It was, even by boxing's standards, a cynical promotion,
appealing to our worst instincts, the ones that cause us to
rubberneck at a highway wreck, to gawk at a burning building, to
linger at a crime scene. In this case it was the opportunity to
watch two fragile personalities, placed in circumstances that
have often resulted in self-combustion, and enjoy their
You take Mike Tyson, who disintegrated memorably during a fight
against Evander Holyfield three years ago (and less memorably in
less memorable bouts since), and match him with 6'4", 240-pound
Andrew Golota, a magnificent physical specimen who goes to great
lengths to arrange his own failure, and you can pretty much
guarantee catastrophe. Would Tyson go for the ears again if his
bully-boy tactics failed and he became frustrated? Or would
Golota, who had more or less quit three times while leading in
important fights, beat him to the punch with his own style of
When the premise of a fight is to provoke humiliation, it's hard
to feel robbed when something mortifying happens. The sight of
Golota, who refused to come out for the third round against Tyson
last Friday night at The Palace in Auburn Hills, being hustled
out of the ring surrounded by security, getting showered by
drinks on his way to the dressing room, stoically shouldering a
shame that would stay with him forever--well, payday!
Amazingly, this was perhaps the most anticipated heavyweight
fight of the year, a pay-per-view show that will probably do
better than David Tua's grab for Lennox Lewis's WBC and IBF
titles on Nov. 11. High-minded fans might have pretended this
fight was about redemption--Tyson's chance to get back in the
title picture with a clean victory, Golota's to prove he could
perform without having a nervous breakdown--but the reality was
that they were hired to court disaster on our behalf. In the past
Tyson has had to carry that burden by himself. In this match he
had a coconspirator.
Tyson, who had mixed results in his last two fights (he knocked
out Julius Francis in the second round and impressively flattened
Lou Savarese at 38 seconds of the first, a bout in which he
slugged the ref), was on his best behavior on Friday night.
Although his prefight ramblings were alarming, to say the
least--when asked how long the bout would take, Tyson said,
"However long it takes to kill somebody"--he was composed and
determined as he swarmed Golota in the opening seconds. It was
possible, especially when he decked Golota with an overhand right
near the end of the first round, to remember that he was one of
the most intimidating boxers ever.
Perhaps the sight--and feel--of Tyson jogged Golota's memory. After
that knockdown, Golota returned to his corner and told his
manager, 72-year-old Al Certo, he wanted to quit. "I told him he
could win," says Certo, "and I think I had him believing me." So
Golota returned for Round 2 and, after Tyson delivered another
stinging right, appeared to settle down, to get off a few
slapping jabs and reestablish some needed distance between
himself and the 5'11" Tyson. But the 32-year-old Golota is not a
fighter anybody, certainly not Certo, can understand. Four years
ago, when he was a promising heavyweight with an amusing Polish
accent, Golota pushed former champ Riddick Bowe to the threshold
of defeat in two fights, but in each one he sabotaged himself
with low blows and was disqualified. Last November, Golota was
leading Michael Grant by a huge margin when Grant knocked him
down in the 10th round. Asked by the ref if he wanted to continue
(and, with only two-plus rounds left, he wouldn't have had to
continue all that much longer), Golota emphatically said, "No."
One more victory averted.
The Tyson bout, however, was Golota's masterpiece--even if there
eventually proved to be a more concrete explanation for his
behavior. Immediately after the fight Golota said, "First of all,
it wasn't my day." Then he cited Tyson's head butts. (He had a
gash beside his left eye from an accidental butt; Tyson attempted
a purposeful butt in the second round but could not reach
Golota's brow.) Then he apologized. "Listen, boxing is a
difficult sport," Golota said. "I'm sorry to all my fans who
counted on me."
Surely Golota was hurt by that knockdown punch (he was
hospitalized on Saturday with a concussion, a fractured cheekbone
and a herniated disk in his neck), and the cuts couldn't have
cheered him. Still, the sight of Certo chasing him with the
mouthpiece after Golota had refused to continue ("What are you
doing?" Certo kept imploring his fighter) will remain one of
boxing's most bizarre and heartbreaking scenes.
Tyson, who may have unnerved Golota with his prefight blather,
was initially outraged, as opposed to sympathetic, and seemed
ready to storm Golota's corner. Eventually Tyson left the ring
under his own heavy guard, offering even less comment than
Golota. Iron Mike's adviser Shelly Finkel said, "He was a bit
distraught. He wanted the knockout and he felt another round
would do it. Evidently Golota felt the same."
Golota is in that same purgatory where Tyson had such a long-term
lease. It's best not to think he acted in cowardice, but instead
to consider that he was truly hurt and, as Tyson's trainer Tommy
Brooks speculated, had "an anxiety attack." He will be available
for employment the next time the human condition is too full of
itself and needs a corrective dose of disgrace.
Tyson, 34, moves on a little further, although before the bout he
said it might be his final one. "Maybe this is my last fight," he
said. "[Boxing] brought me money and fame, but it never brought
me no happiness." But it brings him too much money and fame to
imagine him gone. Tyson, however honorable his effort was on
Friday, recognizes from time to time the fool he's been made to
play and, while he's disheartened, he keeps reupping.
It is a well-paying gig (he made at least $10 million for the
Golota bout), and no matter how wary of the demands made upon his
brand of salesmanship he might have become, he's always an eager
player. At times he seems to enjoy going over the top, vowing to
eat Lewis's children or put a bullet in the back of his head.
Then, with a wink, he'll claim it's the Zoloft talking, or he's
simply trying to sell tickets. "I know Lewis don't have any
children," he says playfully.
Mostly, though, he's not very playful and, like Golota, cites
some injuries we just can't see: the hatred he feels from the
press ("You guys got no love for me," he told USA Today), the
cynicism that makes him so much money. He'd like to get away from
it--maybe even spit the bit the way Golota did--but there's a fight
with Lewis that could earn him $30 million and rehabilitate him
for good, make us love him. He's got to do this all over again.