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Unlike Mike

June 17, 2002
June 17, 2002

Table of Contents
June 17, 2002

NBA Finals

Unlike Mike

An hour after taking the bludgeoning he so richly deserved, Mike
Tyson sat in his dressing room bloodied, swollen and oddly
happy, his tiny newborn son in his Popeye arms.

This is an article from the June 17, 2002 issue Original Layout

Any other time the sight of an infant in Tyson's lap would set
off alarms in every social service office in the country. But
Lennox Lewis's ham-sized fists had not just remodeled daddy's
mug--his eyes plumping and closing fast--but had also beaten
Tyson into a strange new man: softer, human, with ego thumped
flat.

"I didn't quit," Tyson said, still looking at his baby,
two-month-old Miguel, as if to explain. "Course I nearly got
murdered in there, so maybe I should've."

Last week everyone in Memphis had Tyson figured for Hannibal
Lecter coming off a weeklong fast. Keep the women and poodles
away. It was even written into the fight contract: He could not
go near Lewis at the weigh-in, could not go near him at a press
conference and could not even receive the referee's instructions
with Lewis, lest he again mistake the Brit's thigh for tenderloin.

But Tyson didn't kick, bite, swear or butt. As far as we know he
didn't commit a single felony, yank out a single spleen or
deflower a single beauty pageant. This time he shocked us by
being a gentleman, hugging a gay protester, taking his
red-stained whipping like a man.

"I never thought there'd be a problem," he said after the fight,
as a woman dabbed at his eyes with cotton. "I got this
reputation of being a dirty fighter. But it's not me that's a
dirty fighter. I just had to fight [Orlin] Norris and [Evander]
Holyfield [that way]. They fought me dirty. But Lewis, I knew he
wasn't dirty."

There was one moment with this new Tyson that I still don't
believe I saw. It came after a brain-loosening right hand sent
him down for good, in the eighth round, and after ringside
physician Mike Miller looked into Tyson's eyes and asked, "Do
you know who I am?" Tyson walked over and hugged Lewis, who was
about to be interviewed in the ring. After Tyson unclenched and
moved away, he went back when he noticed that a bit of his own
blood had smudged Lewis's face. He reached around the
interviewer and tenderly wiped it away.

You wanted to ask Tyson for I.D. This was Godzilla straightening
a man's tie. Where was the madness, the rage? Why wasn't he in
this locker room swinging at cops, smashing watercoolers,
demanding a rematch?

"I asked Lewis for a rematch in the ring," Tyson laughed, "but I
must've been a little groggy. I'd be crazy to ask for a rematch.
He's too big and too strong. I mean, for the right price, I'll
fight a lion. But I don't think I can beat that guy."

Tyson is a despicable character, a rapist, a thug you would not
want within an area code of your daughter. But it's going to be
just a little harder to despise him now, not when you think of
what will happen when those eyes open again and he sees how ugly
his tomorrows look.

What will he do? Rumored to be at least $12 million in debt to
Showtime; rumored to owe his adviser, Shelly Finkel, $3 million;
and rumored to owe America Presents nearly $2 million, Tyson's
estimated $17.5 million payday from this public pummeling--after
being cut up by his handlers and the IRS--might still leave him
millions in hock.

"People can say what they want about me," he said, rocking
little Miguel, "but I'm a proud father. All my kids are precious
to me.... I'm just a young guy trying to feed my family. I just
do what I have to do." How do you go from wanting to "eat"
families to feeding them?

But who will pay to see a spent fighter who has lived off little
but his incisors for years? If Lewis will be remembered for
anything, it will be for ridding boxing of Tyson, burying Mad
Mike's overblown career under a pyramid. Fitting, too, because
Tyson fought like a mummy, with no movement, no counterpunching,
no passion. The best that can be said of him is that he still
has a granite chin, which goes nicely with those granite feet.

But Tyson will have to fight again because there's no other way
out of this hole. And it will be ugly, like Jesse Owens racing
horses or Joe Frazier singing a cappella. You picture yourself
somewhere asking him, "Were you surprised how well the bear
wrestled?"

Tyson seemed unworried. He cooed to his boy, "I want you to be a
fighter too."

Looking at Tyson's face--and his future--you just had to think, God
forbid.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"I'd be crazy to ask for a rematch," Tyson said. "I don't think
I can beat that guy."