WASHINGTON - The Mike Tyson of 20 years ago, boxing author and historian Thomas Hauser noted in yesterday's Sun, would have creamed the Tyson of today. The old Tyson, it goes without saying, would have sent Kevin McBride's head up toward the MCI Center rafters, up near the Bullets' NBA championship banner, about two minutes into last night's fight.
After five rounds, however, McBride's head was still attached. Unbelievably, so was Tyson's aura, even though as the bell rang, he might have been seconds away from sliding down the ropes and into a second straight loss to a total set-up guy. After six rounds, when McBride pushed him down by the shoulders just before the bell, he struggled badly to get up.
Then he didn't get off his stool. Sat there and let the set-up guy win. And after about two minutes of the crowd of 15,472 letting it sink in, the boos rolled down from those same rafters and down to the floor. All, that is, except the brave clutch of McBride fans crowded into one section of the mezzanine level, the ones cheering to the bagpipes that accompanied McBride into the ring.
The rest let the dream die. The many who forked over around $50 apiece for the pay-per-view broadcast might very well be doing the same thing. Letting it go, the Tyson myth, giving it up, maybe one last time.
Just a few hours before the bout, Showtime boxing chief Jay Larkin had said that Tyson's days as an instant draw might never be numbered - that it wasn't a matter of whether there was interest in him and all that surrounds him, but how much there was.
"It's an event. It's buying into the Tyson mythology," Larkin said. "Probably no one here [last night] thinks McBride has much of a chance of beating Mike Tyson. They're here for the next chapter. It's like the next Harry Potter book. What will happen next? What's the next chapter?"
Larkin was only being honest about the general perception of the challenger. Even the Irish loyalists upstairs couldn't have imagined this outcome. And no one had thought through the possibility that the next chapter for Tyson would be the finale.
But you know what? He'll keep fighting. The court that settled his bankruptcy case says so. In fact, he's doing better this morning than most had anticipated; a source close to Tyson's camp said yesterday that his former wife, Monica, has agreed to waive her legal claim to the $750,000 due her from this bout; and that he will clear $2 million after everyone else's cuts, instead of the $250,000 previously due him.
This city, this area, the boxing public, swallowed this fight hook, line and sinker. I dare anybody to say they're not gonna fall for it next time - and then stick to it. Even before the fight, the idea was being tossed around that if the impossible happened (which it did), Tyson might still find himself in a title fight sometime next year. Had he won, it was all but a sure thing, as long as they could find a couple of more McBrides bobbing around.
It's probably premature to make too much of Tyson's cryptic comments in the ring post-fight, about not having "the guts" to keep fighting, of not wanting to "disrespect the sport he loves." Retirement speech? Yeah, right, we know how trustworthy those are in boxing. There are more big paydays ahead, if for no other reason than McBride likely has emboldened every tomato can on five continents to challenge Tyson.
When he signs for another bout, it will justify every claim that he's still the same walking, snarling ATM he's always been. Those who enjoyed seeing him fall even further from the perch he once enjoyed - who needed him to be beaten not by the judicial system or the boxing commissioner or by his own demons, but by a flesh-and-blood fighter going face to face - will be even more justified in their feelings.
You can't begrudge those fans that satisfaction. Especially not after last night.
But you also shouldn't be surprised if by this time next year, he's not in the middle of another comeback, in search of more redemption, writing another one of those aforementioned chapters - in demand, by his sport and the public, for another fight.
The problem is for those who have the image of the younger Tyson lodged in their heads, the one who would have beaten last night's winner and last night's loser simultaneously.
Those of you who still see that Tyson somewhere inside the one that stayed on his stool when the seventh round was supposed to begin last night ... well, you're crazier than he is.