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

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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.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

Mike Tyson

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Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

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In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.

Semi-Wind-up

Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.

Also

In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings.  Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Gervonta “Tank” Davis returns to the ring on Saturday after an absence of nearly 14 months that included a 44-day stint in a Baltimore jail. In the opposite corner is St. Louis southpaw Frank “The Ghost” Martin.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is now the undisputed lightweight champion of the WBA. He had been sharing that distinction with Devin Haney who was de-frocked when he moved up in weight. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) is also undefeated and their match is the main attraction of a four-fight pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video and affiliates including PPV.com (list price $74.99) where viewers have the opportunity to interact with the hosts, namely Jim Lampley, Lance Pugmire, Chris Algieri, and Dan Conobbio.

One other world title fight and two contrived interim title fights support the main event. The title fight, which will serve as the PPV opener, pits WBC middleweight title-holder Carlos Adames (23-1, 19 KOs) against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha (24-3-1, 12 KOs). Adames became a full-fledged title-holder last month when the organization stripped trouble-plagued Jermall Charlo of the belt within hours after his DWI arrest in Texas.

Tired of waiting around for Canelo, David Benavidez elected to move up in weight where he will face former WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was inevitable that Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) would out-grow the super middleweight division. He carried 180 ¾ pounds for his second pro fight when he was 16 years old. Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs) stepped away from boxing after getting stopped by Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight in October of 2019. He was badly beaten in that fight although he was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. He missed all of 2020, 2021, and 2022 before returning to the ring in February of last year, shaking off the rust in a 6-round fight, and subsequently won two bouts by knockout. The Ukrainian turned 37 in April.

In the other interim title fight, super lightweight Gary Gary Antuanne Russell (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alberto Puello (22-0, 10 KOs) in a battle of southpaws. Puello, a 29-year-old Dominican, briefly held the WBA diadem at 140, but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs.

Gervonta Davis has proved to be one of the biggest draws in boxing. Among American-born fighters, no one is currently at his level as a ticket-seller. However, it will be surprising if his bout with Frank Martin tomorrow night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand can match the numbers he achieved in his last outing where he was pit against the charismatic Ryan Garcia who he stopped with a body punch in the seventh round. In all four of the fights on tomorrow’s pay-per-view, the favorite is chalked in the 7/1 range. Moreover, a DAZN event in Puerto Rico that overlaps the early portion of the pay-per-view may nibble away at the receipts.

Three high-grade 10-round preliminaries will precede the pay-per-view. These three fights, “teasers” as it were, can be accessed for free regardless of Prime membership. The action in the “free” portion of the card begins at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT.

DAZN

The DAZN card is a Matchroom promotion in Manati, Puerto Rico. IBF 140-pound world champion Subriel Matias makes the second defense of his title against Brisbane, Australia’s Liam Paro. A late bloomer, Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) has knocked out all of his opponents including the only man to defeat him (Petros Ananyan). Paro (24-0, 15 KOs) looked sharp in his last fight wherein he TKOed Montana Love, but will be up against it in Puerto Rico. Matias, who is making his first start in his hometown since 2019, is already looking ahead to a match with Regis Prograis.

The Matias-Paro ring walk is expected to commence shortly before 11 pm, ET/8 pm PT.

PEACOCK

For diehard fight fans in the U.S., it will be wall-to-wall boxing for about 11 straight hours beginning at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT when NBC’s subscription channel, Peacock, begins its coverage of the WBO cruiserweight title fight in South London between Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) and Richard Riakporhe. (17-0, 13 KOs).

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, will be making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie while seeking to avenge his lone defeat. These two met in a 10-rounder back in July of 2019 with Riakporhe emerging the winner by a split decision.

Billam-Smith’s last two fights have been in his hometown of Bournemouth. Tomorrow, he fights on the grounds of the Crystal Palace Football Club of which Riakporhe is a big supporter. The bookies like the Londoner’s chance to prevail again. The challenger, Riakporhe, is an 11/5 favorite.

Fights to Watch (All Times Pacific)

Peacock: Chris Billam-Smith vs. Richard Riakporhe: 2:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 10:30 a.m.)

DAZN: Subriel Matias vs. Liam Paro: 7:45 p.m. (prelims beginning at 4:30 p.m.)

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO PPV: Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin plus three: 5:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 2:30 p.m.)

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Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

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One hundred years ago, Paris was the host city for the Summer Olympics. What goes around, comes around.

In the upcoming Paris Games, boxers will compete for medals in 13 categories. The number remains unchanged from Tokyo, but the ratio has been modified. In Tokyo, there were eight weight classes for men and five for women. The men have lost one and the women have gained one, so in 2024 it is seven and six.

Eight American boxers made it through the qualifying tournaments and will represent Uncle Sam in the City of Lights.

The U.S. boxing contingent in Paris

Men

Roscoe Hill, flyweight (51 kg), Spring TX

Jahmal Harvey, featherweight (57 kg), Oxon Hill, MD

Omari Jones, middleweight (71 kg), Orlando, FL

Joshua Edwards, super heavyweight, Houston, TX

Women

Jennifer Lozano, flyweight (50 kg), Laredo, Tx

Alyssa Mendoza, featherweight (57 kg), Caldwell, ID

Jajaira Gonzalez, lightweight (60 kg), Montclair, CA

Morelle McCane, welterweight (66 kg), Cleveland, OH

Paris, 1924

At the Paris Summer Games of 1924, boxers competed for medals in the eight standard weight classes. The competition was restricted to men. Female boxers were excluded until the 2012 Games in London where the women were sorted into three weight classes: flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight.

Twenty-seven nations sent one or more boxers to the 1924 Games. In total, there were 181 competitors. The United States and Great Britain had the largest squads. Each sent 16 men into the tournament, the maximum allowable as each nation was allowed two entrants in each of the weight classes.

The United States and Great Britain each walked away with two gold medals. The other gold medal winners represented Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and South Africa. But the U.S. team garnered the most medals, six overall including two silver and two bronze, two more than the runner-up, Great Britain.

What’s interesting is that three of the six U.S. medalists came out of the same gym, the Los Angeles Athletic Club. They were proteges of the club’s boxing instructor George Blake who would go on to become one of America’s top referees. The trio included both gold medalists, flyweight Fidel LaBarba and featherweight Jackie Fields, and silver medalist Joe Salas who had the misfortune of meeting Fields in the finals.

LaBarba and Fields were mature beyond their years. LaBarba was 18 years old and hadn’t yet completed high school when he secured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. Fields, a high school dropout, was even younger. He was 16 years, five months, and 11 days old on the day that he won his gold medal. That remains the record for the youngest boxer of any nationality to win Olympic gold.

Fields and LaBarba both went on to win world titles at the professional level. Let’s take a look at their post-Paris careers. We will start with Fields and save the brilliant LaBarba for another day.

Jackie Fields  

Jackie Fields was born Jacob Finkelstein in the Maxwell Street ghetto of Chicago. His father, an immigrant from Russia and a butcher by trade, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jackie was 14 years old.

Jackie Fields

Jackie Fields

Fields turned pro in February of 1925. Despite his tender age, he was fast-tracked owing to his Olympic pedigree. But his manager Gig Rooney blundered when he put Jackie in against Jimmy McLarnin in only his seventh pro fight. A baby-faced assassin, born in Northern Ireland and raised in Canada, McLarnin, destined to be remembered as an all-time great, was more advanced than Jackie and blasted him out in the second round.

Fields rebounded to win his next 16 fights. His signature win during this run was a 12-round newspaper decision over Sammy Mandell, the Rockford Sheik. Mandell was the reigning world lightweight champion, but because this was officially a no-decision fight, a concession to Mandell, the title could not change hands unless Fields knocked him out.

Fields’ skein ended at New York’s Polo Grounds where he was out-pointed across 10 rounds by Louis “Kid” Kaplan, a 108-fight veteran and former world featherweight title-holder. But Fields built his way back into contention and claimed the world welterweight title in March of 1929 by winning a 10-round decision over Young Jack Thompson at the Chicago Coliseum. They fought for the title vacated by Joe Dundee who was stripped of the belt for failing to defend his title in a timely manner.

The jubilation that Fields felt in winning the title was tempered by an ugly incident in the eighth round when a race riot broke out in the balcony. One man died when he jumped or was pushed off the balcony and scores were injured; “more than thirty” according to one report. Many ringsiders, to avoid flying objects, took refuge inside the ropes but the contest continued after the disturbance was quelled and the ring was cleared.

Fields made the first defense of the title against Joe Dundee. They fought at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit before an estimated 25,000.

Fields had Dundee on the canvas twice before Dundee was disqualified in the second round for a low blow. The punch was clearly intentional. Fields, to his great distress, wasn’t wearing a protective cup. Heading in, Joe Dundee was still recognized as the champion in New York, so one could say that Jackie Fields unified the title.

After a series of non-title fights, Fields lost the belt to old rival Young Jack Thompson. At the conclusion of the 15-round contest, Young Jack was a bloody mess – he would need to go to a hospital to have his lacerations repaired –but Thompson, who also came up the ladder in California rings, was fairly deemed the winner. This would be the last collaboration between Fields and Gig Rooney. The wily Jack “Doc” Kearns, who had managed Jack Dempsey and was then involved with Mickey Walker, horned right in and became Jackie’s new manager.

Kearns maneuvered Fields into a match with Lou Brouillard who had wrested the title from Thompson four months earlier and Fields rose to the occasion, winning a unanimous 10-round decision in Chicago to become a two-time world welterweight champion. It was a furious battle, wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. “[Fields] hit Brouillard with everything but the water bucket.”

After another series of non-title fights, Fields risked his belt against Young Corbett III. They fought at the baseball park in San Francisco before an estimated 15,000 on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1933.

Fields was damaged goods. He had suffered a detached retina in his right eye in a minor auto accident and there was no cure for it. Corbett III (Rafaele Giordano) was a southpaw which was all wrong for a boxer with blurred vision in his right eye. Jackie fought back valiantly after losing the first five rounds, but lost the decision. The referee’s card (6-3-1 for Corbett III) appeared a tad generous to the loser.

Fields retired after one more fight. A closer look at his final record (72-9-2, 31 KOs) shows that he had 19 fights with 10 men who held a world title at some point in their career, including six future Hall of Famers (Jimmy McLarnin, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Sammy Mandell, “Gorilla” Jones, Lou Brouillard, and Young Corbett III), and was 12-6-1 in these encounters. He was stopped only once, that by the great McLarnin in Jackie’s seventh pro fight.

Jackie Fields Post-Boxing

Fields wasn’t in good shape financially when he left the sport. His various investments were shambled by the stock market crash of 1929. For a time, he lived in Pennsylvania, first in Pittsburgh and then in Philadelphia where he was a distributor for the Wurlitzer juke box company and a sales executive with a distillery.

In 1957, he purchased an interest in a gambling establishment, the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. (Note: In Nevada, prior to 1967, public corporations were prohibited from owning or operating a property that housed a casino. Anyone purchasing one or more shares, called points, had to submit to a background check which did little to stanch the influence of the mob.)

Fields eventually sold his shares, but remained with the Tropicana in a public relations capacity. During the 1970s, he served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He passed away in 1987 at age 79 at a nursing home in Las Vegas after being hospitalized for a heart ailment. In 2004, he was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For all that he accomplished as a pro, Fields always insisted that his proudest moment came in Paris. “As I stood there, with the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, I cried like a baby, I was that thrilled.”

PHOTO: 2024 U.S. Olympian Roscoe Hill

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