Requiem for a Heavyweight

By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, June 12, 2005

He's done. Mike Tyson is done. Oh, of course he'll step into a boxing ring again somewhere. He has to fight. It's how he earns a livelihood, the only way. But he's done as a big draw, done chasing championships, done as a threatening, frightening fighter. This could appear on the obituary page as easily as the sports section. Mike Tyson, once the "Baddest Man on the Planet" and seemingly invincible, tried to break journeyman Kevin McBride's arm a time or two last night. Tyson ripped open McBride's left eye with a deliberately vicious head butt. And when neither tactic could gain him an advantage, Tyson knew the outcome, probably before anybody else. Perhaps because he couldn't get his teeth near the ears of his 6-foot-6 opponent, Tyson sat on his stool at the end of the sixth round and simply quit.

No mas , no more. There were no extenuating circumstances, no excuses, no injured knee. In fact, Tyson fought with more energy, more skill and more determination than he had displayed in three or four years. He moved his head, threw those once-lethal left hooks and uppercuts, came out at the start of each round firing for at least the first 30 seconds. And he still got pushed around by McBride. Tyson could barely get to his feet after a push put his butt on the canvas after a fearsome beating at the end of the sixth round.

You could say we should have seen this coming for a while, since he'd already lost to another journeyman named Gary Williams or Bernie Williams or Danny Williams or some such. But he had the bad knee and he hadn't trained properly, blah, blah, blah. This is a different deal. A rugged man with height and girth, even though not much in the way of dazzle, put Tyson out of his misery last night.

Tyson confirmed after the fight what some folks in the game have known for years. "I just don't have this in my heart anymore," he told reporter Jim Gray in the ring. "I'm just fighting to take care of my bills. I don't have the ferocity. I'm not an animal anymore."

And when Gray asked if this would be Tyson's last fight, the former champ said: "Most likely I'm not going to. I'm not going to disrespect the sport anymore by losing to this caliber of fighter. I just don't have any desire to keep doing this. I'm just sorry to disappoint the people of this city. I wish they could get their money back some kind of way."

They don't need their money back. It was worth every dollar, whether spent at the arena or at home via pay-per-view. It was six rounds of nonstop heavyweight action. Even the pushing and shoving and clinching were compelling. It wasn't vintage Tyson, but he hasn't been vintage for some time. He couldn't finish. He would land a blast of a punch, then the big moose would just wrap up Tyson like a birthday present. Between that and literally leaning his 271 pounds on Tyson, who weighed 233, McBride just wore Tyson out.

And that's when Tyson went first to the swinging elbow, then to the arm-break, then to swinging his head like a battering ram, into the side of McBride's face. You just knew that if McBride could ignore the blood streaming from the cut, which fortunately for him was underneath and on the side of his eye, he could finish Tyson.

In what amounted to an admission of intentionally resorting to street thuggery in the ring once again, Tyson said he was "a little desperate."

McBride, remarkably unfazed, said: "That's the rough tactics of boxing. But I'm a bigger, stronger man. I'm just coming into my prime. I've got a lot more to offer boxing now."

Tyson actually congratulated McBride, and McBride said to Tyson's face: "Mike, you're a legend. I appreciate the fight. God bless."

Of course, that's the beauty of boxing, when one man shakes the hand of a guy who tried to break his arm and put his eye out. You got the feeling Tyson and McBride could have left the building and gone out for a drink together. Tyson, in his own twisted way, didn't mean anything with the arm-twist and the head butt. It was just business, just like this fight was just business, a payday.

"I don't love this no more," he said, adding that he is "in dire need to take care of my life."

The value of a Tyson fight after all these years isn't in the athletic competition; it's in the theater. We've lost interest, increasingly, in the fisticuffs portion of the evening because at 38 we're as likely to see Tyson knocked out as we are to see him dismantle somebody the way he once did with frightening regularity. Now, we come looking for the celebrities, the limos, the red carpet. We come to see what the hoochies are wearing. We come to see what we can't see at home, or anywhere in polite society. All big-time prize fights are crazy. Tyson fights are breathtaking, for who's there, for what happens, and most of all, for what dangerous and exciting things might happen right there in full view.

People who need all their activities to be politically correct can't cotton to a Tyson fight because it's the guiltiest of pleasures. It's usually best appreciated from the middle of the lobby, when the richest stars in the world are mingling with the riff-raff, when Academy Award-winning actors and world leaders are sitting side by side with pimps and ho's, with gangstas and ballers, with slimmies and playaz, or folks who for the sole purpose of fight night go deep into role play.

The nation's capital doesn't have nights like these very often, and wouldn't know quite what to do if it did. And we didn't even get the full-blown Tyson experience. What we had last night was only a diet, low-calorie version of a Tyson Night. It was virtual Tyson. The real thing can only be had in Las Vegas, in one of the big casino hotels, where people can wear things that would get them arrested in Washington. It was funny hearing folk here complain about $700 seats at MCI; obviously, they don't know that seats at big Vegas fights run from $250 in the rafters to $2,000 for ringside. People were putting together fake media passes to avoid buying the $53 tickets.

They were trying to get in to see if Tyson could remind them, even if just this once, of the how powerful and precise and effective he once was at the toughest profession of them all. Most, if not all, had no idea they were coming in to see the unofficial end to one of the most bizarre, entertaining and fascinating careers in sports, and the death of a legend.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company