Forget for the moment the $50 million that Mike Tyson stands to earn during the next 12 months as he circles the earth continuing his bid, victim by fallen victim, to become the greatest heavyweight champion ever. Set aside the fact that in less than 12 minutes last Friday night, Tyson destroyed Larry Holmes, himself a giant among past heavyweight champions. Concentrate instead on a new, if temporary, window in Atlantic City's Convention Hall, for that is the stuff of which legends are made.
In about half an hour Tyson, clad in his no-frills attire of black trunks and black shoes, would begin his somber walk to the ring. Near a floor mirror in his dressing room, Tyson shadowboxes; his heavily muscled body glistens with sweat. Whack! His gloved right fist slams against a wall and disappears in the direction of Pacific Avenue. Plaster dust explodes into the room. When the fist comes back, it leaves a 10- by 12-inch aperture in the three-quarter-inch-thick wall.
"Sweet Jesus!" someone says softly. Four officials from the New Jersey State Athletic Commission and a gaggle of security guards stare in awe at the jagged opening. Walking over to the opening, assistant manager Steve Lott peers through; he can see a billboard across the street: 6 HOURS/PARK FREE/ATLANTIS/CASINO HOTEL. Tyson stands, head down, embarrassed. An official examines the glove and pronounces it undamaged. "I'm sorry," Tyson says in a small-boy-caught-stealing-the-cookies voice.
A short time later, he was in the ring and trying to punch a window in Holmes. Three times in the fourth round Tyson's right hand dropped the former champion; twice Holmes stoutly picked himself up off the canvas. The last time, with just five seconds remaining on the clock and Holmes stretched out stiffly with his eyes closed, referee Joe Cortez mercifully signaled a cease-fire.
Hardly had Cortez stilled Tyson's guns when Holmes's eyes popped open. "I want to get up," he told the referee, who restrained him. Dr. Charles Wilson stepped into the ring and knelt beside the fallen fighter. "Please let me stand up," Holmes said to the ring physician. Wilson shook his head. Holmes spotted Richie Giachetti, his trainer. "Richie, get me up off the goddam floor," he roared. Finally, Holmes was helped to his feet.
His dignity restored, Holmes walked over to Tyson. "——you," said Holmes. "You are a great champion."
"Thank you," said Tyson. "You are a great champion, too."
That exchange may have made the evening worthwhile for Holmes. The former champion, who last fought in April 1986 and announced his retirement seven months later, had brooded over a career left unresolved by two controversial losses to Michael Spinks. "I hated the way I lost against Spinks," he had said earlier in the week. "Win 48 and then lose two like that. That's why I came back. One way or the other, this time I will retire at peace with myself, and with honor."
Holmes may have wanted the fight badly, but he did not agree to it until the bidding crossed the $3 million mark. The matchup was hyped as a stern test for the 21-year-old Tyson: strength versus experience. Holmes had pared 30 pounds off his frame and at 225¾ looked reasonably fit. But he had worked out in virtual isolation, and there was no way of telling how much skill and savvy remained in his 38-year-old body.
Tyson was simply too strong and too swift for Holmes, whose once feared left jab had become little more than a tired wave. For the first two rounds Holmes held Tyson at bay with his left, much like a running back straight-arming his pursuer. When Tyson pressed, Holmes tried to find safety in clinches. But here the vastly improved Tyson surprised him. In the past he had responded to clinches by ceasing all movement until the referee called for a break. But now Tyson used his strength to wrestle free, and the grappling quickly sapped Holmes's energy.
"I didn't want to go after him until the fifth or sixth round, after I had taken away some of his strength," Holmes said later. "But I had to open up a lot sooner than I wanted."
When Holmes came out firing the jab in the third round, Tyson knew that the end was near. In his previous 50 fights Holmes had suffered only three knockdowns, each by a right thrown over a left hand held dangerously low. "He tried popping the jab," said Tyson, "and then the crowd got pumped up, and he got souped up when the crowd started going off. He had let his ego get involved, and I thought, He's going to get it."
Holmes won the third round on two of the three judges' cards. But he could feel his strength fading. He knew then he could not win a 12-round decision. Holmes geared himself for one last charge against the machine-gun nests.
When the bell signaled the fourth round, Holmes came up on his toes, trying to force some firepower into his jab. But Tyson cut him down. Fifty seconds into the round, Tyson, moving in on those amazingly quick legs, ripped a right hand to the body and a wide, hard hook to the head. Shaken, Holmes backed away along the ropes.
Halfway through the round, after breaking from a clinch, Holmes backed toward the center of the ring. Crouching, Tyson sprang forward, but instead of hooking, he took another long step with his left foot and snapped a jab between Holmes's gloves. A right followed in a tight arc and crashed against the former champion's left cheek.
The punch snapped Holmes's head to the right; his body followed in a one-quarter turn. Like a man losing his balance on the edge of a cliff, Holmes turned his hands in slow circles and fell backward, landing on his backside.
Holmes has never learned to stay down and take an eight count. He was up at the count of four, his mouthpiece jutting out, wagging his head as he tried to clear his brain. During his career he had escaped the follow-up punches of Kevin Isaac, Earnie Shavers and Renaldo Snipes; now he was hoping for yet another reprieve.
Tyson would have none of that. He moved in firing, clubbing Holmes behind the head with a looping right. It was a glancing blow, but Holmes, with very little left in his legs, went down on his back. Rolling over onto his right side, the former champion struggled to his feet, then fell back heavily against the ropes and nearly through them. He was down for barely two seconds.
A few moments later, a Tyson right caught Holmes on the left side of the chin, snapping his head viciously to the right. The former champion went straight down. His backside landed first; then his head banged against the canvas. He shuddered and closed his eyes.
"Even then I watched him," said Tyson after his 33rd straight victory. "I knew he was a game champion and that he wasn't going to go out like a dog. He went out fighting. Even after that last knockdown he was willing to get up."
For Tyson, this was the first leg of a seven-fight contract with HBO that will pay him $26.5 million and extend into the early part of next year. The $26.5 million, $5 million of which was earned against Holmes, is only the HBO money. Then there is the site money, some $3 million for each fight, and the foreign TV royalties of about $2 million per bout. "With Mike fighting every other month," says Bill Cayton, who comanages Tyson with Jimmy Jacobs, "that's about $50 million over the next year."
Next up on March 20 (March 21 Tokyo time) is, as Tyson put it after his victory over Holmes, "someone in Japan." That would be Tony Tubbs, the former WBA champion who has shown up for fights disguised as a blimp. In order to keep his caloric intake within reasonable bounds, the contract specifies that Tubbs enter the ring in fighting trim. Should Tubbs eat his way out of contention, a substitute will be on hand.
Whether Tyson will encounter serious opposition anytime soon depends on former champion Michael Spinks and his promoter/manager, Butch Lewis. The day after the Holmes fight, Cayton says he offered Lewis a $10.8 million guarantee against 40% of the profits for a June 24 bout, take it or leave it. Lewis, who wanted a $15 million minimum, left it. If the two sides do not reopen negotiations, Tyson will fight British heavyweight Frank Bruno on June 10 in London. And there is a tentative match scheduled for early September in Milan against Italy's Francesco Damiani, who scored a lackluster TKO of Dorcey Gaymon on the Tyson-Holmes undercard.
"After that, we have offers from just about every place in the world," says promoter Don King, listing Paris, Brunei and Rio as likely ports of call.
For his part, Tyson simply wants to know what time to appear in the ring, then head for his home in upstate New York. On Friday night, though, he stopped first at his dressing room to pick up his gear, which is where Don Johnson, the star of Miami Vice, and Barbra Streisand found him.
Tyson smiled at Streisand. "I think your nose is very sexy, Barbra," he said.
"Thank you, Mike," she said.