King put KO punch on Tyson

November 13, 1996|By John Eisenberg

His face bruised, his title gone, Mike Tyson did a remarkable thing late Saturday night as he spoke to reporters after losing to Evander Holyfield.

He thanked the man who had just beaten him up.

"I just want to shake your hand," he said to Holyfield, who was sitting on the dais. "It's been too long. Really, thank you."

Imagine the Orioles thanking the Yankees after the ALCS.

Was Tyson just out of it after getting knocked around for 11 rounds? No. He was lucid by all accounts.

Was he just trying to show a more graceful and humane side after all he has been through? Possibly.

But he was mostly thankful because he had participated in an actual sporting event, not just another pathetic setup arranged purely for profit.

Even though he lost, Tyson had competed for the first time in years.

The "thank you" tumbled out from the athlete inside him, the athlete whom Don King has muffled, stunted and ruined in his desperate grab for millions.

Tyson didn't enjoy getting the whey knocked out of him, but he enjoyed the legitimacy of the endeavor.

For once, he was more than just a marketing tool, more than just a cartoonish creation of King's cynical hype machine.

He was a man, not a myth, an athlete, thankful in defeat just for the chance to participate.

How sad is that?

It was the unlikeliest of creatures, a poignant Tyson moment, and it illuminated the reality that Tyson, as famous and feared as he is, has never come close to fulfilling his vast potential.

King has ruined him.

Oh, sure, he'll still go down as one of the better heavyweights, certainly among the most powerful. But he could have been the best. So much of his vast talent has been wasted. That's a shame.

Not that anyone should feel sorry for him; he is maybe the least sympathetic figure to come along in years. He wasted his best years in prison on a rape conviction, and his sport has still made him obscenely wealthy.

But his loss to Holyfield crystallized the reality that he, too, has been used and abused in King's brilliant scheme to squeeze mega-millions out of a gullible public.

It was a scheme that made Tyson wealthy, but also abused him as an athlete.

He has spent most of his career dodging the best available fighters at King's behest, tickling and teasing the public with prelude after prelude, all worth millions.

Since leaving prison, he had fought only four chumps in 15 months, quivering quasi-foes, several of whom almost appeared to lay down.

Bruce Seldon better have gotten paid extra for allowing himself to look so ridiculous going down so easily against Tyson.

By the time Tyson entered the ring Saturday night, he was 30 years old, past his prime, and hadn't fought a real fight in five years.

He had been in an Indiana prison for three and then in King's version of jail for 15 months, his name used to hype non-threatening bouts while his talent rotted.

It never would have happened had Tyson stayed under the thumb of Cus D'Amato, the legendary trainer who discovered him and nurtured him.

Even after D'Amato died, Tyson still was surrounded by sharp pros such as Kevin Rooney, a trainer who could have helped him use his talent.

Instead, Tyson fell in with King, tantalized by the money and power, and was surrounded by sycophants and know-nothings who couldn't help him grow as a boxer. His ego grew instead; he stopped taking criticism, and his talent was left to wither.

The result, made obvious by Holyfield, was an incomplete pro, able to do little more than intimidate.

He found himself in a real fight Saturday night when Holyfield didn't just fall over from the fright, as so many of Tyson's opponents have done. And Tyson didn't really know how to operate in a real fight. He never learned.

"Don King has wrecked Tyson," Rooney told the New York Daily News the other day. "He's taken potentially the greatest fighter in history and ruined him."

Tyson might win his title back in the rematch with Holyfield that is in the offing, but it's too late for him to fulfill his potential. He is too old now. The damage is done.

But you will notice that it wasn't the chance to regain his title that Tyson cited Saturday night as a reason for continuing to fight.

"I can't afford to stop," he said. "I make too much money doing it."

It is his greatest triumph, which is a shame.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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