On His Back

Is This the End of Iron Mike?

There was a lot of bitching about no-show celebrities, people like George Clooney and Jack Nicholson. But why care about that when, at any given moment, you might be stuck in the Peabody Hotel elevator with Russell Simmons, L.L. Cool J, Dikembe Mutombo, and Alonzo Mourning. It was like being inside an issue of Slam magazine. Bushwick Bill was there too, late of the Geto Boys, whose Willie D once rhymed, "Fast as lightning, punch like Tyson, got a whole toolbox that need tightening."

"He's a sick fuck, but Mike Tyson be getting people laid, getting people paid," shouted one reveler on packed Beale Street. "He's a one-man economic boom."

It got a little surreal. The night before the fight, the fire alarms at the Peabody, the recently renovated old manse with the famous ducks, began sounding at about 3 a.m. Everyone was supposed to leave the building, "immediately." A slow-motion panic ensued, with 1000 sleeping drunks trying to decide whether or not to get out of bed or just burn up alive. (As it turned out, some lunatic swinging from the chandelier at the top-floor party had set off the sprinkler system.) Downstairs, 100 firemen in heavy gear mingled with a like number of fabulously underdressed, extravagantly tattooed prostitutes. "Come on, do it for Mike," one hooker said, propositioning a firefighter.

The drunker people got, the more they pushed and shoved; the closer they came to the desperate brink, the more they believed Tyson would win—and they wanted him to win. There would be some redemption in that. But from the second round on, when evidence of the mismatch became clear, the energy went out of the Pyramid, which is supposedly modeled on a similar structure in Memphis, Egypt (although the old one probably has better air-conditioning). As Lewis ran through his studied repertoire, thudding jab after inevitable jab into Tyson's face, Iron Mike had nowhere to go but down. Villain and victim both, he'd traveled a long road, full of misdirection and double crosses, mindful and mindless violence. As he lay on the floor, there seemed little doubt Iron Mike had reached his rightful, destined place.

After the fight, inside his silent dressing room, displaying the strange innocence that has always disarmed even his most severe detractors, Tyson said he had no particular plans for the future. "I don't know. Maybe I'll just fade into oblivion, go back to New York, be with my birds." Then peering at his interviewer, he said, without the usual rancor, "I'm a street guy. I'm not in your world."

The next morning, Sunday, I took a ride past the pawnshops and Piggley Wiggley's on Elvis Presley Boulevard. I wasn't going to Graceland, but was headed toward Hale Street, home of the Full Gospel Church, the Reverend Al Green, pastor. The voice, still the finest, most idiosyncratic instrument in American song, poured forth. "Joy!" Reverend Green shouted. "I'm talking about joy!" Whereupon a man in a green suit began spinning in circles and the band, a great wailing band, broke into big gospel chords. Soon enough, however, the Reverend Green was talking about Mike Tyson. "Everybody saw it," he said. "The mighty Mike Tyson, down, knocked out. Blood running down his face like tears. But was he really defeated? If Mike Tyson was thinking about God, those tears would be tears of joy. It would be his greatest moment. But we don't know what Mike Tyson thinks. Only he does."

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