If Richard Steele, a referee of global renown, had been at Bunker Hill, he would have pulled the trigger early. Failing to look into the whites of Razor Ruddock's eyes, Steele signaled an unnecessary cease-fire with 38 seconds to go in the seventh round in Las Vegas on Monday night, thus saving the courageous Ruddock from further assault by Mike Tyson. But by rescuing Ruddock from this attack, Steele may only have set him up for a similar mauling on a future date.
Hardly had the smoke cleared in the Mirage hotel's outdoor arena, when Ruddock's seconds—after a furious but unsuccessful attack against Steele—screamed for a rematch. Wearing the look of a man who had won a state lottery, promoter Don King reviewed the case, weighed the evidence, smiled when he thought of more millions to be made, and agreed. It took him three seconds. Ruddock, who had complained the least about the stoppage of the fight, smiled painfully at the prospect of facing Tyson again.
Tyson, calm in the midst of this storm, took on the sort of look that George Foreman sports on his way to Burger King. "I don't mind doing it again," he said softly. "I wanted to punish him, and if he wants more, that's O.K. I'd rather knock him out cleanly."
Next time they should put sawdust on the floor. This was a fistfight, pure saloon, fought with bravery and savagery, butting and elbowing, each man trying not to defeat the other but to destroy him. There was no finesse; no intent to score points for 12 rounds and then wait to see how the judges scored it. Tyson made at least $6 million, and Ruddock, a 9-2 underdog, earned $3 million, but they fought as if they would have done it for nothing.
As expected, Tyson came out like a pit bull freed from its leash. "I want to kill him," Tyson had said, more recently adding that he didn't think the statement needed elaboration. "He has made it a personal thing," said Ruddock. "It's no longer about money. He said he was going to kill me, and that's serious trouble."
At 6'3" (to Tyson's 5'11") and 228 pounds, Ruddock looked like a Michelangelo statue. He hoped to use those sculpted muscles to test the chin that had cost Tyson his heavyweight title against Buster Douglas 13 months ago. But all of Ruddock's 25 victories—18 of them by knockouts—and his one draw had come against either unknowns or boxing's elder statesmen. In his lone defeat, to Dave Jaco in 1985, he had quit on his stool after seven rounds. Ruddock said it was asthma; his critics suggested it was a faint heart.
On Monday both Tyson's chin and Ruddock's heart were tested and proved sound. Coming in at a hard 217 pounds, Tyson opened with a savage body attack. Ruddock had begun his career as a boxer, but as he piled up the KOs he began to emerge as a puncher. "They're crazy," said Tyson's trainer Richie Giachetti, of Ruddock's brain trust. "He knocks out a couple of old guys, and they all go nuts. That has to hurt him. They are making him believe he is something he's not."
"Keep the pressure on, and it's an easy fight," Giachetti told Tyson in the days before the bout. While knocking out 35 of his 40 opponents, Tyson had drifted from the basics taught him by his late guardian and mentor, Cus D'Amato. Under Giachetti, Tyson has gone back to working on a jab and head movement, two tools he had honed early in his career and then virtually discarded. "All those knockouts made him lackadaisical," said Giachetti. "I haven't taught him a thing. I just have him fighting the way Cus taught him to fight, going back to the basics."
Tyson and Ruddock wasted no time testing each other. Before the opening bell Ruddock bounced around the ring, seemingly eager to begin, while Tyson eyed his foe with a small smile. "I don't try to intimidate anybody before a fight," Tyson said. "That's nonsense. I intimidate people by hitting them."
Ruddock was not intimidated. He did go down in the second round, and though Steele ruled it a knockdown, it was a fluke. Tyson threw a left hook, which Ruddock took on his right elbow and shoulder. As Ruddock turned, Tyson's right leg hooked him, and he fell. He bounded up immediately and shrugged as Steele counted to eight.
The second knockdown was the real thing. With five seconds to go in the third round, Tyson fired a hook over a missed right hand, and Ruddock danced crazily to his left and fell. This time he stayed down until the count of six. As he retreated toward his corner—the count and the round ended virtually simultaneously—Ruddock raised his arms as if to say, "I'm O.K. He didn't hurt me."
By the end of Round 5, the fight had settled into a brutal, one-sided pattern. Ruddock's hook found Tyson's head repeatedly, but nothing slowed the former champion. Ruddock's corner told him, "You can't do it with just one punch. Throw combinations." Few came. Ruddock wanted to hurt Tyson with one hard punch, then overwhelm him.
Before the bout, trainer Slim Robinson, who mapped Ruddock's battle plan, had said, "I don't think Tyson's chin is as good as his punch. He can't take a punch as well as he can throw one. If he wants to fight in the middle of the ring, we'll fight him in the middle of the ring. And we aren't looking to win his respect. To hell with respect. We're looking to take him out of there."
It almost happened. Late in the sixth round, Tyson was stung by two left hooks and a right hand. He bulled into Ruddock, grabbing him. Breaking free, Ruddock cracked home a right hand. Looking disgusted. Tyson paused and pointed to his chin. That was a mistake. Another right hand snapped Tyson's head back just before the bell. "It was like a bleeping mule kick," Tyson said afterward.
Furious with himself, Tyson was up and out of his corner before the bell opened the seventh round. Glaring, he motioned Ruddock forward. Ruddock complied slowly. By now, between rounds, he was desperately taking great gulps of air.
Tyson caught Ruddock's attention early in the round with two blows low on the hips, drawing boos from the fans but no warning from Steele. With a minute to go, Ruddock was hit low again, and two more right hands drilled him into the ropes. Tyson slammed a right hand to the body, then snapped Ruddock's head back with a hook. Raising both hands high, Ruddock staggered back across the ring.
After missing with a right and a left, Tyson scored with another right and a left, driving Ruddock into the ropes. Rushing in, Steele grabbed Tyson with both arms. Barely glancing at Ruddock, who was on his feet and bouncing off the ropes, Steele waved that the fight was over.
"What!" said Ruddock, his eyes wide with shock. Immediately an angry army came boiling out of Ruddock's corner, led by Delroy Ruddock, Razor's older brother and manager, and Murad Muhammad, his promoter. Tyson spotted the charge first, and in apparent reply to the plaints of Ruddock's handlers that they wuz robbed, he yelled, "That's bull— —! That's bull— —!"
A few feet from Tyson, Giachetti turned and moved to intercept Delroy Ruddock. "He was trying to get at Steele," Giachetti said. "I grabbed him and told him to cool it. Then Murad sucker-punched me." Giachetti went down, and someone kicked him four times.
A squad of green-jacketed security people leaped into the ring and hustled Steele away to safety. Inside the crowded ring, a series of small skirmishes broke out. Ruddock retreated to his corner; Tyson moved to a neutral corner, where—wisely—no one tried to attack him. It was a short melee, but it was stupid and ugly.
Steele later told an interviewer that he had stopped the fight because Ruddock no longer could defend himself. "People just get out of hand because of the simple fact that they don't understand boxing," Steele said. "They must come to see someone get hurt seriously or death."
"All we want is justice," said Muhammad, after order was restored. Muhammad, who had copromoted the four-bout card with King, had not wanted Steele to work the fight. He claimed that Steele, who had refereed numerous bouts promoted by King, was too close to King. With, as it turned out, uncanny prescience, Muhammad worried that, if Ruddock was able to pose a threat to Tyson, Steele would call a premature halt to the fight as soon thereafter as Ruddock got in any kind of trouble. After first threatening to sue Steele and nearly everyone involved in the fight, Muhammad said that a rematch would patch things up nicely.
Ruddock will get another crack at Tyson, but whether it will be in a fight for the heavyweight crown largely depends on what happens next month in Atlantic City when Foreman meets the champion, Evander Holyfield. If Foreman wins, he will be in no hurry to defend his title against Tyson, but a Holyfield victory will mean that Tyson's long wait for an opportunity to reclaim his throne will be over.