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Mike Tyson Gets An 'A' For His Hall of Fame Speech, And For His Rebirth…WOODS

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mike_tyson_41009It is a wonder what the passage of time, a vegan diet and a fab iPhone app can do to the image of a man once dismissed as the Willie Horton of boxing, Mike Tyson.

The fighter who started out as Kid Dynamite, morphed into Iron Mike, and devolved into “Behind Iron Bars” Mike was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, NY, and as he was called to the lectern, the cheers coming from those in attendance were beyond robust. Richard Nixon was likely looking up, shaking his head and wondering who Tyson's image reclamation consultants were.

Flippancy aside, it was something of a marvel to see Tyson, now aged 44,  get the Hall Call, because, and he'd be the first to tell you, his career and life didn't have “happy ending” stamped on them back in the late 1980s-early 1990s. He had “early grave” written on his forehead, way before he had that Maori tat inked on.

Looking to be in better shape–compliments of that vegan diet he assumed over a year ago–than many of the “contenders” who get heavyweight title shots these days, the Brownsville, Brooklyn native thanked the crowd, and then God, before pointing out welterweight great Gaspar Ortega in the crowd, and thanking him for being there.

Humble, is how he came off, and how about that.  “Humble” wouldn't have been in the top tier of adjectives you'd assign to Tyson while his arc played out in a slo-mo train wreck, as he combusted in the way only the youth, money, a violent streak and in-the-gutter level self esteem can force.

“All this started…I got to be goofy about this so I won't get emotional up here,” said Tyson, as he gesticulated nervously. “All this stuff started when I met Cus and he..Bobby Stewart from (inaudible) because I'm always robbing people as a kid..or something.” Someone yelled out that he was innocent, and Tyson got a roar when he admitted, “No, I did it.”

What he did do was keep the game in the public eye, on ESPN, on the sports pages as the sport moved away from the heavyweights and then middleweights' supremacy, with a signature style of violence. Sure, there was science behind it, he didn't just go at people like a wrecking ball, but the thing that made Tyson a mainstream public figure was the single-mindedness in which he went about his task. The task, by the way, wasn't merely to win. No, it was to obliterate, and there was something comforting, believe it or not, in his manner. Tyson didn't prattle on excessively about the sweetly scientific ways and means to get the W; he told you he was coming in to remove your head from your neck, and then basically tried to keep his promise. Pretty simple stuff, for the viewer. Easy to understand, quick to digest. His early run had some of what makes MMA popular today among the under 35 set; fast, furious action. Tyson fights were perfect fodder for the short attention span generation.

But Tyson out of the ring, you had to pay attention to him. He never bored you. He was a different animal, a guy who was living an examined life when it would have made more sense for him not to be doing so. Speaking of animals, I always enjoyed his candor; he comprehended and admitted that humans are animals, prone to brutishness like a wild animal, but with a capacity to mask the untoward urges. He didn't put our species on a pedestal, or talk about the exceptionalism of us humans, or our nation, for that matter. “I love the freedom of speech and opportunity here…but sometimes, I'm embarrassed by America,” he told Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith in 1988. “We should be a great enough country to take care of the weak. If there wasn't poor, there couldn't be rich.”

That “keeping it real” way meant that many folks secretly enjoyed his rants, but had to feign horror, because he went too far, into revolutionary territory. “Real freedom is having nothing,” he said to Smith in 1988. “I was freer when I didn't have a cent. Do you know what I do sometimes? Put on a ski mask and dress in old clothes, go out on the streets and beg quarters.”He wore his woes on his sleeve, paraded his anger and negativity, and he had an above average ability to communicate travails of existing which make the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Not “just” for an athlete, or a boxer, no, he put into words what many with an excess of testosterone and a tendency to ponder can't or don't. Like when he told Smith, “I did evil things. But my heart was always pure.” That sentence has to resonate with any being who had indulged in a few of the seven deadlies and a bunch of the lesser sins, but still hesitates before smushing a spider who blundered his way into his house.

I confess, the cynic in me wonders how long Tyson can pull this off. How long he can stay right-minded, stay grounded, stay out of a cell. But I veer away from cynicism when I hear him say things like he said Sunday, like when he saluted Carmen Basilio, the former welterweight champion, saying, “I know him as a guy that will fight you to the death with every blood in his body.”

That's humility. Or it's one of the slickest long cons I've ever come across. T

Tyson could've spent ten minutes recounting his accomplishments, and then another five settling old scores, like Michael Jordan did at his induction. But instead, he mentioned Gaspar Ortega, and Gene Tunney and Carmen Basilio. He made it about other guys. He spread the wealth. Classy. The work of a role model.

Wow.

This from the man who in 1998 told Mark Kram in a Playboy interview, “I have so many enemies. They control all that stuff. You know people don't give a damn about that stuff. They try to discredit me as much as possible. **** 'em. I know I ****** up my chance to be in the Hall of Fame, to be the kind of guy I always dreamed of being, but **** 'em, **** 'em, **** 'em. The critics may use the Holyfield fights to deny me. But Ali lost fights. I don't give a ****. My life is doomed the way it is. I have no future. I just live my life.” That guy was headed for an early grave, a Listonian end, wasn't he?

But the Tyson who got the Hall Call, the one of today exists as a monument to the possibility of change, and of resilience. He scratched his way out of the ghetto, almost self immolated in a blaze of broads and a quagmire of cash, went to prison for rape, tried to silence the inner dialogue with drugs and booze, lived through the unmeasurable pain of a four year old daughter dying in a freak accident…and yet he carries on, with grace and dignity.

“When I met Cus we talked a little bit about money…but we wanted to be great fighters and that's…” he paused, teared up, hoped to gather his thoughts to wrap up his speech neatly. “Hey guys, um, I can't even finish this stuff. Thank you.”

The old Mike Tyson, you could point at him and counsel the kids, “Don't do as he does.” This Tyson, you can point to him and counsel the kids,”If you mess up, do as this guy did. Learn from your mistake, and be a better man for it.”

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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