By Michael Wilbon
Monday, June 13, 2005
Midnight came and went, so did 1 o'clock Sunday morning. And Mike Tyson sat in the underbelly of MCI Center almost casually unburdening himself at the end of an extraordinarily bizarre night, even by his standards, one during which we got to see the extended range of Tyson's emotions.
After twice trying to break the arm of Kevin McBride, intentionally swinging his head like a ram in an attempt to crack open his opponent's skull, then quitting on his stool at the end of six rugged and bloody rounds, Tyson was more defeated than he had ever been in 20 years of boxing. And afterward, for 2 1/2 hours beginning at about 10:45 Saturday night, he seemed to rampage through the various states of being that have made Tyson probably the most complex and compelling figure in sports over the last 20 years. Beginning with the opening bell, Tyson went from determined to desperately bloodthirsty to beaten to resigned to remorseful to introspective to philosophical.
He quit on the night, pronounced repeatedly he is quitting boxing for good, then talked about his life with such stunning candor that he convinced a few of us he truly feels he is done forever, such is his disdain for the game that made him the world's first and longest-running reality show.
"I just don't have it in me anymore. . . . My career's over," Tyson said. "It's been over since 1990. "
Asked why it took him so long to get off the canvas and to his corner after a shove from McBride sent him through the ropes at the end of the sixth round, Tyson said: "I didn't want to get up. I was tired. I looked like I was 120 years old. . . . I was like Rip Van Winkle."
When Rock Newman, the promoter for the event, told Tyson at the post-fight news conference that he was going to applaud the former champion for his career achievements and would encourage others to do so as well, the standing ovation was quickly stopped by Tyson himself, who screamed: "No, no, no, no. . . . Sit down. Sit down, please. People have given me enough applause in my life. When I hear B.S., I've got to call it. I'm as hard and as cold as they get."
As always with Tyson, his sycophants were in denial about what had happened. Women at ringside cried as Tyson was being pummeled during the fifth and sixth rounds. Tyson knew he needed to address them, too, to ask in effect that they let go of the long-playing drama and the excuse-making that follows everything from a critical review to a criminal conviction.
"My fans are so sensitive," he said. "Save your tears. You embarrass me when you cry because I don't know what to do or say. Don't cry. . . . When I was younger, I felt life was about acquiring things. But as I get older, I know life is totally about losing everything."
Tyson flashed back to his childhood, when he got a visit from Muhammad Ali, who was attempting to make some kind of positive impression on Tyson, already as troubled as he was talented.
"Smart too late and old too soon," Tyson said of himself. "This is just my ending."
But, of course, it wasn't the end of the evening. He needed to purge, and this was the time and the place. Handlers asked him if he wanted the questions to stop, and Tyson said, no, he wanted to talk until there were no more questions, until all the good anecdotes were exhausted. There were boxing writers present, from the United States and Europe, he has known for years. And like the opponents he often tries to kill one minute and hug the next, Tyson wanted to talk to the people who had been there chronicling his life for 20 years, the ones he had come to despise one month and seek out for conversation the next. The next hour-plus was part confession, part purge. Tyson should have been on his back, on a couch. It must have been cathartic, though who can be entirely certain of anything with Tyson.
He talked about going to Bosnia and Rwanda to help with aid and food for people in need because he wants to do something good with his life but carries too much baggage to ever be truly productive in the United States.
"I may be bizarre sometimes," Tyson said, "but I'm very rational. I know my situation."
While Tyson will be remembered for being a ferocious fighter of great skill when he was young, he never defeated anybody who wasn't afraid of him, who stood up to him and kept fighting back. He couldn't beat Buster Douglas, couldn't beat Evander Holyfield, couldn't beat Lennox Lewis. Now, at 38, his skill and desire have eroded to the point that he can't beat anybody, not even club fighters -- as long as they stand their ground and fight back. Nobody is afraid of him anymore, not even a journeyman such as McBride, whom Tyson said he was going to "gut like a fish."
So the question now is obvious: Will Tyson fight again? The easy answer is, yes, especially because he owes millions in taxes. Even fighters who hang on to their money, such as Sugar Ray Leonard, almost always come back. Of the great ones still bankable, only Marvin Hagler in recent memory has walked away and stayed away. Tyson admitted after the fight that, while his children are wealthy, he is broke.
Tyson said he hasn't been able to adopt the killer frame of mind since he left jail following his rape conviction in 1992, and that he hates the smell of the gym now, whereas he used to love training and sparring. "I just don't have it in me any more," he said. "I can't even kill the bugs in my house. It's a hard feeling, not to be a violent man anymore. . . . I don't know that guy anymore."
But he does have six children, expenses that won't stop, IRS bills piled high. In a few months, after the swelling over his left eye is long gone and the pain and embarrassment from this latest defeat have faded, somebody is going to try to convince Tyson not only that he can fight again, but do so successfully and for a decent payday. And while Tyson, 39 years old soon, is now officially done as a marquee attraction, there is always another pug, another payday, and another round of a brutal, vicious cycle. Yes, he's done, but perhaps not gone.