THE KING IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE KING! 

THE KING IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE KING!

During the long intermission Saturday night between the second of two featherweight matches that immediately preceded the spectacle that everyone awaited -- Lewis vs. Tyson to settle old scores and the question of world heavyweght supremacy -- the crowd in The Pyramid turned to star-watching. Cameras located the celebrities who milled about on the floor and in the aisles. There was Samuel L. Jackson, there Kevin Bacon, over here Denzel. My man! And, hey, Michael Spinks, a champ from the distant past, and Evander Holyfield, one from the recent past. But finally one of the celebrities made a round of ringside and yelled something which everybody nearby heard. And which everybody everywhere would surely have agreed with. “Let’s get this [maternal-lover] on!” said Cuba Gooding, and a cheer went up to second him. That was as nothing compared to the next cheer, only minutes later as a phalanx of yellow-shirted security personnel flooded the ring -- a clear indication that the arrival of the fighters was imminent. And suddenly there was Iron Mike on the overhead Jumbotron, wearing a scanty white dashinki-like cover and on his way. A ripple of boos started, then a prolonged chorus of cheers, duplicating the sequence that had flooded the arena when Tyson had first been shown arriving two hours earlier during an intermission on the undercard. Tyson had paused to lay a kiss on one of the network girls during that first passage, and, though she had blanched at first she finally smiled with a kind of blushing satisfaction. The crowd had applauded and cheered lustily. It had seemed to be a Tyson crowd, then, with the audience still filling the seats. The response to Lewis' arrival had been tepid by comparison. As State Representative Joe Towns, one of the first Memphians to have lobbied hard for the fight back in January when it was chased out of Nevada, had said from the box where he overlooked the arena, “I’m with Mike. He’s bad! And he’s American!” Things had somehow gotten balanced out, though, as fight-time approached and the fighters entered the ring. Each received his share of encouragement. From the point of view of crowd sympathy, the fighters would be on their own -- a turn away from that early sense that it was a Tyson crowd. The security people stayed in the ring, even as Michael Buffer announced the bout, his traditional “ready to rumble” flourish seeming overblown and superfluous given an energy of anticipation that needed no artificial boosting. Good vs Evil, wasn’t that the intended scenario? So when the fight got on and Tyson made is customary first-round rush, and referee Eddie Cotton had to keep cautioning Lewis about clenching, it looked like a Golden Oldie was under way -- maybe a standard Mike Tyson bash session, a victory by attrition or annihilation, like those of his heyday ten and fifteen years ago, before some unexpected losses, a rape conviction, and various other scrapes with the adversity had tarnished Tyson's edge. But then a strange pattern began to develop. Cotton had to keep reprimanding Lewis -- for clenching again, for holding, and finally, once he had clearly begun to get on even terms with Tyson, for pushing -- an offense which cost the champion a point after Tyson was shoved all the way down to the canvas in the fourth round. In a strange way, the roles had been reversed. Tyson, flat on his back and looking forlorn, looked like a fighter down on his luck, shove or no shove. Lewis , the bigger man, took on the look of a bully. But, perversely enough, he started getting the crowd on his side -- not just the British/Canadian contingent that had hollered itself hoarse for him earlier, but all of it. Lew-is! Lew-is! resounded through the arena. The gentleman dandy had metamorphosized into the bad boy -- and the clear crowd favorite, too. As the fight wore on, Tyson clearly was being beaten. Punch after punch from Lewis sprayed the ring with perspiration from Tyson's head. He was cut over both eyes and couldn’t land a single good punch in return, much less a combination. The outcome began to look as painful and inevitable as that of a suddenly and visibly old Ali trying to hold on vs. Larry Holmes in 1980. Lewis used Tyson’s increasingly stationary head as a speed bag for his jab and then, for uppercuts and right crosses, as a heavy bag. When Tyson went down -- hard -- in the 8th round it was a formality. He was a spent case long before. So was his era. The strangest aspect of the denouement was the post-fight joint TV interview in the ring involving both a revived Tyson and a victorious and remarkably relaxed Lewis. Tyson, who had done more than his share of trash-talking before the bout, was suddenly the model of contrition, a veritable Boy Scout. He professed his regard for Lewis (“He knows I love both him and his mother”), said that all his bad-mouthing had only been to hype the fight, and suggested, almost plaintively, that he’d like a rematch. One reputedly is called for in the contract, but it may not be in the cards. Tyson had not only lost the fight, overwhelmingly, winning only the first round of the seven completed ones, but he seemed to have lost forever the killer image that had fascinated us for so long. That little-boy voice that always before sounded so ironically menacing now just sounded like a little boy’s. On his best behavior. An Eddie Haskell trying to Be Good. But what was the point? This was nothing that P's and Q's could alter. As the English say, The King is dead. Long live the King! A little later, Lewis, flanked by manager Emmanuel Steward and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, met the press and sounded some gracious notes toward both his fallen foe and the city of Memphis, where he indicated he might fight again if he didn't retire first. And still later, some more comments from Tyson were distributed to the media pack by a pool reporter. The once-upon-a-time champ and fright figure explained the mutual-politeness pact between himself and Lewis by comparing it to the pigeons he once kept. They would scrap ferociously until they were fed, he said. Then they became placid and still. The implication was that there was nothing left to fight over. The metaphor carried over to the ring, where the issue had been joined and resolved, and the eight-figure purses enjoyed by both fighters had surely sated their appetites -- at least for a while. As for that putative rematch, the other pigeons, the ones who paid the huge ticket prices Saturday night -- well, they'd been fed, too. And probably wouldn't bite so readily again.

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