I carried this photo in my New York Yankee velcro wallet for five years. I clipped it from the Tallahassee Democrat the morning after Mike Tyson, the last great heavyweight champion, got knocked out by Buster Douglas. Most of my current players probably know little more about Tyson than his bizarre facial tattoo, prison sentence which at the time put him in rarified air as the only major sports celebrity to go to jail, and his recurring role in The Hangover films. They weren’t alive during his reign.
Tyson was the last great heavyweight champion, and great heavyweight champions are not measured by wins, losses and facts that can be dug up online. They are palpable. The 70’s were a golden era of heavyweight boxing with Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. In the early 80’s, Larry Holmes was heavyweight champion of the world. His two signature fights were against a debilitated Ali and the great white hope Gerry Cooney. Holmes, while very good, was utterly boring and never appeared to be in shape. With Holmes retirement came a division of the heavyweight title among three governing bodies each with it’s own champion.
It was at this time, my uncle Mike Merrill was at my parents house and said, “he you gotta see this kid Tyson fight?” I remember sitting in front of the TV in my parents basement as Tyson came to the ring bereft of robe, a towel cut over his head, black shorts, black shoes, no socks. He appeared chiseled from stone, squat, powerful and in constant movement. Thirty-five seconds after it began, the fight….or massacre was over. Tyson walked through his opponent, pushed him to the corner and savagely pounded him into submission. It was unlike anything I had ever scene in a ring. Not long after, Tyson knocked Trevor Berbick down twice with the same punch and was the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Tyson consolidated the heavyweight title with a 91 second beating of Micheal Spinks in what was billed as a super fight. Spinks looked stiff and petrified from the moment he stepped through the ropes.
Tyson was the embodiment of indomitable strength and ferocity. He seemed indestructable. He probably believed every bit of it. He lost his mentor Cus D’amota, changed trainers, married Robin Givens, made and spent millions of dollars. He gained weight, lost appetite for austere training, and got knocked out by a talented, but underachieving journeyman named Buster Douglas. I didn’t see the fight. I couldn’t make myself believe it really happened. I read obssessively to find out why.
There is no definitive answer. Just a confluence of factors that brought about the result. Tyson self-satisfied and lacking in cutting edge motivation, estranged from the core builders of his fighting style. Douglas a physically difficult opponent for Tyson, motivated and in the best shape of his life. The fight in Tokyo strange to both men.
Tonight our varsity team plays Evans, a team that has whipped us twice and the top seed on our district. They don’t fear us, and might not even respect us. We have been down, beaten and underachieved all season. Slowly, barely perceptable we have made progress found a bit of who we are and who we aren’t. We play at Lake Howell.