Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton

July 8, 1997:  Enough is enough. On a warm, muggy night, 37 years ago, the most malevolent, fearsome fighter ever sat on his stool, a beaten and confused man. He refused, in front of thousands of fight fans at the Miami Beach Convention Center, to answer the bell for the eighth round.

Sonny Liston was the most frightening man in the world. He'd enter the ring wearing a white, hooded robe, making him look even bigger than he was. He invented the now-mandatory pre-fight stare-down. He did this with such a cold-blooded, lethal, malevolent glare, the soon-to-be victim would become glassy eyed, beaten before the bell rang. Sonny Liston was a destroyer. First of the psyche, and then, the body. Sonny Liston was the heavyweight champion of the world.

On the other side of the ring that night was an unafraid Cassius Clay. The experts and the public were convinced that the youthful, cocky Clay would be little more than a quick lunch for an angry Liston. The betting line against Clay ballooned past the ridiculous. Liston, an ex-con, made no pretensions about being a gentleman. He was the ultimate bully, most definitely not a man you'd want to encounter on a dark street. In round four, someone from Liston's corner, understanding he was going to be beaten, and willing to stoop to any level to avoid this humiliating fate, applied a chemical to his gloves. Something which would temporarily blind Clay, allowing Liston to finally hit his now helpless opponent. Boxing has always been such a noble game. Clay persevered and survived the round. His sight came back, and so did he. The notion that Liston would simply quit, so thoroughly demoralized and beaten, was beyond improbable. It was impossible. But a couple of rounds later, there he sat. He said he hurt his shoulder.

Less than a year later, the two met up in the inevitable rematch. The site was a remote burg in Maine called Lewiston. The public could not believe what they'd witnessed a few months earlier. Again, the glowering Liston was a heavy favorite. The fearsome ex-champ looked exactly the same. The first fight had to be a fluke. He hurt his shoulder. The scene was set for one of the strangest fiascoes -- no small statement -- in boxing history. Midway through the first round, as the fighters were in a clinch, Liston went down. He didn't just go down, he flew down, as if propelled to the canvas by a large caliber artillery shell. And there he stayed. The problem was, no one ever saw the punch that so pulverized the terrible Liston. Thousands and thousands of times over the years, the moment was scrutinized and dissected on video tape. To this day, nobody has seen that vicious blow. Even Clay, now Muhammad Ali, was befuddled. It went down in infamous boxing lore as the "Phantom punch."

Now, 35 years later, in remarkably similar circumstances, history repeats itself: The Bite Fight. The personal history, fighting reputation, and public image of Mike Tyson and Liston mirror each other. Liston later said he'd never been afraid of anyone. Except Clay, who he determined was "crazy." Once Ali penetrated the psyche of the unbeatable Liston, Sonny was finished. Instead of enduring a humiliating beating at the hands of a crazy person, he quit on his stool, and the next time went down, victim to an unseen super-punch.

We'll never know exactly what went through the mind of Mike Tyson at the moment, two moments actually, when he administered, as he so quaintly put it, frothing in a hysterical rage at an ill-advised post-fight interview, "Just a little nip." I do know this. Tyson was going to get beaten. Mike Tyson probably never lost the first two rounds of a fight in his life. This is his time, when he overwhelms and destroys his opponents. The early rounds, the time Tyson the Assassin made his reputation. Not this time. Not this fighter. The bully was being bullied, shoved all over the ring by a confident fighter, unafraid of, as Tyson calls himself, "the big boy."

Tyson did what Liston had done. He quit. Holyfield later suggested that Iron Mike created this outrageous diversion, so he and his supporters could claim he was never really beaten, only cheated, again, by the system.

I once had a grudging respect for Tyson. Though clearly overrated as a fighter, still, he seemed to possess a quiet, maybe even sensitive intelligence. Perhaps he was, as he always claimed, a persecuted black man, set up like the first black champion, Jack Johnson, three quarters of a century ago, on a bogus rape charge. His actions on Saturday last erased all doubts about who Mike Tyson is. His rather unique ring behavior and violent, self- righteous, post-fight actions clearly displayed his horribly skewed notion of right and wrong.

In a violent sport, a violent man has handed another black eye -- ear actually -- to the game which provided him with fame and unthinkable wealth. Think about this: Tyson made as much money in few minutes of chewing, as Michael Jordan makes in a 100-game season. Boxing elevated Mike Tyson to almost mythical status. In return, he has raped the sport which gave him everything. This man should not be allowed to fight again.

Enough is enough.







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