By Mark Workman
When Mike Tyson stepped confidently into the ring at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on February 11, 1990, the Japanese public witnessed the most awesome destroyer boxing had seen in years, decades. Sure, Muhammad Ali was a better boxer and more loved by the world, but Ali never brought into the ring that monstrous fear-factor that shrouded Iron Mike, that dangerous destructive force that exploded when he entered the ring. Mike Tyson was indestructible in the eyes, minds and hearts of the Japanese people. To them, he was as fierce and gigantic as their native son Godzilla himself.
As the new decade began, most of the world refused to even consider the mere suggestion that Mike Tyson could lose to a fighter with the lackluster record that James Buster Douglas possessed. Coming into the fight as a 42-to-1 underdog, Douglas could’ve made every boxing fan on the planet a pretty penny had anyone the foresight or the nerves to even bet on him. But not many did. I didn’t. No one could even conceive of the fact that a boxer like Buster Douglas could destroy the youngest heavyweight champion of all time and the era’s most devastating puncher, this killing machine.
I take nothing away from Buster Douglas. Fueled by the anguish of his mother’s death, the man came into the ring that day had fought the fight of his life. Douglas beat the ten-count by a second in the 8th round after suffering a brutal uppercut from Iron Mike, and came back to produce the biggest upset in sports history. But he also came into the ring carrying too much extra baggage in his next fight against Evander Holyfield for the undisputed title and essentially gave it away to Holyfield, preferring to just fall down for millions in prize money.
On a dreary and rainy day, the Tyson/Douglas fight was being shown on Japanese television that morning so it would air live in America on HBO at night. I was in Japan at that time, on tour with the popular heavy metal band Testament. I was their tour manager and lighting designer. We had a day off that day, and all we could talk about was the Mike Tyson fight. We had begged and pleaded with our concert promoter Mr. Udo to take us to Tokyo to see the fight, but he refused, knowing full-well that we’d be in no good shape for our first performance in Japan the next day. He was right because we probably would’ve drunk every can of Sapporo beer in sight had we gotten the opportunity to see Iron Mike in the flesh. So we all decided to gather in my hotel room that morning to watch the fight on Japanese television.
Waking up that morning, I sat up in my hotel bed and looked out the window, and I immediately felt a strong sense of dread. I will never forget it until the day I die. Even though Mr. Udo always booked us into a nice hotel, my room was cold and dank and the day outside was miserable and rainy. I immediately felt depressed, for some reason sensing a bad day ahead. Somehow I knew my idol Iron Mike Tyson was going to lose that day. I just felt it. It just popped into my head out of nowhere. I just knew something was going to go wrong that day. I will never forget that moment.
At the time I refused to believe it was even possible for Mike Tyson to lose a fight, much less to someone like Buster Douglas. It was inconceivable to me. Hell, if I had placed a hefty bet on Douglas to win that fight, I would’ve left Japan and retired from the music business. But the mere idea of Mike Tyson losing that fight wouldn’t even register as permissible data in my brain. It just wasn’t possible. I was angry with myself for even thinking the unthinkable. It couldn’t possibly happen. Or could it?
Rumors had been flying around Japan while we were there that Iron Mike had been living the high-life during his time in Japan leading up to the fight when he should’ve been training hard. The word we heard from our promoter rep was that Mike was more interested in the Japanese ladies than the man called Buster Douglas who he would face in the ring at the Tokyo Dome, considering Douglas to be nothing more than a quick-and-easy payday, mauled and disposed of in the first round. None of this is new news today. But at that time we dismissed it all as “gossip” from our Japanese promoter rep and took none of it seriously. Hell, I wanted to kick his ass for even talking such crap about Iron Mike. But I needed him for our Japanese tour, so I let him live.
When the fight began on Japanese television, that strong sense of dread I experienced earlier that morning returned even stronger as we all realized that the commentary for the fight was in Japanese with no English subtitles. As we began to watch the fight, and the unexpected and startling dismantling of a quickly-built ring legend unfolded, a dark and eerie feeling drifted throughout my hotel room. It was infectious. The band and crew and I all began to scream at Mike Tyson to “wake up and fight” as if he’d hear us through the television set and maybe pay heed to our words. And the fact that we couldn’t understand a single word of the Japanese commentary made it all the worse. It made it all seem…unreal.
When Iron Mike Tyson was finally knocked out by Buster Douglas in the 10th round, everyone in my room went wild, breaking lamps and trashing the room. After it was over, we all went down to the hotel bar to get drunk and try and decide if what we just saw was real. Oh, it had to be wrong because we couldn’t understand a single word any of the commentators had spoken. Surely there must’ve been a mistake and that image of Iron Mike in the 10th round rolling around on the canvas drunkenly trying to shove his mouthpiece back into his mouth was surely the sloppy work of an incompetent Japanese television cameraman. That was the only logical explanation. So we had another beer and waited to hear the “truth” from Don King on the news. The truth never came.
Last night I watched the Tyson/Douglas fight again on ESPN Classic Sports Network, and I can remember that morning in my hotel room in Japan like it was yesterday. And last Saturday night I was reminded of that same morning again when a repeat of a lesser magnitude occurred when Mike Tyson quit on his stool against unheralded journeyman Kevin McBride. And I felt that same feeling of dread all over again. But this time it was for a different reason.
This time my feeling of dread was not about Mike Tyson losing the fight against McBride and fumbling his quest to regain the heavyweight title but a feeling of dread that he might lose the biggest fight of his life, the one that really matters: the fight for a normal and happy life after boxing. The look in his eyes worried me. The way he kept biting the thumb of his glove during the fight worried me. When I think of where Mike Tyson goes from here and where he might end up in later life, that strong and eerie sense of dread that I remember so well from Japan comes back to me with more potency than ever before.
Make no mistake about it; I’m a Mike Tyson fan. I have been for 20 years, since the old days of smaller network television fights before he won the title from Trevor Berbick. I’ve followed him religiously for 2 decades, 75% of those 2 decades being post-Douglas and clearly the worst years of his career. But I followed him anyway because there was something about him that made you actually forget that crushing defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas.
When he lost twice to Evander Holyfield, I still had to see him fight again because I longed for the glory days when he demolished Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. When he lost to Lennox Lewis, I chalked it up to age and said “Mike had a bad night, but he’ll be back better than ever next time. He just needs to get Kevin Rooney back.” And of course the loss to Danny Williams meant nothing because Mike hurt his leg during that fight. “Mike will do better the next time,” I said to myself. “I’m sure of it.” The old days will return.
We will live them once again and scream in glorious triumph as Iron Mike towers over his fallen and decimated opponent. Kevin McBride was a fluke and our legend will have his glory another day. I wish all of that were true. But it isn’t anymore. We all get older and all good things must eventually come to an end. But many of us kept coming back, hoping to stand in glory with our champion Iron Mike once again. But it’s been over for 15 years for Iron Mike, and I’m glad to see him finally admit it. I hate to see it all end. Now I can only hope that Mike Tyson will finally truly retire.
When I saw the look on his face and heard him speak during the post-fight interview after losing miserably to Kevin McBride, I hoped that he meant every word he said. But I also knew exactly how he felt when he spoke of how he “no longer had the desire” and was only “doing it for the money.” 2 ex-wives later, I’ve recently retired from a 21-year career in the music business and am now building a new career in real estate at age 45. Frightening, but onward I trudge. I, too, “no longer had the desire” and had only been “doing it for the money” myself for the past 15 years.
Beating my brains out on the road 10 months out of the year for the last 2 decades, constantly running away with the circus from demons that I still need to address, I know how he must’ve felt at that moment, but on a much smaller scale, of course. When he told us that this was most likely his last fight, I felt I knew Mike Tyson more than I’d ever known him before. Yet, I’ve never known him at all, only the legend, never the man. And I doubt too many people on this planet really know the man. I wonder if anyone truly does. Yet some people jump at the opportunity to judge him and rip him apart in public, especially now. Let him have his dignity. We all deserve that. Only those without dignity try to rob him of his own.
Mike Tyson deserves to be in the Boxing Hall of Fame. His record speaks for itself. And yes, he did this and he did that. But what does that have to do with what he accomplished in the ring? If we kicked out every person in boxing with a suspect past there’d be no one left but the vendors selling beer and no one to induct into the BHOF.
If we can all just give the man a break for once and let go of the past, Mike Tyson might actually surprise all of his detractors and do great things with his “life after boxing.” More times than not, we get what we expect from people. Or everyone can just continue to never let him live down his mistakes or what the public perceives as mistakes—although mistakes he’s clearly paid for—and call him a low-life monster until the day he dies. I hope not.
Don’t misunderstand me. I hate a lot of things about the sport of boxing, but I’m one of the most hardcore fans on the planet. And I’ll defend it against anyone who derides it. But in the end, it’s still a business selling sports entertainment. Mike Tyson fights his fight. We pay to watch it. After that he owes us nothing. Even exchange. But we could offer some respect for the entertainment he’s given us for 20 years. Hell, he might even return the favor. After all, like every boxer, he puts his life on the line to entertain us.
He gave us, for a brief time, the opportunity to stand with him in true glory. Some of us long for those glory days and that’s why we continued to pay to see him fight for 15 years after his career ended in Tokyo. Mike’s not been the same fighter since Tokyo, but he’s been one helluva’ entertainer in the ring with exciting glimpses of the past surfacing from time-to-time. And that was enough for me each time I paid that $50.00 pay-per-view bill. I relived those days-gone-by, if only for brief moments. It was worth the money to me.
His career is now over, as long as Iron Mike never allows those who only care about money to talk him into one more embarrassing travesty such as the McBride fight. Mike Tyson is one of the most famous faces on this planet. If allowed to do so, Mike could help to do great things for people in need around this world, just as Ali does. Mike, so many people in this world will only remember you by the McBride fight if you let them. It’s not what you did in boxing that will determine how people truly remember you; it’s what you do with the rest of your life after boxing. Great things await you, things so much bigger than this great sport of boxing.
If we can just allow our minds to “mentally wash away” this dirt that so many people see smeared all over Mike Tyson—some of it by his own hand and some that we have smeared there ourselves—we might allow this man to accomplish great things in his future. We might allow his record in the ring to speak for itself when it comes to boxing and his actions in the future to speak for his life when it’s over. And the mistakes he’s made and paid for should rest where they belong…in the past.
We’ve all made mistakes in our lives. Who are we to constantly judge Mike Tyson? None of us is without sin. Our sins just aren’t plastered across the front page of every newspaper because we’re not famous. We laugh at him because he lost to a fighter like Kevin McBride. But we all grow older sooner or later and our skills eventually erode. But we don’t laugh at each other like we laugh at Iron Mike. Why, because the media doesn’t give a damn about us because we don’t sell newspapers. And no one tunes into CNN or ESPN to hear the latest privacy-invading garbage about us. And they probably never will. So we should consider ourselves to be a lot luckier than Mike Tyson.
We can only truly judge someone if we’ve lived in their shoes. And very few of us have ever walked the long mile that Mike Tyson has walked. Oh, we fantasize about it. But most of us don’t have the balls to walk that mile or even attempt the journey. It’s so much easier to sit on our butts and rip someone apart as if we know so much. Trying to understand takes time and effort, but we’re too lazy for that. We just see some famous guy and hate him for being famous because we’re not. We’ve all made mistakes and we’ll keep making them until the day we die. But the world doesn’t know about our mistakes because we’re not one of the most famous men on the planet. We’re not Mike Tyson.
Mike, you will always have my undying admiration and respect, regardless of your past that many won’t ever let you forget. And I will always live the glory days by watching your fights on video. But what you do from this day forward is all that really matters to me, not mistakes from the past that are really none of our business, anyway. But as a long-time Mike Tyson fan, the only thing I hope in return from you is to know that you grow old with your children with a smile on your face.
Let it go, my friend. Let it go. A whole new better life awaits you…if you’re only willing to walk that next long mile.
I shall cheer for you, gladiator.