The end of Mike Tyson

He'll go on fighting, but after Saturday's loss to Lennox Lewis, the public knows how washed up he is.

Topics: Boxing,

You could see it in the second round. Mike Tyson was finished. He would see it himself in the seventh round, in a moment filled with pathos, no matter how you feel about him. He was counted out in the eighth. Lennox Lewis is still the heavyweight champion, but the speculation about what Tyson is can stop now.

He is not the one-time boxing savior, ready to reclaim his role. He is not the sport’s prodigal son, returning from his wastrel years to dazzle us again with his brilliance. He is not even the unhinged animal unable to control his evil impulses. For all the drama and lunacy that follows Tyson’s every move, for all the tragedy of his squandered talent and ruined life, Saturday night’s title fight in Memphis proved that he is that most ordinary thing in boxing: a shot fighter.

He had come out smoking, bobbing and weaving and whipping punches the way he had in his prime, all those years ago in the ’80s, when he became the youngest heavyweight champion ever, only 20, when he destroyed all comers and was hailed as the man who would revitalize boxing. Lewis, the three-time champion who has avenged his only two losses, both to lesser fighters who caught him unprepared, looked not quite comfortable. In a frantic first round, Lewis tried to time his right hand to Tyson’s rushes, then tied him up once they came together. Neither man scored effectively, but it looked like Tyson had the slight edge.

But a minute into the second round it was Tyson who was tying up Lewis. Having been warned twice for holding, Lewis proved who was holding whom by sticking his arms straight out, leaving the clutching Tyson hanging there like a treed cat. Now Tyson was looking more like the ineffective Tyson of the ’90s: frustrated, lunging, throwing one punch at a time, headhunting. He’d stopped moving his head. Late in the round, Tyson started to throw a right, then hesitated on the way in. Lewis caught him with an uppercut as he hovered there, indecisive, his right arm cocked.

This is what happens to a shot fighter. He sees the openings that he used to take advantage of, but now his body doesn’t quite respond. Since the days of the London Prize Ring rules, aging champions have felt time and inactivity hold back their punches as though a cold hand gripped them by the wrist. “I couldn’t let my hands go,” they’ve said in the aftermath of defeat. “I couldn’t get off.”

Now Tyson felt it. He is 35, a year younger than Lewis. No two 35-year-olds had ever fought for the heavyweight championship before. But it was the older man, a famously boring English gent who has quietly improved at his violent trade while living life on an even keel, who still had all his powers.

The illusion was gone that the old Tyson would somehow, one day, return, flattening opponents with blinding speed and devastating power. For all the talk that the public was interested in Tyson as a freak show, this was his real appeal: People believed that if he ever got serious about boxing again, Tyson could return to his old, thrilling form. Tyson believed it too. He told his hangers-on before the Lewis fight that his failures in the ring over the last decade — two losses to Evander Holyfield, the second being the infamous ear-biting fight, a no-contest against Orlin Norris for knocking him out after the bell, various indifferent performances against tomato cans — could be explained away by the fact that he’d “stopped fighting 10 years ago.” Now he was ready. Now he was back. This fight would feature, once again, the real Tyson.

By the end of that second round, the pattern of the fight had been set. Tyson’s initial head movement was gone. He slowed down, threw one punch at a time, lunged. Lewis kept him at the end of a stiff jab, used movement to keep him from landing big punches and dropped solid right hands in from time to time. Tyson’s right eye began bleeding in the third round, his left eye in the fifth, his nose in the seventh. By that time he’d all but ground to a halt. He stood waiting to be hit, flat-footed and glum. Lewis may not be the most exciting fighter in the world, but he can punch. He teed off.

At the seventh-round bell Tyson trudged back to his corner. He knew he was beaten, for good. He’d called on his skills, and they hadn’t answered.

He sat down and his trainer for this fight, Ronnie Shields, yelled at him. “Listen to me, champ,” he said as the cut man worked on Tyson’s eyes. “You’re fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world, again, you understand? Not many people can do that, you understand? Now look, I’m not going to sit out there and just let you do this, you understand? You have to throw your punches, you understand?”

Tyson spoke the words of the shot fighter. “I can’t get off,” he said. And then he said he wanted to quit. “I have to stop. Let me go.”

“No,” Shields said, “let your hands go. I want your hands to move.” Others in the corner gave Tyson a pep talk, saying he’d taken Lewis’ best shots and was still in there. Tyson looked like he wanted to believe them, but he knew better.

What a sad moment. Tyson is deserving of no one’s sympathy. I won’t go through the laundry list of crimes and misdemeanors, fouls and foolishness that have marred his reputation over the last decade, but suffice to say he deserves the low esteem in which he’s held in most quarters. Still, this was a man whose punching ability was once thought to be prodigious enough to be the last hope to keep the moribund sport viable, to save it from the crooks and the corruption and the medocrity, the long, slow decline that had set in and become as much a part of boxing as gloves and mouthpieces. And now his trainer was pleading with him to simply throw a punch, any punch, to do something, anything — and he was saying no, he couldn’t.

He went out again, grimly trying to land the one home-run shot that would bail him out. A minute, 20 seconds into the round, Lewis landed a huge left uppercut that buckled Tyson’s knees. He squatted, but didn’t go down. Referee Eddie Cotton ruled it a knockdown anyway and counted. Less than a minute later Lewis was landing at will again. He aimed an overhand right for a spot just to the left of where Tyson’s head was, having noticed that Tyson was ducking left. Tyson yanked his head right into the path of the punch. He crumbled and fell as Lewis, moving in, gave him a little shove. Cotton counted to 10 and it was over.

The people who wanted the freak show, who paid $54.95 to watch at home — or the real big bucks to sit in the arena — hoping to see some sort of Tyson train wreck were disappointed. He was gracious in defeat. (The world seems to have forgotten that he was also gracious after his first loss to Holyfield, saying, “I just want to shake your hand” at the post-fight press conference.) In the ring, he thanked Lewis for giving him the payday, kissed the champ’s mom, tenderly wiped blood off Lewis’ cheek during an interview and humbly asked for a rematch. “If you would be kind enough, I’d like to do it again,” he said. “I think I could beat you if we tried it one more time.”

Not if they tried it 10 more times, and Tyson knows it, though he won’t admit it now, because he needs another payday, and another one after that. He’ll go on fighting, in that way that once-great fighters, now shot, always do. But now the mystery’s gone. The paydays will be smaller and smaller because we know now that the old Tyson will never come back. All we have now is an old Tyson, and there are no boxing saviors waiting in the wings.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>