Former boxer Mike Tyson wants to make a comeback — and who can blame him? So do I. So do you. So does the retail industry, going to school, having fun, being a grandparent, having a job and going to the corner shop without standing outside in a mask looking like a socially awkward scooter thief.
In Tyson’s case, it seems unlikely that the comeback talk amounts to a serious plan.
Tyson is 53 years old. No matter how good he looks hitting the pads — this is a man with a kind of magic in his hands — the prospect of anyone that age absorbing heavyweight punches is pretty grim.
However, the Tyson comeback baloney is also in its own way a perfect lockdown story, an ideal confection of nostalgia and viral oddity — with an eerie synchronicity for anyone who, like me, has spent their confinement watching every single one of Tyson’s professional fights in series, like a mid-1980s soap opera.
At least, I’ve tried to watch the whole thing — but failed.
However, even this seems to speak to that fantasy comeback talk, as I have not made it past the cold white heat of early Mike: Those 21 months that took him from dowdy halls in upstate New York to the Las Vegas Hilton, the total destruction of Trevor Berbick and enthronement as the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.
Has there ever been a run like this in sports?
From March 1985 to November 1986, Tyson fought 28 unbeaten fights, winning 26 by knockout, boxing only 52 completed rounds — and producing a sequence of such clarity, such gathering greatness, that it is still startling to watch.
This is the first thing about young Tyson: his physical beauty.
From the start, he looks almost like an embarrassment of human splendor — not only slabbed and ripped, with a back like a sand-smoothed granite cliff face, but toned and balanced and gleaming with potential energy.
The first fight is Hector Mercedes at the Plaza Convention Center in Albany, New York. The two men face up. Tyson throws 16 punches in 10 seconds. Mercedes falls like a Victorian chimney stack — Tyson rushes over and apologizes.
Next up is Trent Singleton in the same ring, same kit, same gloomy lighting. Tyson throws two punches — we see that famous left hook for the first time, which is more than Singleton did.
Tyson was not fighting cardboard cutouts. The guys were older and more experienced, standard obstacles for a teenage prospect, but they just happened to have stepped in front of a talent that is literally impossible to resist, fall guys in one of sport’s most brutal and apparently unforeseen sequence of mismatches.
There are some wonderful highlights. Tyson is thrown in the deep end with Michael Jack Johnson at the Atlantis Hotel, a man with a ragged scowl and a run of knockouts, but Tyson walks through him like he is a bead curtain.
Next comes a bigger step up against Donny Long, the “master of disaster,” who is battered through the ropes twice in 30 seconds.
Tyson takes on Trevor Berbick at the Vegas Hilton on November 1986. Berbick, the WBC world champion, is an ordained minister who calls himself the Soldier of the Cross.
Making the mistake of going toe to toe with the 20-year-old Tyson, Berbick hits the canvas, leaps up like a madman, but ends up skittering across the ring on elastic legs, the most knocked-out man in the history of being knocked out.
That was it for Tyson’s run — things began to fall apart. The Buster Douglas defeat came three years later. Six years after Hector Mercedes, Tyson was arrested for rape, convicted and gone.
There is not much left to say about this. Tyson has always been a deeply flawed human, and there will always be pain in that, mainly for those on the other end.
There is another kind of sadness in the glory of young Tyson, who was, or should have been a role model, a hardworking kid from a tough background, a student of his art under Cus D’Amato, funny, smart and courteous, obsessed only with angles and skills and ring craft.
Think of that Tyson now and there is even a doomed kind of glory in that crazy talk of a comeback — in the sight of this aged fighter still hitting a bag, still wanting more, wanting even now to go back.
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