There is no way to take the street out of Mike Tyson. He began his career as a thug. Saturday night, he may have ended it by behaving the same way.
With his desperation mounting and the clock running out in the third round of his heavyweight title rematch, Tyson bit Evander Holyfield, first on the right ear and then on the left. Slow to react the first time, referee Mills Lane disqualified him soon after the second.
Minutes later, Tyson appeared in the hallway in street clothes, the blood from a gash above his right eye not yet dried. He maintained a series of purposeful head butts by Holyfield caused the gash. And that he bit Holyfield to get even.
“What am I supposed to do?” Tyson screamed. “This is my career. I got children to raise … I got to retaliate.”
He may yet get his chance.
Tyson will never be the fighter he once was, the fighter he could have been. But he might still get another chance.
In the anything-goes world of boxing, where loyalty extends back no further than the last payday, the fights that sell are the first ones that get made. It doesn’t matter whether people love or hate the man caught up in the bout - only that they care enough to buy tickets to see how it comes out.
Tyson left the arena Saturday night to a salute of obscene gestures and a hail of garbage. At that very moment, an astute promoter like Don King no doubt was already maneuvering to put together the pieces he’ll need to stage Tyson-Holyfield III.
His first move was to blame Holyfield for Tyson’s rage.
“There should have been some type of point taken away to acknowledge the head butts,” King said.
“It turned into a street fight long before that,” John Horne, one of Tyson’s co-managers added.
That would be the same Don King and the same John Horne who went before the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Thursday and demanded that referee Mitch Halpern be replaced. They did everything but threaten to pull out of the fight, a rumor they planted with reporters earlier in the day. Though the commission refused, Team Tyson got its way when Halpern stepped aside, saying his presence in the ring would detract from the fight.
Fat lot of good that did Tyson and his craven, calculating team.
Maybe they knew the same thing Tyson was reminded of when he stepped between the ropes and found Holyfield waiting for him there, unafraid: Bullying only carries you so far. At some point, you still have to stand and deliver.
Tyson apparently was no more prepared to do that on this evening than he had been the first time the two men met. Though the punches both threw were neither crisp nor accurate, Holyfield was awarded the first two rounds on all three judges’ cards. He got the third as well following a two-point deduction assessed against Tyson.
“It goes to show you have no courage,” Holyfield said, “when you try to foul and get out of a fight. Fear causes people to do the easy thing, or the quickest thing.”
When he was just starting in the fight game, Tyson would sit for hours in a dark room, watching reel after grainy reel of the great heavyweights, trying to imagine where he might fit in some day.
A dozen years and four dozen bouts later, that image is finally coming into focus. It is not a pretty picture. It never will be.
Saturday night was Tyson’s chance to make history one way.
He was already the youngest heavyweight champion ever and he came into the ring as the 10th fighter trying to regain the title from the man who took it from him. Of that number, only three had succeeded.
Instead of joining that select company, Tyson made history another way.