How the Mighty can Fall

I’ve always read sports religiously as well as political and economic news. Growing up in Denver, I’ve always followed all Colorado sports as well as the national sports scene. As I grow older I look back at a lot of events with a different perspective. As analytical skills grow, you start to see things in sports that you didn’t see as a kid. One example I can think of was in 1990, when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson (left).

I remember when it happened, everyone was speechless. It was unreal. This bruiser had been knocking people out left and right. He had so much going for him, I’m sure some were ready to put him in the company of Ali, Robinson, Marciano, etc. Then that night in Tokyo, Mike Tyson’s Heel was laid bare for all opponents to see. The knockout showed what Tyson’s life would be like from then on. He was sent to jail for rape shortly after and the downward spiral continued. Now twice a felon, Tyson lost his last fight to Kevin McBride right here in DC in 2005. How the mighty have fallen.

By the time Mike Tyson was knocked out in Tokyo, his fall had been well underway. I believe his downfall can be traced back to his trainer’s death in late 1985. Cus D’Amato had helped Tyson turn his life around after ending up in Reform School as a teen. D’Amato trained Tyson, and was much like a father figure to Tyson. When D’Amato died, it was right as Tyson was ascending to great stardom. The man who had looked out for Tyson’s best interests was gone, and the jackals were free to feast. For four years before the Tokyo fight, Tyson had not been trained to contend. Many sports historians will say, and I agree, that Tyson was still very raw.

The years he was knocking every one out, he only had one strategy: knock the other guy out. For those amateur and early professional years, that worked. For “tomato cans” and “has-beens,” Tyson was a formitable force. Most were unable to withstand his early flurries of jabs, hooks, and upper-cuts. For those who could, they were so busy guarding that they were unable to mount any offense. Once he fought someone who could take his early punishment, and punch back, Tyson was in deep trouble.

As Tyson lay on the mat, hardly able to see with one eye almost closed, he must have been so confused. No one had ever been able to box with Tyson. Buster Douglas exposed Tyson’s lack of defense, his unpreparedness, and his lax attitude. Tyson’s training for that fight had been cursory. He obviously had not prepared for the fight, his trainers were sycophants. Tyson simply had no answer for Douglas’ night of near-perfect boxing. Douglas continuously corned Tyson, jabbed precisely, and kept Tyson’s flurries ineffective with his long reach. Although Tyson knocked Douglas down early, the whole fight belonged to Douglas. What Buster Douglas showed every Tyson opponent in the future was that Mike Tyson was a one-dimensional fighter. Tyson lacked the training support to teach the young fighter good defense and endurance. Training support that formerly came from Cus D’Amato.

The lesson of this downfall exposes a great truth in sports. Get better or get passed. The “Iron Mike” Tyson era lasted only as long as fighters feared him. He never received the guidance and direction needed to go beyond bully. Tyson never adapted, and he never recovered after that fight. Sports will always amplify an athlete’s weakness. Most of the time the obselete athlete leaves the sport forcefully. It is the rarest of athletes, like Michael Jordan, John Elway or Ted Williams, who lose some physical gift, but yet somehow stay great in their sport. Mike Tyson never had what these athletes had, once he was exposed, he was never the same. His fury was usually weathered and Tyson would end up losing, either by disqualification, knockout, TKO, or a decision. At least his story reveals what can happen to all of us in life when our specialty becomes obselete. Only those who can adapt will succeed, the ones who can’t become obselete and sink. As true it is in sport, so too is it in life.

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