At his press conference, which he handled with aplomb, 20-year-old Mike Tyson said he "wasn't pleased" with his performance on Saturday evening against Pinklon Thomas, the one heavyweight who had been expected to give him some trouble. But for a moment, after the press conference, he allowed himself to stand back and admire the fighter he had become. "Man, did you see it?" Tyson asked. "Did you see that hook? That was a bomb. Took all the fight out of him."
The punch had come out of nowhere with a little more than a minute left in the sixth round of their bout at the Las Vegas Hilton. Tyson had launched it from low on his hip so quickly that it caught a number of people, including its intended target, by surprise. Folks will pay a lot of money to see a champion who can make 217-pound contenders disappear. Now you see Pink, now you don't. The bloodied Thomas was ruled the loser by a TKO.
Tyson's waltz with James (Bonecrusher) Smith back in March had put wrinkles between some eyebrows. This fight should have smoothed them. "People pay to see Mike knock someone out," said Tyson's comanager, Jimmy Jacobs. "Bottom line."
People will get their chance often. Tyson will fight every eight weeks or so, bottom line, from now until he finds the opponent whose style and spirit will test him, revealing the greatness that surely lies deep within him and putting it on display for all to see. But by the looks of what looms on the near horizon, it may be a while before that foe shows up and epic poetry is written.
Although Tyson was the 5-1 favorite, Thomas was supposed to be a tough opponent. Pink is a 6'3", 29-year-old ex-champion who still has his punch and his legs. He has a hard jab, purportedly the stiffest in the heavyweight division. What's more, trainer Angelo Dundee was back in Thomas's corner.
The fighters had traded insults before the fight. Pink suggested he might perform some oral surgery on Tyson. Tyson rebutted by softly telling Pink ... well, you don't want to know. "He's going to eat those words," said Thomas. "Mike does dirt. He's obscene. I know what it is to lose. He don't. I'm going to put something on this boy's mind."
And then he had to go and get in the way of that left hook. In the very first round Thomas was rocked to his soles by it. A right-left combination to the body and head, right out of the gate. Another left. And another. No jabs, just hooks. Pinklon pawed back with lefts and rights, but "he had nothing for me," said Tyson, "nothing." And it was obvious. Another left. Then Tyson hit Thomas just at the bell and stood there as if to say, So I do dirt. So stop me. Thomas wobbled on back to his corner, paralyzed by Tyson's sledgehammer power.
Thomas survived that first round, but he showed none of the lateral movement Dundee had prophesied. In fact, when lateral movement was mentioned to Thomas before the fight, he responded as if he had never heard of the concept. Tyson idly pounded through the second round, sometimes inverting his fists in the Floyd Patterson peekaboo manner, in homage to the late Cus D'Amato and to the exhortations of his trainer, Kevin Rooney, who was begging Tyson to jab, to box.
By the sixth round some in the audience were convinced Tyson's flaws—a mushy jab, an inability to escape from a clinch—were being systematically exposed. "No balance," observed one. And Richie Giachetti, who is training the lackluster Tony Tubbs and obviously has nothing better to do than scoff at Tyson, said, "You think Tyson doesn't know all the dirty tricks in the book?"
Meanwhile, even with a 2½-minute rest before the sixth round because of a torn Thomas glove—reminding ringsiders of the Dundee ploy that helped Muhammad Ali beat Henry Cooper in 1963—the challenger was in no shape to process new information. A whistling uppercut tore through Thomas's defenses. A left thumped his body. Thomas then made the mistake of standing straight up and moving within range of Tyson's punches.
Tyson would eventually throw six more, but it was that first left hook, that "bomb," that finished Thomas. Three more left hooks and a pair of rights were just for emphasis, and Pink was out at 2:00 of the sixth. Dundee, who had cursed at a ringside doctor for questioning Thomas's faculties after that savage first round, stepped in at the count of nine.
"The change is dramatic," said Jacobs afterward. "Mike is without doubt head and shoulders the best fighter in the world. The technical skills are there now but, more than anything, so is his confidence. His confidence is supreme. It may be years before he finds that foil, that opponent who can capture the imagination the way Mike has. But in the next 10 years a few will come."
Right now there is no one. This could be a problem—if it's possible to have any problems when you are 20 years old, the holder of two heavyweight titles (WBA and WBC) and are the toast of the beautiful people. There is, of course, the matter of 6'5" Tony Tucker (35-0, 29 KOs), the newly-crowned IBF heavyweight champion by virtue of his 10th-round TKO over James (Buster) Douglas in the Tyson preliminary. Tyson, 30-0, will make Tucker No. 31 on Aug. 1. Former Olympian Tyrell Biggs is on tap for October. "Movement, movement," said Biggs. "I don't think Tyson can fight in the center of the ring. He hasn't been tested." That may make the fall edition of Famous Last Words.
Then there is the winner of the renegade heavyweight championship bout between Michael Spinks and Gerry Cooney this month in Atlantic City. That head could be hunted in, say, January, should either Spinks or Cooney be willing. By March Tyson will be winging his way toward the Orient and his biggest payday—possibly $10 million, no matter whom he fights—before his Japanese fans, who are legion by all accounts. So all the involved promoters and managers are smiling. Tyson is in no pain either.
Pinklon Thomas could have stuck a pin in all this. But there might not be an epic fight for Mike Tyson until a fellow named Evander Holyfield—the former Olympian and current WBA light heavyweight champ—gets big enough to try his luck.