While it was not vintage Mike Tyson fury, it was more than enough. Last Friday night, Tyson, the former heavyweight champion, broke Donovan (Razor) Ruddock's jaw, knocked him down twice, split his lip and all but closed his left eye while winning a 12-round decision at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
The last time these two fought, on March 18 at the Mirage, Ruddock weighed 228 pounds and lost when referee Richard Steele called a controversial cease-fire in the seventh round. This time Ruddock came in 10 pounds heavier and fought more as if he were out to prove Steele wrong than to beat Tyson. Ruddock's courage proved to be of 12-round quality, but the decision was close only because Tyson hit him in the cup nearly as often as he hit him on the chin.
Referee Mills Lane penalized Tyson two points for low blows and another point for hitting after the bell. Ruddock was fined one point for hitting after the bell. Following an exchange of low blows in the 11th round, Lane, a 5'7" former Marine who's now a Nevada district court judge in Reno, growled at both fighters, "You knock that——off, both of you."
For most of the opening round, Tyson looked like the man who had knocked out 33 of his first 37 opponents. In the first 1:56, he fired 19 jabs, a weapon he had hardly used in his loss by knockout to Buster Douglas in February 1990 and in his three victories since then. They were hard jabs, the opening salvo for a powerful barrage, the furious Tyson trademark.
But as quickly as the old Tyson appeared, he vanished, and the Tyson enigma continued. The new Tyson hesitates; openings come and go untested. He is still haunted by the Douglas knockout, and sometimes his finger freezes on the trigger. The pre-Douglas Tyson fired combinations with abandon, in bursts of three and four punches with hardly a pause. The current Tyson hits once, twice and grabs. Or permits himself to be grabbed.
What's more, he has fallen victim to puncher's syndrome: The small deadly punches with which he once set up his victims have been all but discarded. The chisels and mallets have been left in the toolshed; only the sledgehammer is brought to work. After a few hard nights at the office, an enlightened puncher returns to the basics that made him successful. Tyson has yet to see the light.
As a result, he couldn't effectively follow up either of his two knockdowns of Ruddock. In the second round, a moment after Lane had warned him for a low blow, Tyson slammed a right hand against the side of Ruddock's head. Ruddock dropped to one knee and rose to his feet before Lane could pick up the count at three. When Tyson returned to the attack, a hook found Ruddock just below his yellow belt line. Lane stopped the action to warn Tyson again. The pause gave Ruddock time to recover.
Returning to his corner at the bell, Ruddock found bedlam. All four of his cornermen talked to him at once. It went like this: "Keep moving right.... Start punching, Donnie.... You're not bending your knees.... Do you hear me, son?...Use your jab...." Ruddock cast his eyes about in bewilderment. He was seated in a Tower of Babel.
At least he was seated. Twice his cornermen forgot to bring a stool into the ring right away between rounds. Four times they left it there, and the Nevada Athletic Commission inspector had to remove it. Following the fourth round, in which he suffered his second knockdown, Ruddock stood in his corner talking to his brother, Delroy, who's also his manager. After 32 seconds, a stool appeared and someone said, "You want to sit down?" The fighter sank to the seat gratefully.
Ruddock went down in Round 4 when Tyson caught him with a right hook counter over a missed right uppercut. Ruddock landed on the seat of his trunks, grinned as though amused, rolled onto his left side and was up before Lane could say "four." Except for those who have been punched silly, few boxers appear to enjoy being knocked down more than Ruddock.
Tyson's right hook is deadly, especially to the body. At times, however, it causes him as much difficulty as it does his opponent. When Tyson throws the punch, his right foot follows, leaving him in a southpaw position. Once there, the only punch he can throw is a left uppercut. Usually he has to back off and restart his assault.
Ruddock's biggest weakness is that he telegraphs every punch. Still, he hit Tyson with 53% of the 198 power punches that he threw, a remarkably high percentage and one that few fighters could survive. But Tyson's chin is pure granite. Ruddock caught him with some fearsome shots, and Tyson took them all—hooks, straight right hands, uppercuts. Several times Tyson was momentarily rocked, but he was never close to going down.
Afterward, Jay Bright, one of Tyson's trainers, said to his man, "Michael, no fighter has ever had greater determination. But if you would just move your head more, you wouldn't have to be so determined."
For Ruddock, Tyson's unyielding jaw must have been disconcerting, which probably explains why he spent most of the fight wandering around the ring like a man deep in thought. He, too, suffers from puncher's syndrome. A converted southpaw, Ruddock threw only 48 jabs, and with most of them he looked as if he were pushing away an empty plate.
At the end, the 6'3" Ruddock told Murad Muhammad, his promoter, "Damn it, if he had been one inch taller I would have knocked him out. I missed some tremendous punches by just that much."
At 5'11", Tyson has always had trouble with tall opponents. Three of the men who have taken him the distance—Mitch Green, Bonecrusher Smith and Tony Tucker—stood well over six feet. And Douglas, who's 6'4", knocked him out. For much of the night Ruddock would reach out and grab Tyson's shoulders and hold on. It wasn't a pretty tactic, but it was a safe one. Because Ruddock's jaw was broken—possibly as early as the fourth round—it is hard to fault him. Many fighters in that condition would have gone back to their corner and surrendered.
Although the outcome of the fight seemed clear by the end of Round 12, because of the many point deductions, the moments before the decision was announced were tense; fight people have been taught only to add. Millions of dollars hung in the balance. A loss by Tyson would have knocked a lot of zeroes off a lot of paychecks for months to come.
As it turned out, all the judges voted for Tyson: Dalby Shirley and Art Lurie both scored the bout 114-108, and Chuck Giampa gave Tyson a 113-109 advantage. There was no controversy. Only Tyson, in the spirit of the moment, mentioned another rematch. His promoter, Don King, had a different agenda in mind.
As the crowd dispersed, George Foreman's brother, Roy, went into the lobby of the Mirage, checked his messages at the front desk and was handed a $1 million check from King. It was the down payment for a Tyson-Foreman fight. America's favorite boxer since his courageous loss to heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in April, the 42-year-old Foreman has emerged as a valuable bargaining chip in the war between King and Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter. King has negotiated fruitlessly with Duva for a title fight with Holyfield. Each promoter blames the other for the breakdown in the talks. Now, say both King and Duva, Foreman is the man their fighter will meet. King and Duva have both offered Foreman $10 million.
But with his $1 million check, King may have damaged his cause. "Don forgot something important," said George from his home in Houston last Saturday night. "He forgot that to me a friend is more valuable than money."
Ron Weathers, a close friend of Foreman's and his adviser, negotiates all of Foreman's bouts, and King has ignored him. "I have to get the O.K. from Ron, period," said Foreman. "I don't want to get involved in all of King's colloquialisms: brother this and brother that. Ron and I started together, and I am not about to tell him goodbye, that King is knocking on my door and I don't need him anymore. It's O.K. to cross the finish line, but you got to make sure you are holding hands with your friends when you do it."
Foreman is in an enviable position. This is an era of multimillion-dollar purses. For their slow dance at the Mirage, Tyson and Ruddock earned at least $5 million apiece. Unless Holyfield and Tyson meet, Foreman is the only fighter who can provide either one of them with a lucrative payday.
On Friday night, Foreman paid $34.95 to watch the Tyson-Ruddock fight on pay-per-view television. "After the seventh round it looked like a lot of holding to me," said Foreman. "One guy would hit the other, and then he'd hope the other guy wouldn't hit him back. I think Tyson is gone. It's like Carl Lewis and some of those other runners: One year they are beating everybody, and the next year you never hear their names. Tyson has become average. And an average fighter can be beaten by anybody on a given night."
King should take that as a message. It's time for him to air express a white flag to Duva.