They turned out the lights in Tokyo's sparkling new $462.5 million domed stadium when Tony Tubbs made his way to the ring just a little after noon on Monday. Perhaps the Japanese were embarrassed by the sight of Tubbs's exposed flab, which topped out at 238¼ pounds, officially, and no doubt increased during the 24 hours between weigh-in and his fistfight with heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. A few moments later, Tyson turned out Tubbs's lights.
Still, the corpulent challenger came to fight, a pleasant, if short-lived, surprise to the Japanese. And until Tubbs dropped, dazed and bloodied, at 2:54 of the second round, he did give future Tyson challengers a glimmer of hope. Tubbs's strategy appeared sound; he just didn't have the firepower.
At one time, all hope of defeating the champion had centered on the jab and lateral movement. "Stay outside and stick," urged boxing strategists. Yet those who tried—Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs and Larry Holmes—toppled like tenpins.
"Tyson doesn't respect the jab," scoffed Tubbs between meals a few days before the fight. "He walks right through them. A man comes at me with a baseball bat, I don't want to be outside where he can get a good whack at me."
March 28, 1988
So Tubbs devised a different plan, which he put to work from the opening bell. When Tyson leaped in to begin his assault, Tubbs moved quickly forward as well. That placed him snugly inside the champion's lethal hook. But as any combat veteran could have told him, when an enemy is in too close to shoot, you just knock the hell out of him with your rifle butt. Which is what Tyson did.
Tubbs appeared to have won the first round—although only one judge awarded it to him—but he paid dearly as Tyson buried fierce right hands deep into the challenger's soft midsection. The champion's punches arrive with great acceleration, and against Tubbs they seemed to still be gathering speed after stabbing into the body.
In the brief time that he lasted, Tubbs, employing short hooks to the head, hit Tyson more squarely than he has been hit in any previous fight. But it isn't enough just to hit Tyson; if you don't hurt him, you only make him mad. And Tubbs was never able to hurt him.
"I was just waiting for him to make a mistake," said Tyson after his sixth title defense, 30th knockout and 34th pro fight without a defeat.
Tubbs's mistake was coming out for the second round. With the champion happily harpooning his body, Tubbs began to take on the appearance of a beleaguered whale. He tried to fight back but threw one hook too many. Before it could land, Tyson launched a three-punch volley that was so swift Tubbs could be forgiven if he thought that two other assailants had joined the champion in the ring. Tyson slammed the challenger's head with a right hand, ripped a right to the body and snapped Tubbs's head back with a right uppercut.
Staggering, Tubbs lunged forward and grabbed the champion in a desperate clinch until referee Arthur Mercante pried the two fighters apart. Then Tyson slammed a hook into Tubbs's right eye.
The last blow turned Tubbs into a marionette whose strings had been snipped away. If it hadn't been for the ropes, he would have lurched drunkenly backward until settling down somewhere around the 20th row. Held up momentarily by the strands, Tubbs toppled to his left and finally landed on his backside. Blood poured from a deep cut over his right eye. "It was just a lovely left hook that split him wide open," Mercante said after the fight.
As Tubbs began to fall, Tyson sprang forward and launched another hook. It thundered harmlessly over Tubbs's head. "I threw it just in case the ropes held him up," said Tyson later. "If they had, it would have hit him. I didn't know how bad he was hurt. He could have been faking it."
Mercante moved in swiftly and maneuvered Tyson into a neutral corner. When he turned to begin the count, Odell Hadley, Tubbs's chief second, was already in the ring.
"No more," said Hadley, waving off Mercante, who was visibly annoyed. The veteran referee believes that in a title fight a man should be counted out.
The fight over, Tyson strode to the center of the ring, where he paused, legs spread and hands on hips, glaring down at his victim. On the wall of the bedroom in his Tokyo hotel suite Tyson had hung a picture of Battling Nelson, a former lightweight champion, after his knockout of Eddie Lang in 1910. In the picture Nelson stands in the center of the ring, legs spread and hands on his hips, glaring down upon the unconscious Lang.
Tyson became fascinated with the photograph just before he fought Holmes on Jan. 22. He did his first imitation of Nelson after Holmes went down to stay in the fourth round.
"He asked me later if I had noticed it [the pose]," said assistant manager Steve Lott, who had not. "He told me to go look at the tape. There he was, Battling Nelson himself. Before Holmes he'd go over and pick up his victims. That's because he knew that John L. Sullivan and Jack Johnson and fighters from that era, which he loves, did it that way."
It is unlikely that either Sullivan or Johnson would have been inclined to hoist Tubbs's 238 pounds of dead weight. There is chivalry and then there are hernias.
As he did before past fights, Tyson decorated his hotel suite, where he spent most of his time during his five weeks in Japan, with old fight photographs. Among others, he had taped up a picture of heavyweight Peter Jackson, who fought in the 1890s, and another of turn-of-the-century heavyweight Sam McVey. And a much more recent photograph showed Joe Frazier examining Tyson's hand wraps just before he fought Frazier's son Marvis in July 1986.
"I like that one because it looks like Joe wants to fight me," said Tyson.
The photographs were his main companions while he prepared for Tubbs. When training he lives like a hermit, and not even Tokyo, one of the world's liveliest cities, could lure him out. The champion's few excursions beyond his hotel were brief, and most came during the first week after he arrived—at the request of HBO, which paid $3.5 million for the right to telecast the fight back to the United States. When you're being given $10 million for less than six minutes of work, as Tyson ultimately was, there are some obligations.
Tyson and his new bride, actress Robin Givens, visited the zoo twice, lunched with sumo wrestlers and went to see the movie The Last Emperor, which put the champion to sleep. At a Tina Turner concert, Tyson was seated on the stage, which annoyed him, and after 20 minutes he went home.
Except for two trips downstairs in the hotel to eat sushi with Robin, Tyson dined in his room, where he loaded up on fruit that cost him $100 a day. In Tokyo, the most expensive city in the world, muskmelons are $60 apiece. A year ago the Japanese imported cherries for the first time, and they sold for $16. Each. Tyson's favorite fruit was a large Japanese pear, which set him back $7 every time he ate one.
To stave off boredom, the champion watched video movies: $5,000 worth, which he, Lott and trainer Kevin Rooney had brought from the States. Tyson is an action-film fan: Rambo, Platoon, Top Gun, Commando, James Bond and all of Clint Eastwood's movies. "But he fooled me," said Lott. "I brought along two for myself that I didn't think he'd be interested in, and he fell in love with both of them."
One was The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum as a back-country preacher who, searching for stolen money, terrorizes a family. The other was Of Human Bondage, about a crippled medical student's passion for a London waitress.
"I asked him to watch Of Human Bondage, because, I told him, I could identify with the man," said Lott. "Afterward, he said, I know how this man felt too. Women will do that to you.' He and Robin watched it over and over."
Prizefighting is a hard way to make a living, but somebody has to do it. For his dismantling of Tubbs, Tyson earned $1,666,666 per minute. Tubbs was paid $900,000 for the evening. That figures out to $3,781.51 a pound. In Tokyo, even losers are expensive.