- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

An hour after winning the WBC heavyweight title, 20-year-old Mike Tyson was struggling to keep the championship belt on his 34-inch waist. Few if any other heavyweights are that slim around the middle, and the belt kept slipping down to his hips. Finally, Tyson gave up.

“I’m just a kid,” he told Sports Illustrated writer Pat Putnam in the living room of a 29th-floor suite at the Las Vegas Hilton. “I can’t even keep the belt around my waist.”

So he threw it over one shoulder and grinned at himself in a full-length mirror. “I’m champion of the world,” he said wonderingly. “I’m champion of the world.”

The date was Nov. 22, 1986, and Tyson had just stopped veteran Trevor Berbick at 2:35 of the second round in the hotel ballroom to become the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. As the spiritual says, he had the whole wide world in his hands, in and out of the ring.

Nowadays Tyson endures as a target of scorn and pity following nearly two decades in which his life careened out of control and he went from being the baddest man on the planet to one who is merely obnoxiously bad. Countless words have been written — and will be written if anyone still cares — about the reasons for his downfall. Suffice it to say few others toppled so far so fast.

On the night he scored his TKO of Berbick, however, Tyson’s horizon glowed brightly. The triumph followed five weeks of intensive training at a gym near the Strip that was closed to the public. Between sessions, Tyson stayed mostly in his room sleeping and watching videos of karate movies and cartoons. By fight night, he was primed.

Before the bout, Berbick’s trainer, the famed Angelo Dundee, waged a bit of psychological warfare against Tyson. Knowing the challenger preferred black trunks, Dundee chose that color for the champion.

“It will be like cutting the hair off Goliath,” Dundee told Putnam.

“How about Samson?”

“Him too.”

When the bell rang, Tyson went right to work with lefts and rights he later described as being “thrown with murderous intent.” His chief target was Berbick’s left ear. Afterward, in a portent of unnecessary meanness to come, Tyson explained, “I wanted to bust his eardrum.”

Ten seconds into the second round, a right felled Berbick, who then played it dumb by getting to his feet immediately. “I made a silly mistake,” he admitted. “I tried to prove my manhood.”

Forget it, Trevor baby.

Near the end of the round, Tyson ripped a right to Berbick’s kidneys and followed with a left to the temple that sent him sprawling again. He arose at the count of three only to lurch into the ropes and hit the canvas again. At the count of nine, he was swaying on his feet as referee Mills Lane waved his hands to indicate the end of the nonfight because “allowing someone in that condition to get hit would have been criminal.”

Said Berbick later: “Tyson was strong, very strong! I knew he’d be strong, but I didn’t think he’d be as strong as me.”

So the legend of Invincible (with a capital “I”) Mike Tyson was born and grew. Four months later, he won a unanimous decision over James “Bonecrusher” Smith at the same venue to add the WBA crown. On Aug. 1, 1987, he outpointed Tony Tucker, also at the Hilton, to pick up the IBF title.

Tyson’s fistic joyride continued until the surrealistic night of Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo, where after straying overseas and training perfunctorily, Tyson was knocked out in the 10th round by an unknown, flabby pug named James “Buster” Douglas.

It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history — Douglas was a 42-1 underdog — and the beginning of the long, sad end for Tyson. He was only 24, with a 37-1 record, but then the roller coaster began to descend faster and faster.

There were many factors, of course. Longtime co-manager Bill Cayton and avaricious promoter Don King were sparring over Tyson’s contract. His marriage to Robin Givens had ended in a messy divorce. He fired trainer Kevin Rooney, who had been largely responsible for keeping Tyson straight after the death of the fighter’s manager, Cus D’Amato, in 1985.

By 1991, Tyson’s behavior had grown decidedly bizarre. Before a fight, he told Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, “Everybody knows you’re a transvestite and you love me. I’m gonna make you my girlfriend.” Later that year, Tyson was convicted in Indianapolis on charges of raping a beauty pageant contestant. He served three years in prison before being released in May 1995.

After regaining the WBC and WBA titles against mediocre opposition, he was stopped by Evander Holyfield in the 11th round of a WBA title fight in 1996. The following year, Tyson was disqualified in the rematch for famously biting a chunk out of Holyfield’s ear. He also was fined $3 million and banned from boxing for a year.

In February 1999, Tyson was fined $5,000 and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for assaulting two motorists in Montgomery County in August of 1998 and served nine months. He returned to the ring afterward, but his financial troubles continued to mount. In August 2003, he filed for bankruptcy.

After losing to Englishman Danny Williams in 2004, Tyson quit before the seventh round against Kevin McBride on June 11 and said he would quit — finally — because “I haven’t got the fighting guts or heart anymore.” There were few mourners as the saga of Iron Mike ended with a whimper.

But once upon a time, life, fame and fortune had all seemed so beautiful and easy to attain — perhaps too easy. In the mid-1980s, while Tyson was starting his sprint through the heavyweight ranks, D’Amato had told him, “If you stay with me, I’ll make you the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history.”

Mission accomplished and in spectacular fashion. But Mike Tyson’s ultimate flameout was even more so.

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