When I saw Mike Tyson go down under the huge impact and relentless force of Lennox Lewis’ armada of punches, I felt a constriction in my throat and a stinging in my eyes.
Had I been younger and less in control off my emotions, I would have dissolved into tears.
Why would I cry? The answer is a simple one. There is something about the fall of an empire, the collapse of an ideal, the ambush of a dream, the routing of ambition and the eclipse of hope that humbles us.
It is that something that shows us vividly and speaks to us eloquently with out words of the evanescence of things. That which makes us see that all things must of necessity come to an end.
That morning as I watched Tyson’s attempts to ward off the sortie of jabs and escape the volcanic power behind Lennox Lewis’ right hand there remained that niggling hope that some miracle could turn the tide and help Tyson find a chink in Lewis’ armour like he did with Frank Bruno.
I hoped that there would be a chink wide enough to let Tyson land a punch that would rattle and bring Lewis to his knees. But it didn’t happen. My hope was eclipsed, comprehensively and so completely by the awesome right hand of Lennox Lewis.
When Tyson fell, I did not see a boxer knocked out. I saw a dream die. I saw an era end. I saw poetic justice. I saw the acting out of a popular igbo adage: he who kills by the sword will die by the sword.
I saw Trevor Berbick, Tony Tubbs and Pinklon Thomas punch drunk and staggering. I saw Tyrell Biggs, Michael Spiks and Frank Bruno cowering and fleeing like frightened children from an avalanche of blows.
I saw the fall of a man who could not understand and so was consumed by the very success he craved.
Iron Mike Tyson in his prime was a killer machine. Oiled and primed he was ferocious, vicious, brutal, and murderous. When he knocked out Frank Bruno and all the other big men, what Tyson had going for him was the ferocity of his aggression, the boundless energy and controlled fury that found eloquent expression in the ring. Tyson was our modern day gladiator and the ring was his arena. We, shameless voyeurs, were the Roman crowd baying for blood like hounds as we watched him dispatch his opponents with vicious efficiency.
From 1985 to 1989 when Tyson was at his most brutal form, he presented us a picture of primal rage. When he stepped into the ring dressed in black, dispensing with the customary robe and socks, he was a man on a d deadly mission, a snarling carnivore, and an executioner there for the kill.
And you could see the fear in his opponents, the averted gaze, the sweat, the raw unbridled stench of extreme petrifaction. Tyson struck the fear of God in those men. And when he charged at them, a rottweiler, fangs bared, and headed for the jugular, the men crumbled so easily under the weight of his punches. He was a short man who made quick work of taller, bigger men.
That was until he met Lennox Lewis, the burly Briton with the famed glass chin. The man who needed to win the big one against Iron Mike Tyson to secure his place among the greats. Against Lennox, Tyson finally acknowledged his human frailties. He discovered his Achilles heel. Like a child who had picked a fight he was ill equipped for, Tyson struggled for all of seven rounds, trying to find an opening, to circumvent the jabs that left him bleeding from cuts above both eyes. He tried to unleash the fury that had put the fear of God in opponents early on in his career, but he failed to see that before this looming hulk of a man, he was a pit bull, made impotent by a leash. Tyson was fettered and like a disabled bomb, had failed to become.
Much has been made of his early days, his tutelage under Cus D’Amato, the only father he knew. His devastation at the death of his mentor. His marriage to a cunning, conniving actress who ran rings around him with the help of her scheming mother. His brushes with the law and unending string of sexual misdemeanors.
We know that prison took the thunder out of his rage. We are also aware that the move from Catskill mountains to the luxurious digs of Hollywood sissified the once deadly ring terror. The truth is as simple as it is ironic: success destroyed Mike Tyson.
He has said that he was a twenty-year-old kid with a hundred million dollars and who didn’t know what to do with himself. And like bloodthirsty spectators we cheered him along, baying for the blood he was so quick to spill, leading him down the dizzying path of irreversible destruction.
A sick man who needed urgent help, we offered none. Instead, like a performer in a circus freak show, we encouraged him to fight. But like the great Mohammed Ali before him, Tyson who converted to Islam did not gush out poetry, he spoke murder. The words he spoke were like the dark lyrics of the rapper Scarface.
Tyson spoke of killing his opponents and eating their children but instead of helping him find help, we rushed to watch his fights, to see him kill his opponents. And after we saw him bite off Holyfield’s ear, we rewarded him with the biggest paycheck of his career against Lewis.
And all the while, blind to the machinations of cruel fate and our part as the Chorus of this sick tragedy, Tyson stumbled to the doom of his boxing career. And that early morning, Tyson, the invincible was felled by a sledgehammer like punch from Lewis.
Before the fight there had been talks of a rematch one bout removed from that night’s if Tyson lost but after the knock out it was all too clear that Lewis had handed down to Mike Tyson the most comprehensive beating of his fighting career. Tyson acknowledged that when he admitted that Lewis was much too big and there was no way, he could ever beat him.
I project now into Mike Tyson’s future and what I see scares me. Mike Tyson will no doubt be dead in the course of the next five years. Why? His nuisance value over, Tyson will never get a $5m dollar payday in America. Down and out on that canvas, Tyson underlined the expiration of his over-extended fifteen minutes of fame.
It is over. The only progress left, is the descent into infamy and oblivion. And as the darkness closes over him, we can only look on with pity and fear at the destruction that we have wrought. For we are all complicit in this tragedy.