Thank you everyone for your comments and support in regard to the Mike Tyson piece published last month. Some have asked about some other sections that didn’t make the cut or some other interactions with some fighters. Sometimes, to keep the narrative churning, you have make some tough cuts.
I spoke with Chuck Wepner and Ray Mercer. Unfortunately, I did not get to speak to Bernard Hopkins. I actually had no idea he was at the event until he got on the microphone.
So for those that didn’t get enough of Tyson in their diet…
Chuck Wepner is holding court in front of a dozen onlookers at the Venetian ballroom near the honored guest table. The 6’5 bruiser can’t take two steps without someone reaching for his paw and pleading for a photo. With every request, he offers a quick-witted compliment while the wives of his admirers struggle with the camera zoom.
A fan introduces himself and grabs the Bayonne Bleeder’s right hand, the same one that crunched Muhammed Ali’s ribs and forced him to canvas nearly 40 years ago. He whispers in his ear, “You sparred with my brother, Chuck.”
“Hell of a fighter, your brother,” Chuck answers quickly to the unidentifiable face. “I hope he didn’t hurt me too bad.”
I approach. He is huge. I have been around 6’5 athletes before, but I’m in awe of how imposing he is and how big his hands are.
“Give me a buzz. We’ll put something together,” Chuck says as he tosses me his business card for his liquor distribution business. His fight with Ali in 1975 was the inspiration for the movie Rocky. He sounds intrigued in my history of New Jersey boxing book. The flipside of the card is a picture of Chuck, standing over a crumpled Ali. Few men ever have a photo taken of themselves toppling Goliath.
“Hey Merce, you need to meet Mike,” his former trainer shouts as my eyes find a mountain known as Ray Mercer. Now in his early fifties, the former WBO champion is still imposing. Mercer was bull in the ring. Fierce. Mean. Everything a crowd craves of a heavyweight. A scene of scavenging zombies feasting in the Walking Dead is more pleasant than watching Mercer’s savage knockout of the recently deceased Tommy Morrison.
The last time he was in a ring, he was actually competing in mixed martial arts. He was fighting former UFC heavyweight giant Tim Sylvia for the Adrenaline MMA promotion. Sylvia was another ominous monster who could be outwrestled in an MMA ring, but not knocked out. Never knocked out.
It took “Merce” a mere nine seconds to nearly behead him.
He approaches me with a warming grin. He is a gentleman and I wish I had more time with him. I want to discuss his controversial title losses to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Many people think he won those fights. He’s clearly in a different place, and his friends tell me they are not sure if those losses even matter to him anymore, or if they even ever did. He talks about his charity, findadream.org, and reminds me that being a success in life is about helping children and providing positive influences in their lives. His sincerity is genuine, yet I can’t stop grinning, thinking about Sylvia’s head flying into the stands.
When I think of Mike Tyson, I think of June 27, 1988, and the Convention Hall in Atlantic City. I think of the scowl he wore to the ring against Michael Spinks. I think of being a young boy frightened by the monster.
Spinks chose the ever-intimidating “This is it” – a collaboration from Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. It is if the lamb could not pick a better theme for his slaughter.
Tyson’s music was not actual music. It was just pulsating noises and crashes. He wasn’t wearing a robe. He didn’t look at the crowd. His eyesight was on only what was in front of him as he stormed down the aisle. The WBA, WBC or IBF belts were nowhere near him. Plain black shorts and plain black socks. He was all business.
The destruction took ninety-one seconds. After a few uppercuts, Spinks never fought again, and the title was unified. This is the epitome of Tyson’s career in New Jersey, as far as I’m concerned.
Tyson continues to stare at me. I can’t move. I debate telling him that I’m not crazy about Ali. I’m actually a Joe Frazier kind-of-guy. I’ve always been in Smokin’ Joe’s corner. Then I remember there are consequences for spitting in a pit bull’s eye.