Missing Mike Tyson

Larry Beil

This will sound crazy, but I'm going to miss Mike Tyson. For the past 20 years, Tyson has been the best theater imaginable in sports. Much of the time, it was theater of the absurd. But that's part of what made Tyson mesmerizing. You never knew what Iron Mike would do or say.

"I want to eat his children."

Throughout this column, I'll drop in some of Tyson's most memorable quotes. Unfortunately for Tyson, in recent years, his skills in the pre-fight news conferences were much better than what he could offer inside the ring.

"I'm gonna gut him like a fish", Tyson said before his career-ending bout with Kevin McBride last weekend.

The real question is what happened to Tyson's guts?

How could the baddest man on the planet give up after six rounds, refusing to leave his stool, sapped of his will by a journeyman boxer who Tyson would have swallowed whole years ago?

After announcing his retirement, Tyson acknowledged what everybody knew – the original Tyson has been gone since 1990, when he was stunned by Buster Douglas in Tokyo – one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

Tyson kept fighting for 15 more years, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I'm the biggest fighter in the history of the sport. If you don't believe it, check the cash register … I can sell out Madison Square Garden masturbating."

Even in recent years, when he was trying to get by almost solely on intimidation, Tyson was the most compelling show in the heavyweight division. Lennox Lewis was bigger, stronger and a more technically skilled fighter … Evander Holyfield had an iron will, but frankly they were both boring champions. Neither brought the kind of passion Tyson manufactured, in the ring or in the crowd.

The young Tyson was a savage ball of fury, entering the ring with a torn towel draped over him instead of a robe. It was crude – it was perfect. Tyson turned pro in 1985 and fought an amazing 15 bouts that year, winning 11 of them in the first round.

By the end of 1986, Tyson had fought 28 times and had captured the WBC title, beating Trevor Berbick in two rounds, becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Tyson entered the ring with bad intentions.

After breaking Jesse Ferguson's nose in his first televised bout, Tyson said his goal was to punch Ferguson's nose bone back into his brain. Tyson was nuts – on a rampage through the heavyweight division and life.

"I'm on the Zoloft to keep from killing y'all."

You'd have needed an anti-depressant if you'd endured what Tyson had in his life. He was basically raised in the streets and rescued by trainer Cus D'Amato – the one man who might have kept Tyson from self-destruction. But D'Amato died in 1985, before Tyson became a champion.

"I'm from the ghetto. I don't know how to act. One day I'm in a dope house robbing somebody. The next thing I know, you're the heavyweight champion. Who am I?"

Tyson may have never really found himself. What he did find was trouble. There was his odd marriage to Robin Givens, highlighted by a primetime TV interview in which Tyson appeared to be a zombie.

There was jail time on a rape conviction. There was the craziness of Tyson biting off a piece of Holyfield's ear in 1997. In contrast, Tyson was used as a human punching bag by Lennox Lewis in 2002 after which Tyson practically begged for a rematch. With his skills eroded, there was no iron left in Iron Mike.

"You gentlemen have no idea what it's like to be myself. No idea what it's like. I'm not interested in being humiliated anymore."

The final piece of humiliation was Tyson refusing to fight the seventh round against McBride. The big, bad bully who once asked a zookeeper if he could go into the gorilla cage to see if he could punch one out, didn't want to throw any more punches that night.

The legacy Tyson so desperately wanted – to be known as one of the greatest boxers of all-time, will be forever tarnished by quitting in his final bout.

With his long, bizarre career now apparently over, there's only one thing left for Tyson.

"I guess I'm gonna fade into Bolivian."

And I'm gonna miss him.