Boxing
I miss Mike Tyson
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Evander Holyfield fought for a title last week.

And while the "Real Deal's" grab for a fifth heavyweight reign didn't go as I'd hoped, it got me feeling sentimental and reflective toward a not-too- distant past when Holyfield, Lewis and Bowe were names of substance in boxing's marquee division.

Maybe it's a tangible lack of inspiration I get from the robot-like championship crop of Klitschko, Klitschko and Valuev. Maybe it's yet another post-Sunday hangover from yet another disappointing end to yet another New York Jets football season.

Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Whatever the catalyst, the more I recall accomplished champions like Evander, Lennox and Riddick, the more I also ponder the "what might have been" exploits of the fourth and most viscerally dominant member of the era's belt-copping quartet - Mike Tyson.

And with the harangue of Gainesville guru Marquis Richardson ringing in my ears - somehow insisting a prime Tyson would have beaten an equally prime Muhammad Ali - I'm reminded of a piece I wrote just more than a year ago when "Iron" Mike was pleading guilty to drug charges in Arizona.

At that point it seemed the hapless courtroom flameout would almost certainly result in jail time for the former champion, or at least an extended stay under lock and key at his local rehab center.

As it turned out, he was spared a significant prison term and was left as a free man to rage on, plump up and continue to contend with an avalanche of debt created by a personal mountain of excess that few non-heavyweight terrors could comprehend - let alone actually ring up.

Sure, he may yet change course and reinvent himself, perhaps as a movie star or a wrestler or as Floyd Mayweather's salsa partner on that ridiculous ABC reality dance show.

But regardless of future endeavors - and while his colleagues continue on with various levels of success either in the ring or alongside it - Tyson's days as a main-eventer have surely ended.

And as I sit here after the fact, it makes me a little sad.

Not because it's happened to Tyson, mind you. In spite of present-day claims of serenity and maturity, he surely maintains the hair-trigger thug streak that tarnished his later career every bit as much as Cus D'Amato's gym tutelage promised greatness during the early days.

The guy's a violent felon. Not to mention multiple run-ins with the law that didn't result in jail stays. All while providing enough material to create a 24-hour network - "All Juvenile/All The Time" - fueled solely by press conference outbursts, interview meltdowns and other run-of-the-mill train wrecks.

Boxing is as good without him as it ever was with him.

To be honest, I'm lamenting Tyson's decline for far more selfish reasons.

Mostly because he's the latest in a long line of icons from my formative years - the 1980s - to complete a run at the top, delivering another clear signal that the torch has been passed and my own so-called "Glory Days" are more than likely gone for good.

It's a tough pill to swallow when you're 39 going on...well, whatever.

Springsteen's mellowed. Reagan's dead. Gretzky, Elway and LT are retired. And the stadiums where I saw my first concert, my first baseball game and my first hockey fight have been reduced to vacant lots or parking garages.

To top it off, my hometown of Niagara Falls has gone from vibrant tourist center to war zone.

Of course, Tyson was hardly the guy I'd have chosen to carry the flag for my decade. Rightly or wrongly, though, he was its most feared fighter. He was the guy who got keyboards clicking. And he was the guy around whom the heavyweights revolved for at least a couple of years.

But let's get one thing straight...I never was a fan.

Even when he was decking the Marvis Fraziers and Jesse Fergusons on the way up and brutalizing the Trevor Berbicks and Tony Tuckers to capture belts once he'd arrived, I was always among those insisting Tyson was winning as much due to timing as talent.

Had he shown up five years earlier, a younger Larry Holmes would have slapped him like a child. Had it been 10 years, a menacing George Foreman would have swatted him like a gnat. And don't even begin to imagine 15 or 20 years prior, when Ali would've danced endless circles around his dizzied form.

Sorry Marquis.

Still, Tyson was the man for a while. He devoured whatever limping quarry they put in front of him and did it with a violence that inspired the non- sophisticates and a ferocity that made the experts give the slaughters at least a glimpse.

When he finally did lose - on a gloriously stunning February 1990 night in Tokyo - it set to motion the segment where curiosity replaced carnage and immaturity outdid invincibility. And though he did capture a recognized title later on in the 90s, the 80s aura was permanently altered.

No longer was he a killing machine who'd tried to drive an opponent's nose into his brain during a nationally televised beat down. Instead, he was a loudmouth bully who talked a good game but came up embarrassingly short at put up/shut up time.

Holyfield whipped him twice. Lewis punished him after that. And even after they were hand-picked from mediocrity while greedy handlers traced a path back to big-money purses, C-level tomato cans like Danny Williams and Kevin McBride were able to do it as well.

And in doing so, they put a few more calendar pages between now and then.

Some call it wasted potential. Some blame the evils of greed and excess.

And others like me say it was never all it appeared to be in the first place.

But regardless of the venom being spewed, we all no doubt agree that an unforgettable show has unquestionably ended, leaving us better off in terms of public personas but woefully short on "it" factor.

I never liked you, Mike.

But somehow I really miss you.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week's title-fight capsules:

SATURDAY

WBA lightweight title - Yokohama, Japan

Yusuke Kobori (champion) vs. Paulus Moses (No. 1 contender)

NOTE: The WBA recognizes Nate Campbell as "undisputed" champion

Kobori (23-2-1, 12 KO): First title defense; unbeaten since 2003 (14-0-1)

Moses (23-0, 17 KO): Five-fight knockout streak; first title defense

FitzHitz says: Kobori by decision

Vacant WBC super bantamweight title - Yokohama, Japan

Toshiaki Nishioka (interim champion) vs. Genaro Garcia (No. 9 contender)

NOTE: The WBC recognizes Israel Vazquez as "champion emeritus"

Nishioka (32-4-3, 19 KO): Winless in four title bouts at bantamweight (0-2-2)

Garcia (36-6, 20 KO): Winless in two title bouts at bantamweight (0-2)

FitzHitz says: Nishioka by decision

Last week's record: 0-1

Overall picks record: 53-21

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Powered by The Sports Network.