Note: This unedited article was lifted from the October 1988 issue of THE RING Magazine for our special 90th Anniversary issue (February 2012).
Tyson Threatens To Retire As Personal Problems Overshadow Spinks Victory
Something is dreadfully wrong in Camelot.
The newly crowned warrior/king, his domain lying in chaos at his sockless feet, has threatened to abdicate the throne. His queen, booed by her not-so-loyal subjects on the very night of her husband’s coronation, stands accused, along with the queen mother, of being more interested in the crown jewels than the head on which they rest.
His two beloved mentors gone to their eternal reward, the king knows not who to trust as warring factions battle to gain favor in his court. Only on the field of combat, where he controls his own destiny by the power of his hand, can the mighty monarch find a kind of peace.
But what should have been the sovereign’s shining moment degenerated into a sideshow, lost in the whirlwind of controversy which enveloped both his professional and personal life. Yet, despite the turmoil raging back at the palace, the king rode forth and dispatched his foe, shedding nary a drop of sweat in the process. And with this deed did prove he was indeed the “best fighter on the planet.”
Now, like Ulysses returned from the Trojan wars, our king is faced with the always unpleasant task of cleaning his own castle. For like men of action throughout the ages, he has discovered that the dragons which dwell in one’s own soul are always the most difficult to slay. –Ancient Parable
OF COURSE, THE LIFE AND TIMES of Mike Tyson is not a medieval folktale. It’s very much a story of today. It’s a story which has transcended the pages of THE RINGand become the focal point for practically every publication from the sleaziest supermarket tabloid to Time magazine. In the months leading up to his showdown with Michael Spinks, the world simply couldn’t get enough sordid details about Tyson’s domestic debris to satisfy its craving for the tawdry. Pile on his running feud with manager Bill Cayton, and there wasn’t much room left to discuss the fight.
But the fight—and its immense purse—was the glue which bound the cast of characters together. For if Tyson was not the most destructive fist-fighter on the face of the Earth, capable of earning $20 million for one and one half minutes of controlled violence, he probably wouldn’t be married to a beautiful actress name Robin Givens. And he certainly wouldn’t be caught up in a power struggle between his new family, Cayton and another King named Don.
Three days after the biggest victory of his 35-0 (31 KOs) career, Tyson celebrated his 22nd birthday by announcing his retirement from the ring. While nobody took Mike too seriously, the announcement is certainly indicative of the champion’s troubled state of mind. Most observers agree, Tyson is just burned out and looking for some time off and perhaps a way to wiggle out of his contract with Cayton, who might go for a buyout if faced with the prospect of a protracted dispute. But one thing is for sure, fame and fortune has not made Tyson a happy man.
“I can’t appreciate what you reporters did to me,” said Tyson minutes after dispatching Spinks, his normally high pitched voice raising another half octave as he shook an accusing finger at the assembled press. “You tried to embarrass my family, you tried to disgrace them. Once I became vulnerable, you attacked the people I love, like my wife and mother-in-law. That’s the only way you can get to me. As far as I know, this might be my last fight.”
Though it is difficult to know exactly when things started to come unraveled for Tyson, the death of co-manager and dear friend Jim Jacobs is as good a place to start as any. Cynics say Tyson’s public image was only a product of Jacobs’ creativity and marketing expertise and was doomed to fall apart when Jacobs died earlier this year. Others claim the problems began when Mike married Givens shortly after Jacobs’ death, and that she and her mother, Ruth Roper, are gold diggers, scheming to steal Tyson away from Cayton in order to fleece the champ themselves. And all the while, in the background, circling like a hungry shark, is King, eager to take advantage of the situation and lure Tyson deeper into his lair.
However, Tyson is hardly blameless. According to his sister-in-law, Mike has physically and mentally abused his wife, kicked down a hotel door and trashed a movie set in a drunken rage. Even if these stories are a complete fabrication, nobody is denying Tyson tried to give away his Bentley to a couple of New York Port Authority cops when he was involved in a minor fender-bender in Manhattan; not exactly the act of a well-adjusted adult.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Despite distractions and the soap opera atmosphere which surrounded his training camp, Tyson came through like a real pro. Once the bell rang, he was in his element and the guy in the other corner was in for a very painful experience.
Spinks, the guy in the other corner on June 27th, was almost a forgotten man leading up to the fight. Though his status as the legitimate world champion was reinforced when THE RING championship belt was presented to him at the last formal press conference five days prior to the fight, it was his lone moment in the spotlight. Throughout the massive pre-fight build-up he was treated more like a bit player than a co-star. Ironically, the way Spinks fought ultimately vindicated those who gave him the brush-off. His effort proved embarrassingly unworthy of his previous career… not to mention his $13 million purse!
Tyson’s personal and managerial problems were not the only hassles to receive widespread publicity. There was also a raging debate over how many rounds the match would be scheduled. It was the IBF’s turn to officiate and president Bob Lee wanted 15 rounds in accordance with his organization’s rules. The ever-cooperative WBC and WBA insisted the bout be scheduled for no more than 12. Threats of title strippings ran rampant for weeks, but in the end, Lee and the IBF acquiesced, accepted a six-figure sanctioning fee and gave the bout its dubious blessing.
While the fight(?) turned to be an artistic flop, it was a financial masterpiece. The live gate of $13 million, created by a crowd of 21,785, broke all existing records for a one-day sporting event, giving host Donald Trump a tidy profit even before the first dollar was wagered at any of his three Atlantic City casinos. And while closed-circuit and pay-per-view revenues were still being tallied at press time, all indications point towards the bout emerging as one of, if not the biggest boxing bonanza in history.
Unfortunately, never has so little cost so much. Practically everyone, with the possible exception of the Tyson camp, expected at least a tiny bit more.
Spinks brought an unblemished 31-0 (21 KOs) record into the fray and a reputation of upsetting the odds. After all, hadn’t he accomplished, by winning the heavyweight championship, what no light heavyweight champion had ever accomplished before? Hadn’t he also proved he was a legitimate heavyweight by pulverizing Gerry Cooney a little over a year ago? Wasn’t he the only boxer capable of giving Tyson a decent fight? The answer to the first two questions are yes and maybe, but to the third and most important, the reply has to be a resounding NO!
Those gathered inside Atlantic City’s cavernous Convention Hall and the millions of television viewers around the globe were practically in a stupor by the time Tyson and Spinks entered the ring. King’s marathon undercard was bad enough, but when Spinks’ promoter, Butch Lewis, insisted Tyson re-bandage his hands, the delay dragged on and on. Soon, anticipation turned to apathy and the fans, who had been in a festive mood earlier in the evening, were strangely quiet as referee Frank Cappuccino gave the fighters their final instructions.
Spinks, a career high 212¼, looked sick with worry as he waited passively for the opening bell. Most people figured he had been joking several months earlier when he begged “Please don’t make me go in there” at the press conference announcing the fight. When the moment of truth was at hand, his fear seemed genuine enough.
Tyson, on the other hand, looked eager to get it on as he limbered up in his corner. All of his worries temporarily set aside, he was more than ready to take out his frustrations on the man standing across the ring—though the kiss he gave Spinks after the damage was done indicated there was no real animosity.
It was no big surprise when Tyson, 218¼, charged out at the first bell and took the fight to Spinks. In fact, it would have been a shock if he had done anything else. Spinks, wearing supportive bandages on both knees, avoided Tyson’s initial rush, but was soon in serious trouble.
Tyson stepped up the pressure and suddenly nailed Spinks flush with a savage left hook to the head. Spinks’ brain was still trying to unscramble its circuits when Tyson followed with a whistling right to the body. Spinks sank to the canvas as the crowd woke up with a collective yell.
Though he’d been punished with a couple of potent blows, Spinks quickly regained his feet and seemed in full control of his faculties as Cappuccino gave him the mandatory eight-count. At this juncture, it still seemed possible he would regroup and make a fight of it. However, appearances can be deceiving. Spinks was only seconds away from the first loss of his professional career.
Tyson charged again and Spinks gamely tried to nail him coming with a right of his own. But the “Spinks Jinx” sailed harmlessly over Tyson’s ducking head, leaving Spinks wide open for a counter. Tyson obliged, ripping home a right of his own that connected with the right side of Spinks’ turned face with enough force to end the fight.
Spinks went over backwards, cracking his head on the floor as he fell. He rolled over halfway through the count and made it to his hands and knees before falling forward once again. Cappuccino’s count was a formality. Spinks was done and so was the fight, just 91 seconds after it began.
King had christened the fight “Once And For All,” but Maybe “One, And That’s All” would have been more appropriate. It certainly wasn’t boxing’s finest hour. Heck, it wasn’t even the best 91 seconds of the weekend. That came Saturday night when Hector Camacho got knocked on his leopard-skin diaper. But the fact Tyson-Spinks turned out to be a mismatch is secondary. It was a fight that had to happen, a fight boxing needed to set the record straight and save the integrity of heavyweight championship genealogy.
Despite his obvious shortcomings once the fight started, Spinks, by virtue of his 1985 victory over Larry Holmes, held the most valid claim to the throne. It didn’t matter that practically everybody conceded Tyson was the better fighter. He had to beat Spinks in the ring, not the Alphabet Boy’s backroom, to claim the true title. Though the fight was a flop, boxing once again had an undisputed heavyweight champion whose lineage can be traced all the way back to John L. Sullivan.
(Lost in the rush to declare Tyson champion before he earned the title in the ring was one rather significant record: the 91 seconds he took to blitz Spinks was not the fourth-fastest heavyweight title fight in history as was reported by countless writers and broadcasters. Instead, it was the quickest bout of all time in which the heavyweight title changed hands.)
But at what price has boxing’s honor been purchased? What will be the aftermath of a fight which promised (and cost) so much, yet delivered practically nothing in the way of competitive combat?
Tyson’s scheduled defense against brittle-chinned Brit Frank Bruno in September will probably be postponed to accommodate the champ’s sabbatical. Bruno was ringside for Spinks’ execution, but few outside England are taking the big bloke’s challenge too seriously. This will give Tyson time to iron out both his domestic and managerial difficulties. A brief absence from the ring will also give the paying customers a chance to wash the bad taste of the Spinks fight out of their mouths…and to refurbish their wallets.
While there is also talk of fights with Francesco Damiani of Italy and maybe Adilson Rodrigues in Brazil, the only fighter perceived as a legitimate challenger is Evander Holyfield. But that’s a ways down the line. The “Real Deal” is at least a year away from risking his hide in such a perilous endeavor.
But just because there’s nobody around worth fighting, it doesn’t mean the fans are any less enthralled with Tyson than before. In a readers phone-in poll taken by USA Today two days after the fight, Tyson was voted boxing history’s second best heavyweight, right behind Muhammad Ali. So far, nobody has come close to proving that assessment wrong.
But for the time being, his subjects had better get used to reading more about their heavyweight king in the gossip columns than on the sports page.
The undercard of the marathon show was highlighted by the reactivations of two potential title aspirants. Maurice Blocker and Anthony Witherspoon, in scheduled 10s. Both prevailed over useful opponents in get-the-rust-off encounters. Blocker, 148, Washington, D.C., had the tougher foe, and looked the sharper with a TKO of rugged journeyman Orlando Orozco, 149, Caracas via Miami.
Orozco stood and traded until left hooks to the ribs set up two knockdowns in the third. After the fifth, Orlando had had enough and elected to remain seated. Ref, Rudy Battle.
By contrast, a bulked up Witherspoon, 200, Philadelphia, showed none of the finesse of which he’s capable and merely clubbed green kid Alex Stanley, 188, Baltimore, into a TKO at 2:28 of the fifth. Stanley was being thrashed on the strands when Battle stopped it. After what happened in the main event, perhaps Witherspoon would be wise to return to light heavy.
Butch Lewis’ hopeful, Glenn “The Promise” Thomas, 156, Las Vegas, got all he wanted from veteran Johnny “Rasta” Herbert, 157, Vancouver, in a hard-fought eight. Thomas endured some middle-rounds shelling and countered well despite obvious fatigue to gain a close, majority verdict. Ref, Smoger.
Crude slugger Rodolfo Marin, 219, San Juan, won a unanimous decision over Bruce Johnson, 195, Youngstown, four. Marin clobbered Johnson for two standing eights in the second, but the stubborn Ohioan forced him the full route. Ref, Smoger.
Lanky lefty Jerry Jones, 196, DC, survived some rough early going to blast Billy Milson, 194, Columbus, OH, to the canvas twice, for a TKO at 2:27 of the third, scheduled four. Ref, Smoger.