It is a condition not only of followers of the fight game but of all sport that new heroes are sought to replace those whose time at the top has come and gone. Grizzled baseball diehards are still waiting for the next Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. They'll be looking for another Michael Jordan for generations. The search for the next Mike Tyson is on even as you read this.
It doesn't matter that everyone knew Tyson would come to an end more or less the way he did, because that's the way it ends for all fighters. Ring heroes greater than Tyson ever was, fighters named Pep and Robinson and Armstrong and Louis ended with bloodied noses and aching headaches and only cloudy memories of their halcyon days. So why not Tyson too? Like the rest of us only to a more pronounced degree, fighters blink and they are old - young men for most other jobs but too old anymore to be prizefighters. Tyson was no different.
And so the search for his replacement began most probably in earnest on June 9, 2002, the day after Lennox Lewis overpowered him in Memphis, Tennessee and stopped him in eight more or less one-sided rounds. Up until that fight there still was hope in some quarters that Tyson's unique brand of power, hyper-aggression and barely restrained insanity would propel him past a fighter in Lewis who was younger, bigger, stronger and decidedly more together. Most wanted him to win.
"Mike had such an exciting style. He just came to knock you out and that's what he did," said veteran trainer Ronnie Shields, who was Tyson's chief second in the Lewis fight. "He was a guy, who, let's face it, made everybody money. His style was so exciting he made people want to see him fight and that's what makes money in this game."
You can say now that you knew he was no match for Lewis and that everyone else should have too. The fact remains that enough people believed in him still that the venue sold out and PPV buys hit almost 2-million. It was a big, big fight; the last very big one until Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather got together in Las Vegas. And don't tell us your heart didn't beat faster in that first round when Tyson seemed to get to Lewis and you thought to yourself with a rush of excitement, "He couldn't still be Tyson, could he, after all this time?"
Alas, he was not, and the appearances he made that followed that night, and they were appearances only, wouldn't have made anyone believe in him anymore even if he'd won them. As it was, the losses -- by means of capitulation, no less -- to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride were sad exercises in desperation perpetrated by a man gradually unraveling before everyone's eyes.
So the fight game's biggest star, easily its biggest since Ray Leonard and probably since Muhammad Ali, was gone and whenever that happens, in any sport, a vacuum is created and we scramble around in search of something to fill that void. It's the way it's always been in this business (and others): after John L. Sullivan was gone, and after Jim Jeffries, too. They couldn't stomach Jack Dempsey when he was coming up but their hearts broke after Gene Tunney and soft living retired him. The searched and searched for his replacement and thought they found him in Max Baer, but they hadn't.
They looked for the next Joe Louis and the next Ali and the next Leonard and someday we'll be looking for the next De La Hoyas and Mayweathers. But the biggest catch would be the next Tyson. Are there any out there?
"There are no Mike Tysons out there at heavyweight right now," said Tommy Brooks. Brooks trained Tyson for six fights, starting with his one-punch knockout of contender Franscois Botha in January 1999 and ending with a win over Brian Nielsen in Denmark in 2001 (Tyson's last win before the Lewis debacle). But the news isn't all bad. There are smaller fighters - even if they don't have the charisma and story that helped Tyson simultaneously fascinate and repel an entire generation of sports fans - that have the style and in-ring tenacity that made Tyson's fights must-see events. One is middleweight puncher Edison Miranda.
"There are no Mike Tysons around anymore, but I like Miranda," said Shields. "I really like that dude. He has an exciting style. He can hurt you with either hand and he can knock you out. Who wouldn't want a fighter like that? If he hits you once he'll hurt you and if he hits you twice he'll kill you. He can hit."
Miranda's aggression, no-fear mentality and heavy hands have made him a fan favorite and one of the top contenders in the 160-pound division. He can be hit and is not above using all the means at his disposal -- legal and otherwise -- to win. And that's one of his charms; he's all fighter. He lost a brutal bout with Germany's Arthur Abraham, breaking Abraham's jaw but getting five points deducted for repeated fouls. He's trying to improve his technical skills too, but what makes him special is the power he carries.
"You may see that animal come out and you don't want to miss that," Miranda's co-manager, Steve Benbasat, told writer Don Stewart of Boxing 2007 magazine. "You know there can be an explosion any minute. Jermain Taylor hasn't proven that. Edison can give boxing that shot in the arm that it really needs."
Some countries have already found their next Tyson. Manny Pacquiao is the biggest thing in the Philippines since, well, maybe ever. It's nothing for Pacquiao to sell out 60,000-seat stadiums in his homeland, and also to bring in thousands of fans when he fights in the United States. He has achieved rock-star fame in his country and is even running for political office at this writing. Many expect his overwhelming popularity to carry him to victory in politics even though he has zero experience in public service.
It's not a stretch to say that Pacquiao's popularity in the Philippines is far greater than Tyson's was in the United States at his peak. And it should surprise no one that it's not Pacquiao's diplomatic skills that make him one of the most popular fighters today. It's what he does in the ring and how he does it. "Pacquiao? Without a doubt. He goes in there and throws caution to the win, goes right at you to knock you out, man-to-man," said Brooks. "That's the way Tyson did it and that's the way people like it done."
The power-punching Pacquiao, who is The Ring magazine's top-rated junior lightweight, is in the eyes of many the only serious threat to Floyd Mayweather's standing as the unofficial pound-for-pound champion. His wins over Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera and his exciting draw with Juan Manuel Marquez mark him as one of the best and most exciting fighters of his generation. And there's more where he came from.
"There's a kid I saw on ESPN recently, a Romanian kid, that I thought was the closest I've seen to Tyson in a long time," said legendary West Coast promoter and World Boxing Hall of Fame member Don Fraser. Fraser, who is not given to hyperbole, is referring to Adrian Diaconu, who overwhelmed light heavyweight prospect Rico Hoye on the way to scoring a third-round knockout in Montreal in May. Diaconu is one of several exciting fighters out of Canada leading a resurgence of boxing in the country.
"Rico was a lot bigger and taller than this kid and Diaconu just went out there and cut him down," said Fraser. "He looked good -- fast and strong and he couldn't wait to get in there. He just wanted to get in there and knock the other guy out." There is little to suggest that Diaconu can ever have the effect on the sport that Tyson did, but having the right style goes a long way toward reminding fans of what the sport can produce.
Diaconu and others like him recall Tyson far more than does, for example, Ruslan Chagaev, whose nickname -- "The White Tyson" -- is both a tribute to Tyson's earning power and a serious misnomer. As he showed during his win over Russian giant Nicolay Valuev, Chagaev, of Uzbekistan, isn't a big puncher. He moved and counter-punched his way to a boring decision win, something Tyson couldn't do and had no interest in doing. If "Iron Mike" couldn't beat you by coming at you and pounding you with power punches, he wasn't going to beat you at all. Chagaev appears not to be a terrible heavyweight, but Tyson he clearly is not.
No more convincing is one-time cruiserweight beltholder Kelvin Davis. Davis is so enamored of the Tyson mystique that for years now he has done his best to ape Tyson's style and look, even going so far as to have his face tattooed, as Tyson did before his win over Cliff Etienne. He fights in the same do-or-die style, but lacks Tyson's speed and explosiveness, a failing that has resulted in losses to most of the division's better names and several lesser ones, too.
It was hoped for some time that another big, strong heavyweight, Sam Peter, would be the next Tyson. He seemed to have some of the tools: size, obvious physical strength, a fearsome reputation as a puncher, and a certain ring presence that intimidated opponents. Indeed, none other than Wladimir Klitschko, the consensus best heavyweight in the world, appeared so anxious during his win over Peter that every time Peter brushed against him Klitschko flopped to the canvas.
Fortunately for Klitschko, he won every second of their match that didn't feature an eight-count, and that, for the most part, suspended any discussion around Peter's potential as the next Tyson. Troubles later against James Toney, a blown up middleweight, answered the question definitively and even if Peter ends up with an alphabet title or two, his suitability as the next Tyson has been repudiated. You get the sense we have seen of him all there is to see, while Tyson supplied endless small surprises.
"Mike was deceiving," recalled Brooks. "I came in under the impression that I'd have to teach him everything. But Mike knew what he was doing. He'd set traps. He was smarter inside the ring, and outside, too, than people gave him credit for. He was a salesman -- selling himself. He knew asses in seats means more money."
We'll learn eventually the hard way that there never will be another Tyson. Regardless of where you place him among the sport's great fighters (if you place him among them at all) he occupied a unique place in popular culture during his time at the top and single-handedly brought to a close a particularly moribund era in heavyweight boxing. At the same time he transcended the sport like few others have done in recent times.
Will we ever find the next Tyson? No. But sooner or later someone will come along who is different, and just close enough. He always does
HBO WCB - May 19, 2007
Miranda vs Pavlik
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