- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After Mike Tyson suffered the worst beating of his boxing career Friday night against Danny Williams — who, at one time, barely would have been a fitting sparring partner — it was hard to avoid the topic. Maybe Tyson should call it quits.

“It’s hard to say,” said his trainer, Freddie Roach. “Mike is 38 years old. He just had a tough fight. When things settle down, we will talk to Mike about his future and his possible retirement if he wants to go that way or maybe a rematch with Danny Williams.”

There’s a long list of people who would vote for a rematch, led by the creditors Tyson owes more than $40million, according to documents filed in bankruptcy court in New York. For them, the fourth-round knockout Williams delivered was the equivalent of the 1929 stock market crash. The plan filed by Tyson’s lawyers called for him to fight seven times over three years to pay off his debt, which includes millions in federal taxes.

That plan might need some amending after Tyson’s stunning loss to Williams, an unheralded British heavyweight who was a 9-1 underdog going into the fight.

“He is in a hole, and that is the only way he can get out of that hole — to fight,” Roach said.

Any Tyson fight would be a pretty difficult sell now. It would be hard to find an opponent safer than Williams, who had a long history of getting nervous before fights, sometimes crying and throwing up. Twice when he was scheduled to fight club fighters in England, he was so distraught he didn’t even show up. At the press conference, Williams bit his nails and appeared so nervous it seemed possible this would be the first fight in which a boxer had to be carried into the ring.

Williams, though, showed nothing but calm and confidence as he entered the ring at Freedom Hall and remarkably did not wilt in the first round when Tyson attacked Williams with ferocious body shots and uppercuts. At one point in the round, Williams was hurt and wobbly.

“He hurt me for a few seconds in the first round, but I came back and fought,” Williams said.

Tyson also wobbled a bit at the end of the round. In the postfight press conference, promoters said Tyson hurt his left knee in the round and may have suffered ligament damage. Tyson, meanwhile, was at a local hospital, getting his knee checked and the cut under his right eye stitched up.

Tyson’s manager, Shelly Finkel, said an MRI showed a complex tear of the lateral meniscus and Tyson couldn’t even walk on the leg yesterday. He said Tyson’s ex-wife Monica, who is a doctor, read the results.

“That’s why he couldn’t throw the right hand the rest of the fight,” Finkel said. “I was screaming at him to throw it, but he couldn’t. In retrospect, I wish he had said he couldn’t continue.”

But any suggestion a bad knee caused Tyson to lose is, well, lame. He didn’t show any sign his knee was hurting him after the first round, and he appeared to be hitting Williams pretty hard in the second round. Besides, fighters get hurt. Arturo Gatti fought Mickey Ward with a broken hand. Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton with a broken jaw most of their first fight, and Larry Holmes had a torn triceps when he went toe-to-toe with Norton and won the heavyweight championship.

Like Roach said in the corner to Tyson, he had to “suck it up. Those things happen.” And at 38 years old, the injuries come easier and more often, particularly for a guy who trains to fight once a year like Tyson has over the past two years.

No, Tyson lost Friday night because of Evander Holyfield.

The end of Tyson’s career can be traced to that November night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1996, when Holyfield methodically took Tyson apart and knocked him — and the Tyson mystique — out in the 11th round. Despite losing his title to Buster Douglas in 1990, Tyson had been able to recapture his intimidating aura when he got out of prison in 1995 after serving his three-year sentence for a rape conviction. He stopped Peter McNeeley in 89 seconds and Buster Mathis Jr. in three rounds. Then, he became heavyweight champion again by knocking out World Boxing Council champion Frank Bruno (who blessed himself at least 40 times while walking up to the ring) and won the World Boxing Association belt by stopping title-holder Bruce Seldon in one round with a punch that barely touched Seldon, who appeared to go down from fright.

But Holyfield wasn’t scared when he fought Tyson, and he revealed a fundamental flaw in Tyson — he doesn’t like to be hit. Now, no fighter likes to be hit. But Tyson showed the more he gets hit, the less he fights back and the more he panics. The bully was exposed.

Williams said he watched that Holyfield fight over and over, and it gave him the confidence he needed in the ring.

“I learned from the Holyfield fight that you have to keep throwing punches because he doesn’t recover well,” Williams said.

Looking back on the fight, Tyson began to unravel in the second round, when he complained to referee Dennis Alfred about Williams’ tactics, something he tends to do when he begins to panic. Not that Alfred needed any prompting from Tyson. Kentucky — probably the most corrupt boxing jurisdiction in the country — was in Tyson’s corner Friday night.

Alfred deducted two points from Williams in the third round without any warning — a standard practice by referees — for the infractions, one for hitting on the break and a second for hitting below the belt, though Tyson had gone down south much more than Williams.

“The referee was a joke,” Williams said. “I was fighting two guys in there.”

He was fighting three more out of the ring — the three Kentucky judges had Tyson winning every round. But not even Louisville promoter Chris Webb — who is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow for violating a domestic violence order and is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service — and his close friend, athletic commission chairman Mike Cunningham, were able to deliver a tidy win for Tyson.

Danny Williams messed up a lot of things Friday night — particularly the plans of those whose fortunes were tied to the Mike Tyson business, which appears ready to close its doors for good.

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