Shining moments in past blind us to new, dull Tyson

MIKE LITTWIN

June 24, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

I don't think the real question is whether or not Mike Tyson actually threw a toaster at Don King.

The real question is why he didn't throw a microwave at him. Or a refrigerator.

The story says toaster, and that may suggest a lot about the new Mike Tyson, who, by some accounts, no longer has the work ethic required to be the monster he once was in the ring.

King, who runs Tyson's career, came out of the fracas -- if it really happened -- apparently unscathed. I saw him on Arsenio Hall the other night, carrying a toaster. And he'll be in Las Vegas on Friday doing his high-volume, only-in-America act while promoting Tyson's rematch with Razor Ruddock. For sure, King is no small-appliance man.

A quick study of the fighters suggests the rematch should be a mismatch, but we keep thinking old Mike Tyson, the destroyer, when there's this new Mike Tyson, who seems, at age 24, to be on the downside of what was supposed to be a glorious career. Of course, so was Sonny Liston's.

You remember Liston? One day he was the most feared fighter in history, and the next he was sitting on his stool, refusing to go back into the ring against the man then known as Cassius Clay.

Booze and drugs and a young Muhammad Ali conspired to bring down Liston. What's getting to Tyson?

It's pretty clear something is, and something more than Don King, too. The Tyson of the one-round knockout loses to a nonentity like Buster Douglas, and, then, after a couple of quick fights, has trouble finishing Ruddock, a good fighter but not one to put you in mind of Jack Johnson. A recent piece in Sports Illustrated quotes virtually everyone who has ever seen a boxing match as saying Tyson has lost much of what he had.

Here's the consensus from the cognoscenti:

Tyson used to have a great jab. Now, all he does is try to throw knockout punches. He used to want to fight inside. Now, he's always trying to clinch. He used to scare fighters. Now, he tries to bully them. He used to think that boxing was a noble sport. Now, he calls his opponents transvestites.

The great flurry of punches is gone, and what's left is Tyson, in a lurid news-conference performance, telling Ruddock, "I'm going to make you my girlfriend." Later, as if Ruddock could have missed the point, he said, "I can't wait for you to kiss me with those big lips of yours."

We know what this is about -- hey, I've been to the movies -- but do we want to see this played out in a boxing ring? It's ugly. It's Mike Tyson out of control.

For those who have followed Tyson's career even casually, none of this can be very surprising. When Tyson was 19 years old, a very wise fight man told me it was clear you had to get everything out of Tyson as quickly as possible because he wasn't going to last. This was a guy who burned the candle from the middle, too. Emmanuel Steward, who managed Tommy Hearns for many years, told SI, "I never saw [Tyson] being successful past 26."

That would give him two more years, enough time to dispatch Ruddock and finally get around to Evander Holyfield for what will be the biggest heavyweight championship fight since the Ali years.

Or will it? King keeps asking for more money, and, in the meantime, Tyson keeps finding new and interesting ways to spend the money he has already made.

We hear stories. We've always heard stories about Tyson, including the days of his sensational marriage to and breakup with Robin Givens, the so-called suicide attempt when he ran a car into a tree, the manic-depression. One newspaper ran a story recently about Tyson's making lewd suggestions to a production assistant before going on a TV show. Another told about a woman walking out on Tyson at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas. According to the report, the woman hailed a taxi, only to find Tyson and his limo driver giving pursuit. Eventually, Tyson stopped the taxi, gave $100 to the cabbie and, uh, resumed his date.

There are reports of all-night parties and of long nights in topless joints, the recent Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding.

Tyson is apparently living the good life in much the way that the Greeks imagined their gods did up on that mountain. Only Tyson is probably not immortal. For a time, however, perhaps peaking with his one-rounder over Michael Spinks, he made us think he could be one of the greatest fighters who ever pulled on gloves. Now, we don't know what to think.

It's important to remember that he was beating Ruddock handily before the fight was ended prematurely. But it's also important to recall that Ruddock hung in with Tyson for seven rounds, trading shot for shot, even if Tyson's produced the greater damage.

You figure Tyson should win easily again, but, despite his 40-1 record, you can't be sure anymore, not since Douglas. You never know which version of Tyson will show up. That still makes him interesting, as any supermarket tabloid would attest, but it sure doesn't make him invincible.

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