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Looking back at the Topsy-Turvy Life of Mike Tyson Who Turns 51 This Week

Rick Assad

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With the possible exception of the immortal Muhammad Ali, it seems that more words have been written about Mike Tyson than any other boxer.

And that’s saying a mouthful given the thousands upon thousands of young men with colorful stories and pasts that have stepped into the ring.

Tyson, who will celebrate his 51st birthday on June 30, has been on top of the mountain and in the basement during a professional career that spanned two decades.

At his very best, Tyson was one of the most feared and explosive punchers ever, reminiscent of such sluggers as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and George Foreman.

And he also reached the very lowest depths a man can face, including inner-doubt and self-loathing.

Tyson’s nadir was being convicted of raping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant.

For his punishment, Tyson was handed a six-year prison sentence, but spent slightly less than three years incarcerated.

When asked recently on a sports talk radio show publicizing his latest book “Iron Ambition: My Life With Cus D’Amato” co-authored with Larry Sloman, what year stood out with regard to partying, Tyson quipped, “Nineteen eighty-nine was a really good year.”

Everybody laughed. Tyson didn’t explain, but didn’t need to. We knew exactly what he meant. Early on, one could have predicted that Tyson’s future wasn’t going to be trading stocks and bonds on Wall Street.

For Tyson, the Brooklyn native, simply waking up every morning and still in one piece was an accomplishment.

From the very beginning, with little or no guidance from his delinquent father and overwrought mother, Tyson was a wayward kid, walking the tough and nasty streets of Brownsville, acting like a thug, always getting into trouble.

“I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” Tyson said of his late mother Lorna Mae. “She knew me as being a wild kid running in the streets, coming home with brand new clothes that she knew I didn’t pay for. I never got a chance to talk to her or know her. Professionally, it has no affect, but it’s crushing emotionally and personally.”

Remarkably, before Tyson turned 13 years old, he had been arrested 38 times.

Once while driving around his old haunt in Brooklyn, he told his then wife, the actress, Robin Givens, “see that corner right over there? That’s where I once beat up a guy.”

To which Givens replied: “Mike, stop saying those awful things. Those were in the past. That’s not you.”

Only to have Tyson retort: “But it is me, only now I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Tyson would often brag about being a ruffian and even told stories about helping little “old ladies” carry their groceries to their apartments, only to knock the lady on her fanny and take the goods for himself.

Tyson was simply too much to handle and was sent to the Tryon School For Boys.

It was there that he met Bobby Stewart, a counselor and one-time boxer, who later introduced Tyson to the legendary trainer D’Amato.

D’Amato was at the same time a genius and also paranoid, helping build a shy and introverted Floyd Patterson into at the time the youngest heavyweight champion and turn Jose Torres into the light heavyweight title holder.

“If you don’t learn to control fear, it’ll destroy you and everything around,” D’Amato famously said to Tyson and the others who came before him.

After seeing Tyson, with his powerful punches and perfect head movement, the old man predicted that he would someday be the heavyweight champion.

In time, D’Amato and his lady friend Camille Ewald, would take in Tyson and teach him table manners and instill the importance of getting good grades.

It was in Catskill, New York, that Tyson, in a training camp atmosphere would learn the tricks of the trade from D’Amato, Kevin Rooney and Teddy Atlas.

“Cus would give me confidence,” said Tyson of his first trainer.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. You’re going to be champion of the world. At first I thought he was crazy. But the more I thought about what he was saying, it made sense.”

During Tyson’s salad days, I had friends who were not fight fans per se, but after witnessing him set the heavyweight division on its proverbial ear, became fight fans.

Rather, Tyson fans, if only to see the 5-foot-10 bulldozer knock out whoever was placed in front of him.

Tyson, who had 58 professional fights, winning 50, losing six with two no contests and 44 knockouts, would indeed fulfill D’Amato’s prophecy and become the youngest heavyweight champion ever.

It happened on November 22, 1986, at the Las Vegas Hilton when Tyson earned a technical knockout win over Trevor Berbick in the second round for the World Boxing Council belt.

Four months later, Tyson would add the World Boxing Association crown by defeating James “Bonecrusher” Smith in a unanimous decision and five months later outpoint Tony Tucker on all three judges’ scorecards for the International Boxing Federation title.

Tyson seemingly had it all. The three heavyweight belts and all the money and fame he would ever need. Or so we thought.

While Tyson finally had something to be truly proud of, D’Amato never saw any of it because he passed away in November 1985.

These were exciting times for boxing and especially the heavyweight division in large part because of Tyson.

When Tyson reigned as the king of the division, he made it a throw-back era in which the gladiator came out of his dressing room as a stark figure, attired in black trunks, sock-less and in black high-top shoes.

There was more in store for Tyson, who reached his high-water mark on the night of June 27, 1988, at the Atlantic City Convention Hall.

It took all of 91 seconds for Tyson to knock out Michael Spinks.

Afterward, Spinks tried to explain what happened. “I’m a fighter. It’s what I do,” he told the assembled media that included the Newark Star-Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg. “I tried to take a shot, but I came up short. Fear was knocking at my door big time.”

Tyson’s road to stardom started innocently after taking out Hector Mercedes in the opening round via TKO in Albany, New York, on March 6, 1985.

Over time, 36 others would also be found on the short end, including 17 whose evening ended in the initial frame.

Without the need to brag, Tyson was indeed, the “baddest man on the planet,” and was feared by everyone in the division, except maybe one.

That was James “Buster” Douglas, who in February 1990, at the Tokyo Dome and a 42-1 underdog, unbelievably decked Tyson in the 10th round.

How could this have happened? To Tyson? The longtime boxing analyst Howard Cosell, who helped make Ali because of television, said Tyson could be beat. “You need to stick and move and keep away from him,” Cosell intoned.

Well that’s what the 6-foot-4 Douglas did. He kept his distance, jabbed when necessary and unleashed stinging rights.

After that debacle, Tyson righted the ship and reeled off eight straight victories before facing Evander Holyfield in November 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with the WBA, WBC and IBF belts on the line.

In a fierce battle, Holyfield earned a TKO victory in the 11th round. A rematch was needed and took place seven months later at the same venue.

But instead of it being remembered as a classic, it is known as the night Tyson lost his cool and bit a piece of Holyfield’s ear off and was disqualified in the third round by Mills Lane, the referee.

Tyson was no longer feared, but was still extremely dangerous. In a lopsided loss against Lennox Lewis at The Pyramid, in Memphis, Tennessee, in June 2002, “Kid Dynamite,” as Sports Illustrated once dubbed Tyson, was savagely pushed around by the much taller and better boxer that ended with an eighth-round knockout.

After earning a win, Tyson then closed out his time in the ring with consecutive setbacks to journeymen Danny Williams and Kevin McBride.

On one of my sojourns to Las Vegas a few years ago for a Saturday fight card at the MGM, I happened to be sitting ringside next to Harold Lederman for a Friday event at the Tropicana Hotel.

Early in the proceedings, I noticed a boy, probably 12 years old with boxing gloves and pen in hand walking toward Tyson and his wife Lakiha.

In short order, Tyson saw the boy, took the gloves, signed them and wished the youngster a good night. I leaned over and told Lederman that was a nice gesture and he agreed.

When Tyson began his storied career with Rooney in his corner, the Brownsville Bomber was practically unbeatable.

With the passing of D’Amato and Jimmy Jacobs, followed by Rooney and Atlas eventually cutting ties with the former undisputed heavyweight champion, Tyson’s life was in shambles.

Tyson has done some nice projects since retiring in 2005 including a one-man show, had a documentary done on his life and has appeared on television.

All of this is fine, but for me, Tyson’s last great gesture was being a pallbearer at Ali’s funeral.

Because even if only for a few minutes, the “Iron Mike” we all knew was back on top.

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Did Jennings’ Loss Mark Arum’s Last Hope to Again Taste Heavyweight Glory?

Bernard Fernandez

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For someone who promotes two fighters who are widely considered to be the world’s pound-for-pound best, what took place Friday night at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y., had to be a somewhat bitter pill for Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum to swallow.

The good news for the 87-year-old Arum is that his fast-rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, took another long stride toward possible superstardom with an impressive fourth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KOs) in the co-featured bout televised via ESPN+.

But while Stevenson could become a world champion in the 126-pound weight class as early as 2020, the reality is that the highly skilled little lefthander is not and never will be a heavyweight. Neither will lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko or welterweight champion Terence Crawford, the current headliners of the Top Rank stable who already have outgrown a couple of lower-weight divisions but can never be heavyweights except in terms of their prodigious talent. Many knowledgable observers consider Lomachenko and Crawford, in whichever order, to be first and second among all fighters regardless of poundage, and certainly no worse than somewhere in the top three or four.

All of which means that the 12th-round technical knockout of Bryant “By-By” Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs) by underdog Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs) in the main event could eliminate any chance, however slim it might have been, of Arum having another heavyweight champion before he retires. Jennings, a relatively recent addition (in the summer of 2017) to the Top Rank stable who went in ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 7 by the WBA and No. 8 by the IBF, likely will fall out of the top 10 of all three sanctioning bodies. That might have been the case even had Jennings not fallen victim to Rivas’ final-round surge. Although it appeared to the ESPN+ broadcast crew that the Philadelphian should have been comfortably ahead on points, he was on the wrong end of two of the three judges’ scorecards and would have lost anyway if he somehow made it to the final bell.

Although Jennings  gave a credible account of himself in his only shot at a world title, losing a unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 25, 2015, his age is only one factor working against him now. There are simply too many hungry contenders standing between him and another shot at boxing’s biggest prize.

Prior to Jennings’ most recent bout before his meeting with Rivas, a ninth-round TKO of Russia’s Alexander Dimitrenko last Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, N.J., his trainer, John David Jackson, offered his opinion as to why the Top Rank honcho would ride the “By-By” train as far as it would go before it derailed.

“I think Bob wants one more heavyweight champion,” Jackson offered. “Yeah, he has a lot of great fighters, but if you have the heavyweight king, you rule boxing. It’s still the most prestigious and marketable division in the sport. That’s just how it works. And Bryant represents the last, best opportunity for Bob to get there before he retires.”

Arum, a former member of U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early 1960s, has been promoting boxing matches – more than 2,000, and counting — for 52 years, and while some of his greatest successes have come with fighters from featherweight to middleweight, his promotional debut involved a heavyweight who was the biggest of them all. Introduced to Muhammad Ali by football great Jim Brown, Arum started at the very top, staging Ali’s winning title defense against rugged Canadian George Chuvalo on March 29, 1966, at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Garden. He would go on to promote 26 Ali fights, his most with any heavyweight.

“I didn’t know boxing,” Arum once said of his almost-accidental introduction to what would become his life’s work. “I didn’t even really know about divisions other than heavyweight. I only knew there were heavyweights. Then people started contacting me about promoting fighters in other divisions and believe me, it was a good four or five years after I started with Ali.”

After Arum’s long and fruitful association with Ali ended, he continued to build his company by showcasing such celebrated non-heavyweights as Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez, James Toney, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and, of course, Lomachenko and Crawford. But Arum pined for another thrill ride with a heavyweight attraction as compelling as had been his heyday with Ali, or as close an approximation to that as possible.

He found it in the unlikely person of George Foreman, who had been retired for 10 years. Arum took a flier on the old and plump Foreman as his improbable comeback gathered momentum, although initially doubting that he and the presumably cheerier version of Big George would click.

“I was not enthusiastic, realizing what a horrid person he had been,” Arum said of his expectation that Foreman’s personality makeover was false and contrived. “After spending an hour with him I said, `This is the greatest con man in history,’ because he was so different from what he had been before. But it wasn’t a con. He had really changed.”

It was one of Arum’s, and Top Rank’s, grandest moments when the 45-year-old Foreman, far behind on points, regained the heavyweight title he had relinquished to Ali so many years earlier with a one-punch, bolt-from-the-blue 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer on Nov. 11, 1994. But Foreman took a pounding in getting a gift nod over Axel Schulz in his next outing, and he retired again after losing a controversial majority decision to Shannon Briggs on Nov. 22, 1997. Arum’s dips into the heavyweight pool since then have been infrequent and generally less than satisfying. He has tried his hand to generate some of that old big-man magic with former champs Hasim Rahman and Ray Mercer, to no avail.

Top Rank’s relatively low-risk co-promotional signings of Jennings and then-WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who promptly lost his unification matchup with Anthony Joshua, again have failed to produce the desired results. Last month Arum worked out a co-promotional deal with the management of Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev. More recently he inked a new heavyweight hope in Sonny Conto, a 22-year-old from South Philadelphia who was the silver medalist at the 2018 National Golden Gloves. The 6-foot-4 Conto, who turns pro against the ever-popular opponent to be named on Feb. 8, is being called “a superstar in the making” by his manager, David McWater, and maybe he might turn out to be just that. But it takes time for a newly minted pro to work his way up to champion or even contender status, and by the time Conto gets there – if he gets there at all – it is hardly a given that an already octogenarian Arum will be around to savor the moment.

Until then, we’ll all have to imagine what it might be like if there was a machine that could enlarge Lomachenko and Crawford by six or seven inches in height and a hundred pounds of heft.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Ringside at Turning Stone: Rivas TKOs Jennings; Stevenson Wins Impressively

Matt Andrzejewski

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Rivas

VERONA, NY — In the main event at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KO’s) scored a mild upset in stopping Bryant Jennings (24-3, 14 KO’s) in the twelfth and final round of their heavyweight bout.

The fight was largely a tactical contest. Rivas was the aggressor pressing forward with Jennings circling and fighting off his back foot. Neither was throwing a high volume of punches.

In the first five rounds, Rivas’ aggression seemed to be getting to Jennings. Rivas landed some solid eye catching combinations retreating Jennings, while Jennings was largely holding back on his own offense.

But in round six, Jennings started moving his hands more and began to seize control of the contest. He seemed to control the next few rounds by simply moving his hands, landing the left jab at will and following that up with combinations.

Rivas stemmed Jennings momentum in the eleventh by upping his aggression and letting go with more combinations. He seemed to realize the fight could be close and something dramatic could be needed on his end.

And that something dramatic came in round twelve. Rivas came out throwing and landed a thudding left hook on Jennings’ chin that sent Jennings reeling backwards. Rivas quickly followed up on his advantage and after landing several power shots put Jennings down on the canvas. Jennings made it to his feet but was met quickly with a fusillade of punches from Rivas. With Jennings unable to protect himself, referee Gary Rosato waived the fight off.

Interestingly, Rivas was ahead on two cards by scores of 105-104 and 106-103 entering the twelfth round. The other card was in favor of Jennings by a margin of 106-103.

In the co-feature, featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KO’s) displayed all the skills that make him one of boxing’s best prospects in dispatching of Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KO’s) in round four of their scheduled ten round fight.

Rosales was considered to be a significant step up in class for Stevenson, but from the opening bell it was apparent that Rosales had no answer for Stevenson’s speed. Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, came out pumping an effective sharp right jab from his southpaw stance. He then worked some blistering combinations behind that jab.

As the fight progressed into round three, Stevenson mixed in some flashy short quick uppercuts on the inside along with some thudding body shots that seemed to be wearing down the tough Rosales.

Early in round four, Rosales connected with a looping right that made Stevenson flash a quick grin. Shortly after, Stevenson let his hands go, landing some eye-popping combination that put Rosales in trouble along the ropes. A quick short left hand then planted Rosales on the canvas and though he beat the count referee Charlie Fitch wisely waived a halt to the contest.

Afterwards, Stevenson called out IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington.

2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (11-0, 5 KO’s) coasted to an easy unanimous eight round decision win against Hector Ambriz (12-9-2, 6 KO’s) in a 130-pound contest. This marked the third straight eight round decision win for Conceicao.

Veteran 130-pound contender Jason Sosa (22-3-4, 15 KO’s) survived a second round knockdown and scored a ten round unanimous decision win against Moises Delgadillo (17-19-2, 9 KO’s). After some early struggles, Sosa rallied to control the second half of the fight including scoring a knockdown of his own in round seven to secure the hard fought victory.

Two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan (1-0, 1 KO) made a successful debut stopping Steven Andrade in the second round (3-4, 2 KO’s) of their 154-pound contest. Krishan, from India, scored a knockdown with a left to the body in round two and then battered Andrade forcing referee Benjy Esteves to stop the bout.

Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (7-0, 4 KO’s), a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, scored a TKO win against Ricardo Garcia (14-5-1, 9 KO’s) when Garcia failed to answer the bell to start round five. Gaibnazarov, who competes in the 140-pound division, dominated the bout from the opening bell including scoring a knockdown in round three before the contest was called to an end.

In the opening bout of the night, Carlos Adames (16-0, 13 KO’s) stopped Juan Ruiz (21-4, 13 KO’S) with a right hook to the body in the third round of their junior middleweight contest.

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Fast Results From New York City: Andrade TKOs Akavov; Cano Shocks Linares

Arne K. Lang

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DAZN

Eddie Hearn, the head of the boxing division of the U.K. sports conglomerate founded by his father, continued his invasion of the United States tonight with a nine-bout show in the Hulu Theater of Madison Square Garden. The featured bouts were live-streamed across the globe on DAZN and shown on SKY Sports Arena in the United Kingdom. Topping the bill was the WBO world middleweight title match between Demetrius Andrade and challenger Artur Akavov.

Andrade-Akavov

Andrade, a 2008 Olympian from Providence, R.I., successfully defended his title and advanced his record to 27-0 (17) with a 12th round stoppage of his game but outclassed Russian opponent. Akavov  (19-3) was on his feet when the referee ordered a halt with 24 seconds remaining in the bout. Akavov, who ate a steady helping of jabs, wasn’t badly hurt but was hopelessly behind on the cards.

Cano-Linares

The co-feature, a junior welterweight attraction, produced a shocking upset when Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (38-7-1) walked right through former three-division title-holder Jorge Linares (45-5), taking the globetrotting Venezuelan out in the very first round. Linares, who was considered a borderline Hall of Famer going in, was knocked to the canvas 20 seconds into the fight and was on the deck three times before the referee called a halt at the 2:45 mark.

Doheny

In the first defense of his IBF world 122-pound title, TJ Doheny was fed a softie in Yokohama schoolteacher Ryohei Takahashi. A massive favorite, Doheny (20-0, 15 KOs) was comfortably ahead on points when the referee intervened in round 11 to keep the Japanese import (16-4-1) from taking a worse beating. Doheny’s next match, according to Eddie Hearn, will be a unification fight against WBA counterpart Danny Roman.

Other Bouts

In a 10-round match contested at 140 pounds, Chris Algieri, briefly a title-holder in this weight division, scored his second win on the comeback trail with a unanimous decision over former sparring partner Daniel Gonzalez. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94. Algieri (24-3) faded late and left the ring to a chorus of boos. Gonzalez slipped to 17-2-1.

Amanda Serrano made short work of her Austrian opponent, Eva Voraberger, taking her out in the opening round to gather in the vacant WBO world female super flyweight title. Serrano improved her ledger to 36-1-1 with her 27th knockout. She came in at 114 ½ pounds, having previously weighed as high as 130, and was seeking to become a title-holder in a seventh weight class.

Serrano knocked Voraberger (24-6) to her knees with a right-left combo and Voraberger, who was in severe pain, made no attempt rise. Forget those seven title belts; this young Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican can really fight.

In a welterweight match slated for six rounds, Julian Sosa, who has a large fan base in Brooklyn’s Mexican-American community, stopped Congolese import Deiumerci Nzau who retired on his stool after three frames. Sosa improves to 13-0-1 (5), Nzau falls to 11-7.

Heavyweight Nkosi Solomon evened his record at 1-1 and rebounded from a dismal performance in his pro debut with a 4-round unanimous decision over Rodriguez Cade (2-4). Solomon dropped his puffy opponent in the third round and won by scores of 40-35 on all three cards.

Staten Island’s Reshat Mati (3-0) needed only 66 seconds to turn back Ghana’s Benjamin Borteye (4-4). Mati came out smoking and scored a fast knockdown. Borteye beat the count but was on unsteady legs when the referee intervened. You will be hearing a lot more of the 20-year-old Mati, nicknamed the Albanian Bear, who was a teenage prodigy in multiple combat sports.

In the opening bout of the evening, a welterweight affair, Cornell Hines improved to 4-0 with a 4-round unanimous decision over Salt Lake City’s Farhad Fatulla (1-3).

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