BACK in 2005, ahead of his final fight with Kevin McBride, Mike Tyson was hurling lefts hooks, right hooks and uppercuts that smashed into then-trainer Jeff Fenech’s pads with almighty thuds. They were the kind of punches that would have knocked out pretty much any active heavyweight at the time.
In interviews, Tyson – then three years removed from his one-sided loss to Lennox Lewis and 12 months after being stopped by Danny Williams – spoke of the fire within. It had returned, he said. He’d been knocking out “tough” sparring partners and gone back to his roots, referencing the old drills he’d been taught as a boy by his mentor, Cus D’Amato. His plan, once he’d flattened McBride, was to fight every two or three months and work his way back into contention.
Even with his blatant decline and humbling defeats still fresh in the memory, boxing fans waited for their hero to remove his ageing bones and soar once more. Tyson, perhaps more than any other fighter in history, captured the public’s imagination to such an extent that they believed with the right training and the right mindset he could defy science and logic and rule the world again.
It was of course nonsense. As it turned out, Kevin McBride – even though a lumbering and mediocre heavyweight – did not stand as still as the pads their hero had terrorised and had more ambition than the sparring partners he’d decked. After six rounds, Tyson quit on his stool and did not fight again.
Well, not really. A year later he engaged in a televised exhibition bout with Corey Sanders, a virtually blind and washed-up former gatekeeper. Tyson showed flashes of that old spark again but, with a lucrative world exhibition tour scheduled, “Iron” Mike turned his back on the sport he felt he was embarrassing by using it to earn money as a tribute act.
Fast forward to 2020, straight past Mike gaining weight and contentment and opening a cannabis farm of which he was the No.1 customer, to Tyson, back in shape at the age of 53, supposedly plotting a ring return after teasing his public – still as daft as ever – by once again ripping hooks and uppercuts into stationary pads.
Without question, the old man looks in great shape and should be applauded for that. His hands and feet are still fast and powerful and his brain still capable of reminding his limbs of the old routines. Fact is, any boxer who was taught the sport as a child will always be able to fire punches on instinct if they still have use of their arms. Lloyd Honeyghan, for example, recently cracked me on the chin with a sturdy right hand after getting to his feet with the aid of a walking stick to exhibit how to counter a straight left.
All over social media there are examples of retired boxers exhibiting their prowess. Ricky Hatton forming those bone-crushing hooks of old as he goes through his paces on the punchbag, Nigel Benn letting fly with lightning combinations and Frank Bruno putting power behind his once-formidable right hand. Each of them would no doubt turn back the clock. Each of them know they can’t.
Tyson likely knows too. A man of great intelligence and a lifelong student of the game, Tyson will be aware that he has zero chance against the leading heavyweights of today. But in an age where stories are made from instant and unchallenged soundbites and footage, the facts of life become blurred. Gone are the days when to be journalist you had to actually write and research a story. Today, you just need a headline. Google ‘Mike Tyson comeback’ and you’ll be met with all manner of them. Tyson Is Back! Tyson Looking Better Than Ever At 53! The Tyson Comeback – Are You A Believer Yet?
Tyson is having you all on. He may well return in an exhibition or two and more power to him for that if they’re staged with the necessary care. But should the current wave of nostalgia drag Tyson to more dangerous waters, there is only one outcome – as Kevin McBride proved fifteen long years ago.