LAS VEGAS, AUG. 2 -- Mike Tyson finally achieved his "throne-ization," as promoter Don King called the unification of the world heavyweight boxing title. But like King's made-up word and outlandish postfight ceremony, there was something disappointingly papier-ma~che' about it all.
Shortly after Tyson defeated International Boxing Federation champion Tony Tucker by unanimous decison Saturday night at the Las Vegas Hilton, King presented the 21-year-old with a "jeweled" scepter, a chinchilla robe and a crown encrusted with "fabulous doodads," presumably of the paste variety.
Mockingly, Michael Spinks had earlier in the day draped a pink towel across his shoulders, placed a cardboard crown slightly askew on his head and insulted Tyson's consolidation of the WBC, WBA and IBF belts as a "paper title, until he fights me."
Not a pretty term for Tyson's accomplishment, which at his tender age was to be much esteemed, especially with former champions Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes looking on. Spinks was also present, sitting high above the ring in the bleachers, untitled and unintroduced to the crowd, yet also still unbeaten at 31-0. Spinks and promoter Butch Lewis had bought the tickets in section UU, top row, at $50 apiece, saying that King had not offered them any complimentaries.
"That's as close as they wanted us to the ring," Lewis said. If true, that fact was almost as tacky as King's ceremony, at which security guards were posted around the doors and banquet tables and guests were told they could not eat, drink or leave until the endless throne-ization was over.
Not since Leon Spinks defeated Ali in 1978 has the title been unified, and for that, Tyson deserved flattery. But he did it against an unknown and obdurate 9-to-1 (or more) underdog in Tucker, who took him the full 12 rounds in an unflattering bout that probably should have gone no more than five. With Michael Spinks seeking an immediate fight against Tyson, and Tyson seemingly avoiding one, it was perhaps somewhat premature to call him the undisputed champion.
First Tyson said, "I'm the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I'll fight any man." But not, apparently, Spinks, at least not soon.
"He's not really on our agenda," Tyson said curtly, and left it at that. Added trainer Kevin Rooney, "I thought he retired."
Said Jim Jacobs, Tyson's co-manager: "We have absolutely no plans to fight Spinks. A Spinks fight will be a long, long wait."
Clearly, the Tyson camp was frustrated that after an 18-month, $31 million HBO cable television series to unify the title, at one time a thrilling prospect, and after Tyson spent two years fighting a grueling schedule, the final victory lacked credibility. The tournament became a mere exercise once Spinks opted for a larger paycheck against Gerry Cooney rather than a fight against Tucker. For that, he was stripped of his IBF title, which Tucker won over little-known Buster Douglas while the man to beat, Spinks, remained at large.
Tyson's future commitments could keep him tied up as long as a year. He is supposed to meet Tyrell Biggs on Oct. 16, probably in Atlantic City. Then there is another fight sometime in December or January. He is negotiating to fight in Tokyo in March against an undetermined opponent for $10 million to help open a new stadium. All of those could be put aside for Spinks, but not if Tyson's camp is as intent on punishing Spinks as it seems. Lewis said he has spoken with Jacobs just twice informally and no negotiations are under way.
"I can't see why he would even think about not taking the fight as soon as possible," Spinks said. "To punish me is to punish themselves.
"Let's just let it be. I've got to get this stuff out of my head. It's making my head hurt. They have nothing to lose. They can have me and then we can all go home and everyone can rest. And go to the bank."
What the Tyson camp must now decide is whether it can tolerate a year of doubts and accusations for avoiding Spinks. Tyson's unspectacular performance and Spinks' pointed presence at the Tucker fight did nothing to enhance the champion's reputation as a monster-child. Granted, expectations of Tyson are perhaps unfairly high. Tucker, coming in 35-0 and just matching Tyson's 221 pounds, was just the fourth man to go the distance with him. But in doing so, Tucker provided a potential road map to Tyson's vulnerabilities.
Tucker used body movement and a damaging jab to score against Tyson.. Tyson threw few potent combinations against Tucker, and not enough jabs to prevent clinches, a perpetual weakness. Instead of using his hand speed, Tyson opted to make it a lunge-and-miss affair, arguing that Tucker's mobility kept him from a knockout.
"I think I took some of his indestructibility away," Tucker said. "He can be hurt, and he can lose. I pointed out some key factors. If he fights anybody else with movement, he'll get beat."
That is exactly why Spinks is considered such a threat. He is an experienced, often brilliant strategist, with a curious elusiveness and improvisational skill. Tucker claims that, had he not hurt his right hand in training a week ago, he could have done far more, which begs the question of what a true boxer of Spinks' ability might do against Tyson.
"He's not Superman, and he's not Iron Mike or whatever they call him," Spinks said. "That's baloney. So far, they've matched him perfectly. The end of his road could be me."