SKY commentator Ian Darke was out in Las Vegas in June 1997, unaware that Mike Tyson was on the brink of tarnishing his reputation forever. The following is his day-by-day diary of the events that culminated in the most infamous disqualification in boxing history.
Sunday, June 22 1997
I cannot remember who said that Las Vegas make Blackpool look like Venice, but they were not wrong. After 14 hours of flying Glenn McCrory and I arrived to find that old Sin City in the desert had plunged to new depth of tastelessness. Our hotel opposite the MGM had an electric chair where you can pay $2 to be ‘fried alive’. A noisy rollercoaster is positioned just outside your bedroom window. Try, and fail as usual, to get into west coast time by fighting sleep until as late as possible. You still wake in the middle of the night and fall asleep in the afternoons.
Monday, June 23 1997
Mission impossible – get one on one interview with Mike Tyson. Over the years repeated efforts to go through official channels have proved hopeless. The only hope is to doorstep him as he leaves the golden gloves gym after training. We arrive to find the doors locked and the out usual brooding heavies on guard. Tyson’s co-manager Rory Holloway drives up. We ask if Mike will speak on British TV, since he has so many fans over there. Grovelling helps – or does it? “I ain’t asking him,” snaps Holloway.
“But you’ve got no objection if it’s OK with him?”
“Up to you what you do. I can’t stop him.”
You’ll gather that getting to see Tyson is like trying to arrange an audience with the pope. Eventually he emerges looking sullen. “Hi Mike, I wonder could you spare three minutes for Sky Sports from Great Britain?”
“I dunno about three minutes,” he lisps. You think we had asked him to front the nine-o’clock-news. We roll the camera anyway. The ‘interview’ is monosyllabic. The truth is Tyson hates the media. He is usually contemptuous and dismissive of even the most reasonable and polite inquiry. The camp here have a impenetrable mentality – some might say persecution complex.
Tuesday, June 24 1997
Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield are totally different animals in the same jungle. Evander is a helpful and available as Mike uncooperative. Holyfield works out in the ring set up inside the media tent, and he does not leave until everyone who wants to speak to him has done so. The man is pure class it is already clear that Tyson still holds no terrors for him. Indeed many of us wonder if it is the other way around after the beating Tyson took in their first fight.
Wednesday, June 25 1997
One of the big set-pieces of any fight week like this in Vegas is the Head-To-Head press conferences. There are 1,500 media people in town. Mike Marley, Don King’s director of publicity says that for everyone given accreditation, 10 were turned away. The Russians are here, and broadcasters in three dialects of Chinese. As usual myself, Glen McCrory and Bob Mee have a sweepstake on how long Don King will take just to introduce everybody. The record is 53 minutes on Akinwande-Welch. This time Don keeps it to 18 minutes. By his standards this is almost a ‘no comment’. The highlights are a catty exchange between Christy Martin, the star of women’s boxing and the only women to ever beat her, Andrea DeShong. DeShong: “I will give you a boxing lesson.” Martin: “It’s nice to see you in a dress, it’s the first time you have looked like a women. I’m going to get me some running shoes to chase you down faster than you’ve ever been chased… except your girlfriend!” There is more. A bored Tyson and a serene Holyfield are tame in comparison. Afterwards Lennox Lewis’ trainer Manny Steward says that Holyfield seems “too relaxed and lacks edge”. Eddie Futch says after seeing the fighters this week he’s changed his mind and is going for Tyson.
Thursday, June 26 1997
The weigh in. This fight is so big that ESPN, the all sports channel, are putting it out live. Tyson is his lightest since jail- but he looks older, his skin looks a sheen. Holyfield is his heaviest ever. Tyson appears to be averting his glance as they pose for the pictures, significant? Later the Nevada Commission holds a meeting in front of the world’s media to hear the Tyson camp protest about referee Mitch Halpern. Can you imagine the British Boxing Board of Control doing this? Tyson’s manager John Horne reckons that Tyson will be ‘physiologically affected’ by having the same man who stopped him last time. Is this a clue about Tyson’s mental state? If he is worried about the same ref how does he feel about the same opponent? The old Tyson would only have worried if the referee could not count to 10. Quite rightly, the commission throw out the protests 4-1 vote.
Friday, June 27 1997
The eve of the fight. We awake to the news that Halpern has stepped down. The Tyson camp have got their way Halpern had been put in an impossible position where he surely would have to subconsciously been bent over backward to be fair to Tyson. Mills Lane is drafted to ‘get it on’. Little could he know the central role he was to play in the drama. A poll of top American boxing writers gives only six votes out of 23 to Tyson. Yet the bookies still have Holyfield a 13-8 underdog. This could be the first recorded instance of generosity from the Vegas odds layers.
Saturday, June 28 1997
The fight. Boxing’s capacity to dream up some new sensational ending is inexhaustible. Both Glenn McCrory and I are appalled by Tyson’s outrageous behaviour. The words ‘coward’ and ‘bully’ come to mind. Whoever would have thought that Tyson would stoop to make the ‘real deal’ to the ‘real meal’? There is no question that Holyfield was going to beat him, Tyson knew it- so he opted out, hoping he could claim an inconclusive outcome. In my opinion he has thrown away any claim to be regarded as one of history’s best heavyweights. As Glenn said on air: “Cus D’Amato would have turned in his grave.” Afterwards, we are caught in a stampede to escape reported gunfire in the MGM Casino. What a night!
Sunday, June 29 1997
The American sub-editors have had a field night: ‘Bite of the century’, ‘Fight of the ear’ and so on. We fly home at dawn. Sky Sports is on the air again on Monday night … at the York hall, Bethnal Green. It is a long way from Vegas…