Monday, June 10, 2002
Exposed Tyson finally free of his burdens
By Wally Matthews Special to ESPN.com
"I respect this man as a brother,'' Mike Tyson said. "I love him and his mother. I would never do anything disrespectful to him.''
Mike Tyson was gracious in defeat, but he was soundly beaten.
Mike Tyson stood on shaky legs as he said this about Lennox Lewis. Both of Tyson's eyes were cut and overhung with swellings the size of hen's eggs. His nose was flattened and twice as broad as usual.
It had only been a matter of minutes since he had climbed laboriously up from the canvas, where he had been deposited on his back by Lewis' final punch of the night, a sweeping right hand that knocked Tyson into boxing's trash heap of used-up former champions.
And now, here he was, the Foulest Man on the Planet, sounding almost as if he was thanking Lewis for the humiliation.
In fact, he was.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Mike Tyson is a free man.
Free of the burden placed upon him by Cus D'Amato and Jimmy Jacobs and Kevin Rooney and Don King and countless toadies and sycophants and leeches whose next meal depended upon the continued shedding of the blood, sweat and tears of Mike Tyson.
Most of all, Tyson was freed of the burden he had placed upon himself.
Lennox Lewis did that for him. No wonder Tyson was so happy with the man who had just battered him.
Lewis, the man Tyson had called "pompous,'' the man whose sexuality Tyson had questioned, the man whose courage Tyson and his camp had impugned, the man who lost a chunk of his thigh to Tyson's teeth, turned out to be the ultimate liberator of Mike Tyson.
"He seemed relieved in defeat,'' said Tyson's manager, Shelly Finkel. "But very hurt.''
Tyson will fight again, because he has to. The $17.5 million paycheck from the Lewis fight only cleared up his debts to others. It didn't put a whole lot into his pocket.
At 36, we already know he'll never be the same fighter. I'd be willing to bet he won't be quite the same man, either.
Having been convincingly pummelled and KO'd in eight one-sided rounds Saturday night, Mike Tyson no longer has to be Mike Tyson.
Finally, he can drop the pose he had adopted all those years ago, as a powerful, awkward but tremendously insecure teenager, the one that had morphed into the monster many of us have come to loathe.
He seemed relieved in defeat. But very hurt. ”
— Shelly Finkel, Tyson's manager, on Tyson
Although the sociopathic tendencies of Tyson are real, you often got the feeling he was talking to himself when he threatened such melodramatic mayhems as smashing skulls and smearing brains and stomping the testicles of children.
It was as if the more he said, the truer it would become.
In fact, Mike Tyson never really believed himself to be what many of us thought he was.
He always doubted his abilities, in the ring and out. He fought with an intensity bordering on desperation, as if to allow a fight to last too long would surely bring disaster.
And often, it did. As rounds wore on, Tyson's confidence in his ability to win the fight wore down.
That is why he was never more dangerous than he was in the first round of any fight, and progressively less dangerous as each round ticked off.
By the second half of most of his fights, from James (Quick) Tillis 16 years ago to Lewis just the other day, Tyson became as meek as a lamb.
Even at the peak of his power in the mid-80s, Tyson would have his reflective moments, when he would drop hints of his monumental insecurities that tormented him and the fears that would ultimately be his undoing.
"Man, if you only knew me,'' he would mutter, cryptically.
In recent years, Tyson became more open about his self-loathing even as his threats became more outrageous and laden with cartoonish hyperbole.
Within the same conversation, he could vacillate between the WHAP!! POW!! BAM!! of a Batman comic strip and the self-flagellation of a patient on an analyst's couch.
Often, he spoke about hating himself and his life. His asides about the psychological pain he lives with could easily be dismissed as self-pity.
Or, they could be seen for what they were. Bitter truths.
In the two days since the fight, I have heard people accuse Tyson of cowardice, of going in just for the payday, and of not having done anything that countless other fighters have done throughout boxing history.
Namely, take a beating and shut up about it.
This is an element of truth in every one of those arguments.
But none of them were true in this particular case.
For Tyson to leave his stool for round 8, knowing he was walking toward his professional death, was an act of courage that few of us, thankfully, will ever have to duplicate.
As for being there just for the paycheck, there were plenty of opportunities for Tyson to get out of the ring with his money without having to take Lewis' terrible final punches.
And Tyson did more than just take his beating like a man.
He took and he liked it, in a perverse way.
It was different after his loss to Buster Douglas, when the bad guy persona was still so ingrained in the then-23-year-old Tyson that it was impossible for he or his camp to accept his own vulnerability.
Hence, the excuse of the "long count'' and the disgraceful attempt by Don King and Jose Sulaiman to overturn Douglas' triumph, with Tyson's blessing.
The first real sign that even Tyson was getting tired of himself was after he was knocked out by Evander Holyfield in 1996.
At the post-fight press conference, Tyson was no pit bull. He was more like a whipped puppy.
"I just want to touch you, man,'' he had mumbled, reaching out to Holyfield. "You're a great fighter, great fighter.''
Never had he seemed more human.
Until, that is, Saturday night, when Lewis showed Tyson that there is no such thing as this creature he and his various handlers had created through the years.
He's not going to smash anyone's skull or smear anyone's brains, pompous or otherwise, all over the ring.
The man who just a month ago threatened to emasculate the children of reporters tenderly cradled his own 2-month-old son.
None of it excuses the atrocious public behavior of the past 12 years, nor mitigates the rape conviction, or the assault of two elderly men in a traffic duct-up, or the ear bite or the thigh bite or the thousand other transgressions against humankind that have gone unreported and unprosecuted.
As Finkel himself said, "He undid a lot of the stuff he did in the past (Saturday night), but not enough.''
Still, Mike Tyson showed that even a self-created monster can come to understand that his gig is up.
"There's no way I could ever beat him. He's too big and strong,'' Tyson acknowledged after the fight.
And then, the most revelatory quote of all: "I'm lucky I didn't get killed in there.''
Finally, Mike Tyson seemed to realize that cracking skulls may not be all it is cracked up to be.
Wally Matthews is a veteran boxing writer who has covered the Sweet Science for two decades.