The Pride Before Tokyo

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on February 11, 2015
The Pride Before Tokyo
Pride hooked Mike Tyson the moment he realized he could leave a man concussed.

“Mike Tyson, lose?” Back then the very thought was heresy. I didn’t think he couldn’t even lose on a video game…

“Brawl nights I perform like Mike. Anyone — Tyson, Jordan, Jackson…” flowed the late-great Brooklyn rapper known as the Notorious BIG. It was a lyrical tip of the hat to an era of excellence, ruled by the three most famous Michaels on the face of the earth. Each was in a class all his own. It is a fact that we are still experiencing the remnants of that era and each man’s respective legacy. There isn’t a Pop act on the planet that has not been influenced by the Gloved One, Michael Jackson. No matter how epic their talents, the Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants, and LeBron James of the world will always operate in the shadow of his Airness, Michael Jordan; and we need only look at the wasteland that is at present the heavyweight division to remind ourselves of what it was like to witness the ascendance and prime of Iron Mike Tyson.

The first time I saw Mike Tyson was captivating. I literally was incapable of turning away. Before then I’d grown bored with the sport, but then again, I was 10 years old and boredom came easy. “Controlled fury” is how I would describe what I saw. He was bludgeoning Jesse Ferguson. I’d never seen brutality so finely executed. I was entranced and when he finally finished his work with a scintillating uppercut that sent Ferguson face first to the canvas, I knew there was no way I would be bored again.

I witnessed him win the WBC heavyweight championship in highlight reel fashion versus Trevor Berbick, on free network television. I followed him as he unified the division and as he defended his undisputed status with brutal efficiency, all the while witnessing his extraordinary fame and vaunted wealth, ignoring, like many fans, the signs of the calamity that was to come.

Nothing whatsoever could have prepared my young mind for February 11, 1990. I didn’t even know the Champ was scheduled to fight. I was busy talking smack with my friends about the impending fight with Evander Holyfield that was supposedly in the works. Then my phone rang, “Yo! Mike Tyson just got knocked out!” the voice on the other line screamed frantically. “Stop lying, he ain’t even fighting,” I said. “Turn on your TV!” I turned my television on and it was breaking news. I changed channels like I didn’t hear this correctly, only to find the same thing being reported elsewhere.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. I felt myself losing my balance; I fell backward onto my bed. “Mike Tyson, lose?” Back then the very thought was heresy. He couldn’t even lose on a video game. Maybe I was just dreaming or unwittingly ingested a hallucinogen. I even tried, like many others, to cling to the controversial long count in round 8 when Tyson managed to put Douglas on his back. Yet, there it was, being played over and over again, that neck-snapping uppercut, followed by a barrage of hooks, and Mike, “Iron” Mike famously grappling for his mouthpiece, attempting to beat the 10-count, with a face that detailed the evidence of James “Buster” Douglas’ brutal masterwork.

Some say it was the loss of the legendary Cus D’Amato. Some say it was the ex-wife, Robin Givens. Perhaps it was his break with trainer Kevin Rooney or his allegiance to Don King. All such claims I’ve found to be condescending. This culpability game played by many a fan and would-be insider suggest that Tyson was a mere brute incapable of personal accountability, unaware of himself unless — like an animal — he was properly handled.

Reality tends to be far less complex. “Iron” Mike was the creation of one boy’s need to survive the desperation that was Brownsville, Brooklyn and the dysfunction that was his childhood, which also became his escape. He wasn’t born the Baddest Man on the Planet — he flies pigeons for Christ’s sake! Yet, fear and the need to survive can stir and conjure all sorts of traits, even amongst the most gentile of personalities.

The unexpected events of February 11, 1990 wasn’t the result of supposedly bad associations or the loss of his mentor, but the culmination of a series of behavior fueled by that age old seductress, Pride. Pride hooked Mike Tyson the moment he realized he could leave a man concussed on the Brooklyn pavement. Pride fueled him the first time his would-be savior spoke greatness into his conscious, meticulously molding him into a pugilistic god. Pride drove him as he elevated the ranks into boxing history; and as the fame, the money, and all the spoils and trappings that come with being the most beloved athlete on the planet, pride would be his undoing, preceding that epic fall one legendary night in Tokyo.

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Mike Tyson VS James Buster Douglas 1990-02-11



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  1. Mat 08:09am, 02/17/2015

    Very good article.
    Although I can’t help but feel that the loss may have had something to do with Douglas losing his mother a week beforehand too.
    In his entire career he never fought like he did that night in Tokyo.

  2. Eric 09:50am, 02/11/2015

    In his prime, Mike Tyson really was something. People tend to underrate him on all time heavyweight great lists, they ignore what a force of nature this guy was in his relatively short prime. As strong as he was physically, Mike was relatively mentally weak and highly emotional. The death of Cus, break up with Rooney, the tabloid like affair with Givens, and Don King all took its toll on Mike. If Mike could’ve have been spared all this drama outside of the ring, he would have been the greatest heavyweight of all time. A prime Tyson would have destroyed Holyfield, and beaten fellow swarmers like Frazier, Marciano, and Dempsey. A prime Tua vs a 90’s version of Tyson would have been an interesting match. Prime Mike would beat prime Tua, however, Mike had lost enough by then to make a Tua vs. Tyson match worth seeing.

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