Heavyweight Armagedddon!: The Tyson-Lewis Heavyweight Battle
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by Scoop Malinowski
Description: Eighteen years after they first boxed together as teens, noted trainer Cus D'Amato's prophecy came true--Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis waged fistic war in Memphis in 2002 in a colossal $110 million showdown for the most prestigious title in all of sport. This heavyweight championship event arrested the attention of the world for all the wrong and right reasons. Dressed in black, Mike Tyson, the infamously violent wrecking machine, faced the dignified and gentlemanly pugilist specialist Lennox Lewis, garbed in white. "Heavyweight Armageddon!" takes you far behind the scenes of this symbolic sociological battle, which proved once again that, in the end, the force of good will ultimately overcome and conquer the threat of evil.
eBook Publisher: Zumaya Publications/Zumaya Publications, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: October 2008
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [289 KB]
Reading time: 163-229 min.
CHAPTER 1 First Blood: Lewis and Tyson Meet in the Catskills
The first blow is half the battle.
The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart.
Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation to know that he cannot waste this talent--but must develop it.
--Pope John Paul II
The night before the big fight, the troubled warrior watched karate movies and made a slew of phone calls. He called one long-time friend, just to say he felt good and everything was going to be all right, and he said, "I love you." Though if you believed everything this enigma ever said, you wouldn't know that he had any friends.
The other combatant played chess and table tennis. And watched a videotape of a fight between Mike Tyson and Frans Botha. At the end of the second round he asked that it be turned off--he knew what he needed to do.
Two great and renowned fighters, one so masterful he defeated every man he ever fought, the other so inspiring and revered one of his devoted loyalists got a full portrait of the warrior tattooed on his back along with his complete ring record down each arm.
Though they had both emerged from similarly hum-ble and dysfunctional beginnings to achieve legendary success in professional boxing, they had evolved into completely contrasting human beings, with totally different attitudes, lifestyles and behaviors.
But the next evening, June 8, 2002, they would meet to determine who was the better man--the good one or the bad one--in what would become one of the biggest money prizefights in boxing history. * * * *
Michael Gerard Tyson was born on June 30, 1966, in Brooklyn, NY. He lived first on Herzl Street, then later Amboy Street, in Brooklyn with his mom Lorna and older siblings Rodney and Denise. Young Tyson came from a humble bed.
"You go into the heart of Brownsville and it looks like World War II hit it. The buildings aren't stable. In New York City they'd put up a new one. In Brownsville they'd leave it. Then it falls and kills people."
In the beginning, Tyson was teasingly called "fairy boy" because he wore glasses and spoke with a slight lisp. Mike remembers having few friends except his pigeons, which he kept in a coop atop an abandoned building. He would marvel at them flying in the sky, their freedom.
One day, a much older and bigger boy grabbed one of Mike's pigeons and twisted and broke its neck with his bare hands then tossed the dead bird at Mike's feet. The shy, timid boy, in an instant, uncharacteristically pounced on the bully. It was one of those moments where the course of a life changes direction
By the age of twelve, Tyson was a troublemaking terror with an adult-sized rap sheet to match his unusually massive physical presence. His mother could no longer handle him. After another visit to juvenile hall, it was decided that Mike should be removed from the streets and incarcerated at the Tryon School for Boys in the mountains of upstate Johnstown, New York. Shortly upon arriving at Tryon, Tyson learned that one of the head counselors was a former amateur and professional boxer named Bobby Stewart. Tyson told Stewart he wanted to be a fighter.
Stewart would learn that the Tyson kid had a bad reputation and, at 5 feet, 8 inches and nearly two hundred pounds, was quite a force, too. Still, the two got on well; and after less than a year together, Stewart began to wonder if he was working with something extraordinary.
"Even though he was 13, he could beat up most men." Stewart told Peter Heller for his book Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story. "But the thing that impressed me the most was not the physical part. It was his ability to give up all the bullshit he'd done for thirteen years to devote himself to something else. The physical stuff impressed me, but the mental stuff shocked me."
Stewart became convinced Tyson was special. He knew of a man who could assess the ability and potential of this thirteen-year-old. His name was Cus D'Amato. Cus was then seventy-two. He ran a boxing gym in Catskill, NY, while living in semi-retirement after a career in boxing, most notably as the guiding force behind former Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, among others.
Cus agreed to take a look. Legend has it that, to prepare Tyson for the important audition with Cus, Stewart stayed up late teaching him a few subtle moves, tricks and maneuvers that would surely be noticed and appreciated by the watchful eye of D'Amato. Mike learned, then practiced the moves late into the evening.
Then, in the middle of the night at about three a.m., the early morning silence was broken by strange noises coming from Tyson's dorm room. A couple of counselors went to the room to see what the ruckus was. When they opened the door, they found Mike--in pitch darkness--rehearsing the moves Stewart had taught him hours earlier.
The next night at Cus's gym, Tyson was ready to impress. The young machine of destruction was dazzling in two rounds of sparring. Combinations were delivered with brutal force and fascinating passion. The old man had inspired this phenomenal manchild to excel.
Moments after the session, Cus knew what he had seen. As Mike walked out of the ring, Cus said Tyson could be the next heavyweight champion of the world.
Kevin Rooney was also there that day.
"That's what Cus said," concurred Rooney, almost twenty years later in an interview we did in New York City in 2006. "'There's the next heavyweight champion of the world ... if he has the interest.' I saw Mike for the first time and I thought he was lying when he said he was thirteen. I thought he was seventeen or eighteen.
"Bobby Stewart was a good boxer, a former light heavyweight. Bobby just tattooed Mike. Mike took it all. He was moving his head, he showed handspeed, and he showed the ability to punch. He had that power. Not too many guys have that one-punch knockout power. I knew this guy can't miss ... if he really wanted it."
Shortly after that spectacular performance, Tyson was allowed weekend furloughs from Tryon, and by summer, it was worked out that Mike could live at the house.
"When he came to live with Cus," Rooney said, "he was still on probation. Tryon paid for his room and board for one or two years. Mike still had a probation officer who came to the house."
"He went from there to JOs [Junior Olympics]," Rooney said, "where he was like a man trapped in a boy's body. He came from the juvenile system and had that fire in his belly. That meanness. The other kids were just trying boxing, like something to try while Mike had the fire. He had the burning desire at a young age. That came from the streets, I guess. He was in and out of juvenile halls from when he was nine to thirteen. Then he comes to Cus. He didn't want to go back to the juvenile system."
D'Amato adopted Tyson and became his legal guardian when Mike was permitted to leave reform school. Future managers Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton payed D'Amato close to a half-million dollars just to cover Tyson's living and training expenses.
"Mike was in a perfect situation. Here he was, fourteen-years-old, with the greatest boxing mind ever produced--Cus. He was just so much more advanced than everyone else. Mike used to watch old fight films every night. He loved it. He'd watch [Jack] Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson. He liked Dempsey. He used to watch Dempsey a lot. Cus told him to study the films, see what they do, see if you can learn from them. Cus would ask Mike questions after ... to see if he was learning things."
In June of 1980, Tyson watched Roberto Duran win the welterweight title in 'The Brawl in Montreal' against undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard. It was a vintage per-formance from Duran, one of the most thrilling fighters in the history of the sport. Tyson was fascinated by the machismo of the Panamanian superstar.
"When I saw Roberto Duran fight Leonard," Tyson said in an interview years later, "I knew I wanted to be a fighter that night. His ferocity, his viciousness ... he didn't care. He was, like, invincible."
After four years of small tournaments and honing his offensive and defensive skills for countless hours in the gym, Tyson entered his first national amateur boxing tournament--the National Junior Olympics at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He won his first title there when he scored three knockouts, include-ing a first-round KO with a left hook to the liver against a 265-pound Hawaiian kid who fell in a massive, trem-bling heap.
"I often say to Mike, 'You know, I owe you a lot,' Cus said in Heller's book Bad Intentions. "And he doesn't know what I mean. If he weren't here, I probably wouldn't be alive today. Nature is smarter than people think. Little by little, we lose our friends that we care about, and little by little, we lose our interest. Until finally we say, What the heck am I doing here if I have no reason to go on?
"You get used to everything. Even the idea of dying is something a person gets used to. And he accepts it. I believe that people die because they no longer want to live, they have no motivation to stay alive. But I have reason with Mike here. He gives me the motivation. I will stay alive, and I will watch him become a success, because I will not leave until that happens.
"Because when I leave, he not only will know how to fight, he'll be able to take care of himself. I don't succeed when I help make a guy become champion of the world. I succeed when I help make that fellow become champion of the world and independent of me."
Hall of Fame Manager Mickey Duff remembers seeing Tyson for the first time in a tournament in New York City. He said, in Bad Intentions, "He paced up and down like a caged tiger, and I thought that he looked menacing. He looked like a strong kid. With not a lot of sophisticated talent yet. Natural talent, yes. But he didn't look to have any fine skills. He looked strong and awesome for his age. As I remember, he fought a kid a few years older. Knocked him out."
Years later, in 1981, Duff would bring his young twenty-two-year-old heavyweight prospect Frank Bruno to New York. Cus called Duff to arrange for the then-sixteen-year-old Tyson to spar with Bruno. Bruno, who was unbeaten and highly regarded as a huge puncher back then, was warned repeatedly to take it easy on the kid.
But this "kid," who looked like a man sculpted out of granite, swarmed all over Bruno for two rounds. Like an unstoppable force. (As fate would have it, the two would again meet some eight years later in Las Vegas for Tyson's heavyweight title.)
"I'm not a creator," D'Amato would tell reporters back then. "What I do is discover and uncover. My job is, take the spark and fan it. When it starts to become a little flame, I feed it. Feed the fire until it becomes a roaring blaze. I pour huge logs on it. And then you really get a fire going. That's what I do with my boys I train. That's what I try to do." * * * *
Lennox Claudius Lewis was born in London on Sep-tember 2, 1965. Like Tyson's, his was not a childhood of privilege. He had one half-brother named Dennis. In his early years, he lived intermittently with his mother, his aunt and in group homes. Lewis was expelled from primary school for excessive fighting and then punching his hand through a window in the principal's office.
So he lived for a while at a boarding school in the English countryside while his mom, Violet, tried to start a new and better life in Canada. At the home, Lewis learned archery, how to play table tennis, woodworking, even had his own bicycle. Then one day, when he was about seven or eight, he put on boxing gloves.
"It was the first place I put on a pair of boxing gloves. Nobody out of the kids could fight as well as me. So, the man of the house would have to put on the boxing gloves and box with me. I can remember punching away at him, trying to hit him, but never managing to get him because he was always too big and could keep me at arm's length."
About five years later Violet Lewis was able to support her son, and Lennox moved to Lancaster Street in Kitchener, Ontario. The gangly, Cockney-accented black twelve-year-old kid with a temper soon found himself in plenty of fights.
"Lennox was very mischievous," said his mom in the book Lennox Lewis Champion with Ken Gorman. "He liked to fight. If he was playing with other kids, he would end up pushing, or wrestling them or hitting them. When he took up boxing, I can't imagine anyone had to teach him how to punch. He's been punching fine since he was a toddler!
"But Lennox was always very lively, but basically he was a very nice boy. He also liked to draw things. At one point I thought he'd become an architect."
Lennox first entered a boxing gym with a friend to keep an appointment with some rival youths who had agreed to settle their dispute like gentleman--with the gloves on--at Waterloo Regional Police Boxing Asso-ciation gym. Though Lennox and his pal showed up, the other boys did not. Lennox decided to try boxing anyway.
That very first day, he got hit with the first punch, right smack on the nose! And he momentarily thought that boxing wasn't for him. Also, that first day, he met Arnie Boehm, who would become his coach, friend and a father figure.
Boehm, a power lineman with the local electric com-pany and a former amateur boxer, remembered Len-nox's first day when we spoke in the Poconos in 1998.
"I'd seen Lennox come in about twenty-five years ago. He was with a friend of his. They were planning a schoolyard fight. I basically told him if you came to learn how to fight, get out of my gym and don't come back. But if you want to learn to be a boxer, you found the right place.
"You could see they were both a bit nervous, but at the same time there was an eagerness about them. A boxer has got to learn the lesson of self-reliance. That's why I let beginners have a bang at each other early on. If a boy gets hurt and he says 'That's enough' he's never going to make a good boxer.
"The thing with Lennox was, sure his eyes watered from that first punch he took on the nose. But he thought, Whoa, I've got to do something about this. And he fought back. He had heart. Even when I was showing Lennox the basics, I could see that he had a great natural talent for the sport. Ninety percent of your defense is in your stance, the way you hold your hands and position your body, where you place your feet and position your chin. He did this naturally, almost without being shown what to do.
"He was such a good pupil, so eager to learn. He was the most attentive pupil I ever had. He would look at me straight in the eye and hang on to every word I said, so eager to take in the next bit of advice. A lot of kids who wanted to be boxers would talk while I was talking or look around or fool around. But Lennox always looked me straight in the eye, hungry for what I would tell him."
Lewis won his first amateur fight by second-round KO and went undefeated for three years. He was so good, in fact, he ran out of opponents. At fifteen, he was Ontario Golden Gloves champion in the 165-lb. division. In 1980, the fifteen-year-old Lewis took on and decisioned the former Canadian amateur middleweight champion, Kingsley Hataway, who was twenty-two.
The first defeat came against Donovan Ruddock, who was three years older than Lennox at eighteen. But it was a curious and political decision, not a clear-cut one (Of course, the two would meet again twelve years later in an important WBC world title eliminator).
Even at sixteen, Lennox was showing the proper signals for a fine future in the sport.
"I first predicted Lennox would be world champion in nineteen-eighty-one, when he was sixteen," says Boehm. "The key to this man is that he doesn't like to be beaten at anything. If you beat him at anything, he'll go and practice all night. Then, the next day, he'll come back and beat you ten times in a row. That's the kind of guy he is. He doesn't like to come in second at any-thing."
The first major international title Lennox captured was in November 1983, where he won the gold medal in the World Junior Championships at Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. In front of eight thousand spectators at El Palacio de los Deportes, in temperatures nearing ninety degrees. The gold medal came by walk-over over the Cuban Pedro Nemicio, who supposedly broke his hand in the semi-final. After that outstanding victory, Arnie moved Lennox up to senior division--two years before he needed to.
In January of 1984, Lennox won his first senior international bout--a 5-0 decision over a Swede named Bengt Cederquist in Stockholm.
Then came the call from Cus D'Amato. Cus had heard of Lennox's exploits and was looking for some topnotch sparring for Tyson. Boehm was aware of the old man in the Catskills and his promising heavyweight. It was the spring of 1984, the Los Angeles Olympics year, and Boehm also liked the idea of some quality sparring for his young titan. So, they agreed to train with each other for a week at the big, white painted, old nineteenth-century house at the end of the road in Catskill, New York. At that time, Lennox was considered the more advanced boxer of the two, because he had international experience and was nine months older at eighteen.
At the first meeting between Lewis and Tyson, there wasn't, as you might expect, an excess of competitive tension. In fact, the pair of phenoms actually hit it off surprisingly well, according to all witnesses. Lewis and Tyson made an odd pair: Mike was short and very stocky, Lennox was tall and skinny and quite a lanky lad back then. Lewis and Tyson did many things those first few days, such as training together in the gym, running up the mountains, competing to see who was stronger and who could do more pushups or bench presses. They watched fight films on the old movie projector up in Mike's room.
"He'd show me dirty tricks some guys would play," Lewis remembered. "He showed me fights that were meaningful to his life."
Mike also showed Lennox his pigeons. They ate together at the house. And, of course, they talked about girls.
On day three, Cus wanted them to spar. Now, more than two decades later, there are still conflicting opin-ions on who won. "They're joking like the best of pals," said Boehm. "Then, when Cus rings the bell, suddenly everything changed. Tyson comes tearing across the ring like a tiger. Mike became an animal. Lennox was not prepared for that. He caught Lennox by surprise, and he put quite a number on Lennox. So, the first round was kind of a disaster for Lennox. Lennox had a bloody nose and so on. The first round went to Tyson.
"Lennox came to the corner, I cleaned him up. I said, Look, we don't have to do this today. He said, 'Oh, no, I know what to do now.' So, the second round starts, and Lennox is boxing well, sticking and moving. In fact, sometimes he'd even dodge and run to get away from Tyson, because he wasn't accustomed to that kind of ferociousness. So, the first day was all Mike."
Lennox remembers the sparring.
"Definitely, he did better that first day. I wasn't expecting his type of sparring. I'm thinking more like it's a sport. Score points, hit and don't be hit. He's thinking he wants to take my head off.
"Tyson helped me. Until then I thought of it as a sport. He brought more violence to it. I realized if I'm not careful, he can hurt me. After the first day, it was a Frazier-Muhammad Ali thing. Me boxing and moving, scoring from the outside, and him using those quick combinations and that quick head movement that he had.
"I put on my Muhammad Ali routine for him. I started dancing around the ring, and every time he got close to me, I held him and closed him down. He was very strong and busy. I remember that he was so strong, yet he was younger than I was. What bothered him most about me was, I wouldn't stand there and just get hit. When a man's trying to hit you, you've got to use up the whole ring. I was dancing like Ali. He couldn't catch me. And it made him angry.
"I remember one time Mike couldn't get to me. And he opened up his gloves and showed me his chin, like, eggin' me on, daring me to hit him. And I fired back five punches. I hit him with five punches and bloodied his lip. And I still remember what Cus yelled. 'Mike, What are you doing? Don't be droppin' your hands with this guy! Don't do that!'"
"It was competitive sparring," Rooney recalled. "No knockdowns or anything. Nothing special. I think Mike more than held his own."
After the sparring was finished, Cus immediately realized a prophecy--one that would come true eighteen years later. "The greatest boxing mind ever produced" remarked, "You two will meet again in the ring someday."