“I don’t have that ferocity anymore. I’m not an animal anymore.” – Mike Tyson, June 11, 2005
In 2002, Mike Tyson was exposed as a shell of his former self. His reputation had brought him to the biggest dance in town, a fight with the true Heavyweight Champion, Lennox Lewis, and after eight rounds of punishment, the great Mike Tyson was on his back and out of the fight. It was a huge financial success for both fighters and for boxing in general. Lewis made so much money that he demanded that Tyson fight him in a rematch, which was refused. Tyson would opt instead for a fight with “The Black Rhino” Clifford Etienne, a tough fighter with a fragile mentality…the type of fighter that would not do well against an oncoming Tyson. In 49 seconds, Etienne was out of the fight from a hard right hand, and Tyson was back in the mix again. A loss to Danny Williams shocked the career of Iron Mike, but it wasn’t without controversy. In the first round, he stunned Williams but severely injured his leg in the process, leading many to believe that had it not been for the injury, things would have been totally different.
The Mike Tyson of 2005, even with the Williams defeat, was still a hot commodity in boxing. He still brought attention to the game, being one of the few stars in boxing. Even when he announced that he would be facing Kevin McBride, 32-4-1, 27 KO’s, in his next bout, people were still interested. McBride was called “Peter McNeeley Part II” by many in the media, looking at him as a hopeless, Irish kid, with no chance of winning this fight, despite Mike’s advanced age. Teddy Atlas noted that the fight should go thirty seconds.
I was in attendance for McBride’s fight prior to his bout with Iron Mike. At the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, the giant came to the ring with bagpipes in tow. It would be the first time that I had seen McBride in action, and it would also give the national audience tuning into ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights a glimpse at the man that would be going head to head with Tyson. The opponent was Kevin Montiy, a fighter that built his 15-2, 12 KO’s, record on career losers. McBride lumbered forward and slowly pounded away at his opponent. It was clear that Montiy did not want to fight, and was looking for the exit the second that the bell rang for the first round. After five rounds, the referee halted the action and the big Irish kid was now in line for a big payday and that was really all it was, or at least most thought that way.
McBride seemed to throw his punches in slow motion and his defense seemed to be non-existent. Even though he had 27 knockouts in his 32 wins, he didn’t seem to pack that much of a punch. When it comes to a walkover opponent for Tyson, none seemed to fit the role better than Kevin McBride. He had already been knocked out by Louis Monaco and Axel Schulz, as well as the Michael Murray. He was destroyed by journeymen. In fact, Murray had lost more fights than he had won and still had his way with McBride, destroying him in three rounds.
Prior to Tyson’s loss to Danny Williams, McBride was noted as a potential opponent, but he was turned down and Williams was chosen when it was decided that “The Clones Colossus” was in way over his head with Iron Mike and would not pose any challenge at all. When Tyson lost, this fight made sense because he was on the comeback yet again and he needed a relatively easy one.
This bout was presented on a Showtime Pay Per View, live from the MCI Center in Washington, DC, and it was marketed very well. In the promos leading up to the event, the focus wasn’t on McBride. It was on Iron Mike and how the circus was coming to town. Tyson made comments like “you know what I do” and that “this will be a train wreck.” He said all of the right things and he sold this event like nobody else could. Tyson was selling the event on his name alone…something that only a few fighters in history were able to do, and people were buying and looking forward to the upcoming train wreck. What were going to see? Was it going to be a 30 second blowout of a mismatched opponent, a mental breakdown with Iron Mike doing something foolish but memorable, or were we going to see the most unlikely: an upset KO win for McBride. There has always been that hope for the opponent of Tyson…hope that he would somehow be competitive and it was even there at this stage, but nobody thought that McBride had a shot at all. I had even noted at the time that the fight would not go over a minute, especially after seeing the lumbering giant up close, but the majority of us were wrong and were in for a surprise on June 11, 2005.
The packed MCI center erupted as the former 2-Time Heavyweight Champion entered the ring with a sneer on his face. He weighed in at 233 pounds, an average weight for this time in his career and the mammoth McBride tipped the scales at 271 pounds, the heaviest of his career, but size mattered little. This was a Tyson show and the audience showed their appreciation to Mike for the thrills and oddities of his career.
Leading up to the fight, McBride showed a lot of bravado, going face to face with Tyson and smiling at the stare downs, but inside the ring on fight night, with the hood of his robe over his head and his back turned to Iron Mike, he seemed intimidated. He had never been on any stage remotely as big as this one and he was facing a man that was known to destroy people. He gave Andrew Golota a concussion with one blow. It was the moment of truth for McBride, who insisted to anyone that would listen that he was going to shock the world and knock Mike Tyson out.
McBride looked nervous as he was announced, swaying back and forth and looking across at the former champ. He was announced as the “Heavyweight Champion of Ireland,” a title that meant very little, but made the fight look more significant. Rankings and titles are often manipulated and mentioned in promotion of a fight and the Tyson-McBride bout was no different. For the record, the Ireland Heavyweight Title was not on the line.
Surprisingly, when focus shifted to the Mike Tyson announcement, the former champ appeared to be a bundle of nerves himself, as he paced around half of the ring, getting words of encouragement from Zab Judah, his trainer Jeff Fenech, along with Shelly Finkel. None of it seemed to work. It is safe to say that both Tyson and McBride were intimidated in this fight. Tyson’s losses to Lennox Lewis and Danny Williams may have planted the seed in his head, forcing him to question himself and what he had left and as he stood across the ring from the near seven foot giant, he began to let his imagination get the best of him. Tyson can be fragile mentally and it was on display here before the opening bell sounded.
Round one began and Tyson did not do what we all expected him to do as he remained on the outside and didn’t show much aggression, allowing the giant before him to use his clubbing punches and slow jab to control the ring. The only punches available to Iron Mike were body punches and he landed them sporadically at best. McBride was trying to employ the Lennox Lewis blueprint to beating Tyson. He was the bigger man and when Tyson got close, he leaned on him and held on tightly, frustrating Tyson and building up points…maybe even encouraging a mental breakdown and a DQ win. Tyson began biting his glove towards the end of the round, a sign of early frustration. For what it was worth, McBride secured the first round, 10-9.
In round two, Mike attacked early but it fizzled quicker than it started and we were in for a repeat of the first round with McBride using his incredibly slow punches effectively. With Mike staying on the outside, it gave McBride the opportunity to use his reach and keep Tyson as bay and he did with the jab. When he got close, McBride tied him up and shot short clubbing punches to the side of Tyson’s face and the back of his head. At this point, Tyson was confused and wasn’t mentally in the fight. McBride took another round, 10-9, leading by two points, 20-18 at this point.
In the third round, the pressure of the event seemed to have an effect on McBride. He was very tired, but still maintained the game plan, smothering Mike as much as possible and getting his shots off. A sign of Tyson’s horrible diminished reflexes was McBride’s attempts at uppercuts from across the ring and no response from Mike. A younger Tyson would have countered those with ease and made short work of McBride, but this wasn’t Kid Dynamite here.
Tyson would win the third round with body shots and aggression but he wasn’t running away with it and he continued to bite his gloves during lulls in the action. It has been said that he had done this quite often in the amateurs and that it was a nervous thing that he did that he was able to shake in the professional ranks, but it came back for this bout. Round three for Mike, 10-9, making it 29-28 for McBride at this point.
A tired Tyson sat in his corner as Jeff Fenech assured him that he was fine and that everything was going according to plan. In the opening seconds of the fourth round, Tyson swarmed on his larger opponent , trying to get him out of there and save as much face as possible. Two low blows followed by a head butt were signs of the desperation that Tyson was feeling at this point and McBride, to his credit, kept his composure and kept putting the mental pressure on Tyson, using his size and bulk to his advantage. Although this was a very big Tyson round, you got the sense that he was in trouble. It was 10-9 in the fourth for Mike, making it even at 38-38.
An exhausted Tyson resorted to some more dirty tactics in round five, beginning with a flagrant head butt, but a veteran of the game, he made sure that Referee Joe Cortez was behind McBride and didn’t see it. This round was a complete disaster for Mike as he was bullied around the ring and any steam left in his punches were now gone. McBride was clubbing Mike to death against the ropes and even landing shots from the outside as Tyson seemed too tired to even raise his hands up in defense. Big round for the underdog, 10-9, giving McBride that one point lead of 48-47.
Round six began like some of the others with Mike Tyson trying to land that lucky punch but McBride was determined. With this lumbering giant constantly hanging on to him, Tyson started employing some of the dirtiest tricks in his book. Like the Frans Botha fight, Tyson attempted to break McBride’s arm, grabbing it tightly and then twisting. When that didn’t work, an intentional head butt opened up a cut above the left eye of “The Clones Colossus” leading to a two point deduction from Iron Mike. The writing was on the wall that McBride was going to win and when Tyson collapsed at the end of the round and asked Joe Cortez for help to rise to his feet, you knew it was over. A huge round for McBride, taking it 10-7 due to the two point deduction, putting him ahead, 58-54 at this point.
In the corner, Jeff Fenech whispered in Tyson’s ear and got the reply he had expected. The former champion had nothing left and they were calling it quits. It was quite the site to see Joe Cortez walk over and raise the hand of Kevin McBride. I am one of the biggest Mike Tyson fans but this was a special moment. A man without a great deal of skill, a questionable résumé, and not given a chance by anyone had beaten Mike Tyson. Tyson was old and shot, but McBride showed grit and proved that he was a fighter and it took heart and courage to win this fight and he won it and he should of. He could have easily quit himself after the Tyson tried to break his arm and head butted him, but he continued and when he raised his hands and his cornerman jumped on his back and hugged him, it was a magical moment for McBride. It was probably the best moment of his entire boxing life.
What was McBride’s best moment may have been Tyson’s worst. He lost to a boxer that many thought didn’t belong in the ring with him and now he had to face the truth. He could no longer go on with the charade. Father Time had decided that boxing was no longer for him and deep in his heart, he knew it. He was no longer boxing for the glory or to prove that he was a person of note. He was now battling to repay bills, to maintain a lavish lifestyle, and to land one more big payday to sustain his standard of life. It was a sad moment to see him sit on the canvas, dead tired after only six rounds and pummeled by a rather unskilled giant.
After it was over, Tyson congratulated his conqueror and smiled and McBride gave him an embrace and thanked him for the opportunity. You get the sense that Mike was happy that it was over…not just this fight, but that boxing was behind him. The Don Kings, Shelly Finkels, and other money men of boxing would no longer be knocking on his door and he could walk away from the ring knowing that he was a spent force. I called Mike a meteor before, shining brightly and then burning out, but when he shined, nobody was better.
After the fight, Tyson seemed content, stating: “I have the ability to stay in shape but I don’t have the fighting guts anymore. I’m sorry that I let everybody down. I just don’t’ have this in my heart anymore.” Jeff Fenech was nearly in tears and sincerely cared about his fighter and noted that “all great fighters lose,” and he was correct. Fenech, a great fighter in his day himself, seemed to connect with Iron Mike and saw the man that many don’t know. The Tyson after this fight was probably closer to reality than the monster that many consider him to be.
Kevin McBride mentioned that he was a “hard man from Ireland” and that he had “nothing but respect for Mike.” He had his moment in the sun and looked forward to a bright future. He made the most of the Mike Tyson fight, but he wasn’t able to capitalize on it. Much of boxing considered McBride very limited despite the win over Mike and couldn’t foresee him moving on to the elite level of the heavyweight division. He wanted to once again prove them wrong but Mike Mollo, a heavyweight in his prime with a punch made quick work of the man that beat Mike Tyson, hitting him with quick hooks and leveling him in two rounds.
I caught up with Kevin McBride at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut shortly after his win over Iron Mike and he stated that “The win shocked the world and it shocked me too.” He was humble and was now being approached by fans that recognized him. He had his fifteen minutes of fame and earned a spot in the history books as the man that retired Mike Tyson and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
For Mike Tyson, he went on to fight in an exhibition that didn’t go very well, hinted that he was going to do commentary for a network much like Roy Jones, JR., Sugar Ray Leonard, and George Foreman had done, got caught with drugs, took part in a critically acclaimed and controversial documentary about his life, and still continues to be a point of interest for everyone, not just fans of boxing.
Mike Tyson is a star and he had once mentioned that good or bad, he wanted people to remember the name “Mike Tyson.” It’s safe to say that we couldn’t forget it if we tried.