Remembering Mike Tyson

If Roberto Duran was born with “Hands Of Stone,” Mike Tyson grew up as a child with a pent up rage in his heart. Like many boys his age, Tyson grew pigeons. One day thugs bullied him. Somebody decapitated one of his pets, beheading it with bare hands. Too shocked to react, he stared motionless at his bird, whose blood dripped from the exposed flesh of its neck, legs shaking like an epileptic. Then he heard one of his friends yell: “Fight them!”

Those words reverberated in his subconscious mind for the rest of his life. Like rheumatic pain, they kept on coming back, pestering his soul with the tenacity of a skin disease. Like the young Duran, young Tyson was a frequent guest of the local police. And the New York police, too, would lend a hand in introducing Tyson to boxing. It was like monkey throwing turtle to the water. Everything suited to him fine. He searched every possible outlet for the psycho-social baggage that piled up from his troubled adolescent years. He found one in beck-busting.

The parallelism with Duran does not end there. Both of them went to war with the intent of courting bedlam, as if devastation was something to relish. They were ferocious, aggressive and explosive inside the ring. Like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and George Foreman before them, they evoked fear in the hearts of their foes-and for good reason. For these guys, knocking people out seemed like a routinary task.

Tyson started to compete in amateur boxing at 15. Even at this early stage, he already showed some habit of knocking people out. He held the record of the fastest knock out win, ever: 8 seconds. At 18, he won the national Golden Gloves championship-heavyweight division. He turned pro at 19 and rocked the world of boxing right away. Thirty-eight wins in succession, all but 4 of them inside the distance. These four survivors, obviously, had the common sense of using their feet to run instead of their hands to fight.

On November 22, 1986, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. He wrested the title from Trevor Berbick, who couldn’t take much more punishment from Tyson after 2 rounds. His knock out record of 44 out of 50 wins ranks at the top of the all-time list. It seemed the mere shadow of his glare could already stun his prey. Those who watched on TV his fight against Peter McNeely in 1995, for example, would recall the pre-fight ritual in the middle of ring where the referee mumbled the rules and asked the fighters to acknowledge each other with a glove shake. For a minute or two Tyson did not move a muscle except his eyes-they followed McNeely as he tensely shifted his body weight from left to right.

McNeely grinned for what the viewers felt was cover for fear. When the bell rang, he charged at Tyson and got himself tagged instead. He was out in the first round. There is another side of Tyson’s story, however. Quite arguably still captive of his past, he easily got himself into trouble with the law. That kept him out of boxing at several points of his career, the longest period being the one in which he served time from 1992 to 1994 for conviction from charges of rape.

It was not good for his boxing career. After defending his title 11 times in more than 3 years before losing it to Buster Douglas in 1990, he did manage to recapture it from Frank Bruno 6 years later. But people knew that his time as a prizefighter was up. Seven of his last 12 fights ended either in defeat or no contest. After Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride beat him the way he beat the rest-by knock out.