "the baddest man on the planet."
But Tyson, who turns 45 on June 30, says he doesn't look back at those days much anymore, even though he is doing so this week, culminating with his induction Sunday into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.
It will draw the final curtain on Tyson's boxing career, which ended in 2005, when Kevin McBride stopped him in the sixth round for his third knockout loss in his final four fights.
Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) and I talked for about 45 minutes on Wednesday, and he is so removed from boxing that when I asked him if he had any idea which of his famous fights happened on this day in history, he had no idea. He was surprised to hear that we were speaking on the ninth anniversary of the last time he fought for the title -- an eighth-round knockout loss to then-champ Lennox Lewis in Memphis on June 8, 2002.
"The air even smells different now. I feel like a dinosaur out here now," Tyson said. "I was so consumed with that character of 'Iron Mike, the Baddest Man on the Planet.' I was imprisoned by that guy, but that guy is dead as ever. I never think about it until you bring it up. That's not my reality anymore. My reality is to take care of my bills, take care of my wife, take care of these kids."
Although Tyson doesn't dwell on his career, he said he is looking forward to attending the induction ceremony. He will be enshrined with great champions Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and Kostya Tszyu, as well as "Rocky" screenwriter and star Sylvester Stallone, trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain and referee Joe Cortez, among others.
"My wife wants to go. It will be pretty cool," said Tyson, who has never visited the shrine. "It will be really interesting looking at the memorabilia and all the pictures and stuff from history."
Tyson got emotional several times during our conversation, as though it was really the first time he had seriously looked back at his career in quite some time.
Mike Tyson: Hall Of Famer
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"My boxing career is just who I am," he said. "I grew up as a kid on television, bearing out my soul. I was immature. I couldn't deal with my feelings except in a fight. Whatever happened in boxing, the good, the bad, the [Evander Holyfield] ear biting -- if I died tomorrow, I was overpaid. I have an incredible life. My life is hard to beat.
"I'm very grateful to boxing. I just wanted to be a fighter. I wanted to be a great fighter, like the guys I watched on videos, like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Gans, Willie Pep, Tony Canzoneri, Roberto Duran. I used to watch those guys. Now I'm going in with those guys. I am excited. This is an interesting moment in my life.
"I just wanted to be a great champion, fight guys, knock guys out. I never was thinking it would come to an end. My expectations as an old fighter was to retire and have a bar. I'm just grateful. I came from nowhere, a guy from my background with [my] parents -- my mother was a prostitute, my father was a pimp. And I met [original trainer and adoptive father] Cus D'Amato, and this guy took me places I could never dream of going to this day."
Whenever Tyson mentioned D'Amato, who died a year before Tyson became champion, he got choked up. He said to expect more tears on Sunday.
"I haven't prepared anything to say yet and I don't know if I will be able to control my feelings," he said. "I'll cry. I just wanted to be in the [record] books with the rest of the guys. All my life, Cus and I talked about fighters -- who was a great fighter, what made them great. We wanted to be the youngest [heavyweight] champion. I think sometimes I wish I was still fighting and I was 20 years old again. I think about that periodically. I look at fighters fight and I wonder if they could cut it with me when I was 20.
"A lot of guys give up now. It seems acceptable for a guy to quit now because he has a cut eye. So what? You have another one. We were more hardcore back then."
Tyson looked back on some of his memorable fights. Although he couldn't pinpoint his favorite, he did single out some bouts. One of his best victories came in his first fight with Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, whom he stopped in the seventh round in 1991.
"That was a good fight. That was an awesome fight," Tyson said. "I was very nervous about that fight. He was knocking guys silly. I knew I was not as sharp going into the fight as I [had been]. It was just scary."
There was, of course, his second-round destruction of the late Trevor Berbick in 1986 to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever. D'Amato had died a year before the November 1986 fight.
Mike Tyson says he told Muhammad Ali he would avenge Ali's beating at the hands of Larry Holmes, right. When he got his chance in 1988, Tyson backed up his promise.
"I wanted that fight so bad. I wanted my preeminence not to be ignored," Tyson said. "I was beating everyone and I just wanted to make sure the world never forgot us. We wanted to be God. My frame of mind was to be mean and ferocious inside and outside the ring. I just wanted to win. I had my ego riding on me. I had Cus' wishes riding on me. Cus used to tell me all this magic was in my hands, and I couldn't let him down. Winning the title, it was what we planned. A lot of our plans didn't work out. Olympic champion didn't happen, but I became heavyweight champion. I wish he could have seen me fight as champion."
After he beat Berbick, how did Tyson celebrate? He went out with one of his buddies, who had won on the undercard.
"Me and [former junior middleweight titleholder] Matthew Hilton went out and got so drunk," said Tyson, who had his battles with drugs and alcohol. "We hung out. We celebrated together."
Another that meant a lot to Tyson was his 1988 defense against aging former champ Larry Holmes, whom Tyson drilled in the fourth round.
"Cus had wanted me to beat him so bad," he said. Then he explained why, in a fascinating story I had never heard before.
Tyson explained that he was 14 when D'Amato took him and Jay Bright, a longtime member of Tyson's inner circle, from their home in Catskill, N.Y., to Albany to watch on closed circuit as Holmes retained the title in a 1980 destruction of the faded Muhammad Ali. Tyson even recalled the exact date: Oct. 2.
"I was offended by how bad he beat up Ali," Tyson said. "When we drove home to Catskill [about an hour from Albany], nobody in the car said a word, we were all so upset. The next morning, Cus was on the phone with Muhammad Ali after taking this shellacking from Holmes. He said to Ali, 'I have this young black kid who is going to be heavyweight champion someday and I want you to talk to him.'"
Tyson got on the phone and said he told Ali, "'When I grow up, I'll fight Holmes and I'll get him back for you.' I was 14 at the time."
When Tyson did meet Holmes seven years later, Ali was a guest at the fight. Tyson said Ali whispered to him beforehand, "Remember what you said -- get him for me."
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That story also choked up Tyson, who said he catches some of his old fights from time to time on ESPN Classic, which runs many of his early bouts regularly.
"Everything Cus told me was right, that I'd be champion and nobody will ever forget me," he said. "I'm gonna cry. I put so much into it. It's kind of sad. You have no idea. I was a young kid. So much hard work. But me and Cus had huge egos. We talked a lot of s---.
"Me and Cus would talk about how nobody could beat us and how we were invincible. That was our mindset. We weren't afraid of nobody."
The night that Tyson reached the zenith of his career was when he obliterated Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in 1988 to retain his belts and earn the lineal championship.
"I felt I was invincible. I was really ready," Tyson said of the fight, which at the time was the richest in boxing history. "I had no fear of anything. I was so calm and relaxed."
After Tyson blew away Spinks, he looked almost stoic in the ring after winning. In fact, Tyson rarely put on any kind of significant ring celebration. That was also because of D'Amato.
"I never celebrated or raised my hands," Tyson said. "That's because Cus thought it was ridiculous. He would say, 'You do that [knock guys out] every day in the gym, so why act excited after the fight?' That's why you never saw me raise my hands. Cus would say, 'Don't act like winning is a surprise. Why act like you hit the lottery?' He didn't have too much emotion."
As crazy as it might sound, Tyson doesn't look back on his 10th-round knockout loss to James "Buster" Douglas in 1990 with any sort of sadness, even though it was, for my money, the biggest upset in boxing history.
"That's a good fight. I don't take it personal. I've watched it," Tyson said. "I missed him with some bombs, but Buster was hurting me and he was moving pretty good. He did an awesome job. He did a great job."
Tyson's career is often viewed in two acts -- pre-Douglas and post-Douglas -- but of that fight in Tokyo, Tyson said, "That was my bravest fight, one of my best fights. I took that beating like a man. I was so in tune with the old fighters. I knew they lost fights. I was never discouraged. I knew I'd be champion again even though I went to prison [on a rape conviction]."
After getting out of prison, Tyson eventually regained belts in 1996 with easy knockouts of Frank Bruno (in a rematch) and Bruce Seldon. Then came two losses to Holyfield and the long, slow slide.
Tyson is going into the Hall of Fame for what he did in his pre-Douglas career, not the mess his career became afterward.
"I'm going in with guys like Stanley Ketchel and Jack Johnson, guys who lived colorful lives," Tyson said. "I wanted to be like them even though they were tragic at the end. But what lives they had. They had interesting lives. I wanted to live like them, like Mickey Walker, Harry Greb. Those guys had no boundaries. That's who I wanted to be. I wanted to be heavyweight champion. I wanted to conquer everyone. I looked at boxing different than most people. It was about destruction and pain and 'nobody can ever stop me.'
"Back then, I lived by those comments. I was the best in the world and nobody could beat me. It was a weird journey."
Far removed from where or what he once was, the boxing journey finally ends for Tyson on Sunday with his enshrinement among the immortals.