Tragic End for Iron Mike

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Tragic End for Iron Mike
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Back in the 1980-s there were two guys who loved boxing. Loved the history, the myths, the drama of what has been called -The Sweet Science-. One was an old guy. Had been in the fight game his whole life. Lots of dank, dark, rundown gyms. He had a nose for a contender and he had managed a few through the years. The other was his prot-g-, a man who had collected the largest vault of privately owned fight films in the world. The old guy was named Cus d-Amato. His prot-g- was Jimmy Jacobs. In the 80-s, at the twilight of his life, Cus came across a tough street kid from Brooklyn showing some awfully quick hands and no fear whatsoever. Cus and Jimmy started training the kid whose name was Michael Tyson.

Mike would come into Manhattan and sit on the rug of Jimmy-s screening room for hours, watching eyes wide open the old fights of Kid Chocolate from Cuba, and Rocky Marciano and Floyd Patterson. I knew Jimmy Jacobs very well in those days and hung out in the film room several times with this young Mike. He was polite, articulate, very respectful of Cus and Jimmy, and starry-eyed when it came to the heroes of the sport.

When Cus died, Jimmy became young Mike-s manager and they were a good team. It was a big deal when Iron Mike became the youngest heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 20. That was 1986 and there was every reason to think we were going to see Mike not only dominate for a long stretch but also fill the shoes of the magnetic sportsmen who had worn the title of Heavyweight Champ of the World before him. Jimmy inherited from Cus the role of mentor/father to Mike and continued to groom him as a man of honor, a sportsman fans could admire.

Well, Jimmy lost his own fight, to cancer, in 1988, and it seems fair to say that Mike went downhill from there. He had four fantastic years in the ring. No heavyweight had ever attacked from the bell like Iron Mike. He pursued his opponents with relentless fury, lightning quick hands, and devastating punches. The pay days reached as high as $30 million dollars and his total fortune supposedly topped out at around $300 million.

The fighter Mike imagined himself to be, sitting cross-legged on the floor of Jimmy-s screening room, came to be. Cus and Jimmy would have smiled at the skills and the heart Iron Mike threw at the likes of Razor Ruddick and Michael Spinks. But the man, the people-s champion, as Mike envisioned himself, was a lost cause. There was his rape conviction and the ensuing three years in prison. There was the moment he forgot his champion manners and bit a chunk out of Evander Holyfied-s ear. There were car crashes, drugs, many offensive incidents with women in addition to the rape. There were street brawls, divorces, a steady stream of law suits, and piles and piles of debt.

Iron Mike lost the whole $300 million. All of it. He-s made a plan to fight seven last times, just to amass the nearly $40 million he needs to pay his current debts. But last Friday night, slumped back on the ropes with blood streaming down his face, knocked out in the 4th round by an unknown British journeyman named Danny Williams, Iron Mike looked like Broken Mike.

The great heavyweight Joe Louis owed a lot of money to the IRS in his later years and Frank Sinatra paid the whole amount off for him. Sinatra said Joe Louis had inspired too many of us to let him spend the rest of his days running from the IRS.

How-s Mike Tyson going to spend the rest of his days? Judging by last Friday night, Mike-s pay days as a fighter are numbered. As for his stature as a man, I cringe to imagine what Cus D-Amato and Jimmy Jacobs would think right now. As the expression goes, they-re probably rolling over in their graves.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score



Diana Nyad