He went downhill after that, but what a ride he took us on. There was the marriage to Robin Givens and the bizarre interview with Barbara Walters. The monstrous houses, including one that looks as big as a shopping mall in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. The cars. The entourage. The alliance with Don King. The rape conviction and jail term, from which he emerged with a tattoo of Arthur Ashe on one shoulder and Chairman Mao on the other. The facial tattoo with the south seas island motif came later.
Whatever he’s done has just made him more popular. He cared only for himself and his guiding motivation seemed to be to spend money faster than even he could make it. Even after the rape conviction, his fans continued to worship him, rationalizing that he was railroaded by a justice system that wanted to teach him a lesson and that the victim was “asking for it.”
After jail, he bit part of Holyfield’s ear off and threatened to eat the children of other foes. He either destroyed tomato can opponents or got beaten by his betters.
And lately, he’s in palookaville, fighting for no other reason than to pay millions of dollars in debt.
He hasn’t been worth watching for several years, but people still buy his fights on pay-per-view, eager to see one last outrage in the ring, one final one-punch knockout, the next act in the Tyson saga.
He’s a bad dude who, between fights, tries to show his softer side. He was once powerful and great and now is just caricature of himself. But it’s enough for his fans and enough for a generation.
Even boxing, the last bastion for misfits and marginal citizens, has never seen his like and probably never will again. In boxing as in everything else, there’s a newer breed, slicker, more polished, less interesting.
Twenty years from now, we’ll barely remember Lennox Lewis and we’ll have to think to remember Vladimir Klitschko. But we’ll never forget Tyson.
He wasn’t the greatest fighter, but he was one of the greatest champions. He was to his generation what Ali was to mine.
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No longer ‘Iron Mike’
Click to see pictures from Mike Tyson’s heavyweight career.
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