Emanuel Steward, who trained Holyfield for his upset of Bowe, saw it early on. "Evander was bone-tired from the second round," he said. "You know, [in his camp] they do all these exercises, StairMasters, have these contests climbing ladders, but it's not the same as muscling a guy around, bone on bone, that you get in sparring. And I know for a fact, Evander doesn't like to spar. He doesn't like to box. He was conditioned for exercises, not boxing."
Holyfield appeared fiat-footed to begin the fifth round, unable to raise his arms or get out of anyone's way. He looked empty. When Bowe lifted him off the ground with a very low blow, Holyfield was in bad enough shape that he thought about quitting on the spot. "An easy way to go out of there," he would say later. Of course, he couldn't quit. Would never. What he did, in the sixth round, was launch a lunging left hook to Bowe's head, a desperate punch that left Bowe on the canvas and utterly senseless. Howe got up, staggered backward and retreated to a neutral corner, "where I knew the ropes at least could support me." Bowe, in a great postfight speech about collecting himself, would pooh-pooh the danger he was in. The fact is, one sharp punch would have left him incapacitated for a long time. But Holyfield, who had Bowe defenseless, could not finish him off. "He taps Bowe on the shoulder," says Steward, "he knocks him out. He couldn't even do that." As it turns out, Holyfield was so physically spent that he did not have even one more punch in him that round.
Bowe used the seventh round to gather himself, and then, as the two traded punches in the eighth, he cracked Holyfield with a right hand that downed him. Holyfield got up at the count of nine, but Bowe quickly and easily sent him right back down with two chopping rights to the head. The fight was over, 58 seconds into the round. Their partnership was finally concluded.
Sadly, the lesson of Bowe and Holyfield is lost upon Tyson, potentially the most charismatic fighter of this generation, whose career continues to be arrested in a mythology that only his handlers seem to still enjoy. He was supposed to make his second comeback fight last Saturday night, hoping his bout with a light-hitting Buster Mathis Jr. would restore his reputation as the baddest man in America, in a way that his 89-second fight with pizza pitchman Peter McNeeley had not.
The dueling promotions—Tyson's fight at the MGM Grand was to headline Fox TV's sweeps-month effort on free television, while TVKO was to show Bowe-Holyfield on pay-per-view half an hour later—were a source of much conspiracy theory among the boxing community, a family that is inflamed by paranoia to begin with. It was Tyson promoter King against Bowe promoter Rock Newman, Caesars Palace vs. the MGM Grand, Fox against TVKO (the boxing pay-per-view-arm of HBO). The supposed provocations were various, but most observers believed that Tyson, with King's backing, simply wanted to put it to HBO in a continuation of a feud that, like the Hatfields and McCoys, no longer knows its own origins. For whatever reasons, the two promotions plodded stubbornly toward a showdown that both would lose. Gaming revenues in the casinos would be fragmented, even diminished, as many fight fans would simply stay home to watch Tyson on free TV and then buy the Bowe-Holyfield broadcast rather than descend on Las Vegas. Ticket sales were down, though the MGM's live gate seemed to be suffering the most. While Fox would surely score big ratings with a Tyson fight, TVKO would probably take it on the chin, losing some viewers who might think one fight is enough and a second at $39.95 is way too much.
The rumored sabotages were semicomic. HBO sports president Seth Abraham says that it's a sad part of his job to get inside the mind of Don King. So it was that TVKO, not wanting to begin Bowe-Holyfield until the conclusion of a Tyson fight, bought satellite time into the wee hours of Sunday morning just in case King decided to start the Tyson telecast late. There was even a worst-case scenario in executive producer Ross Greenburg's TVKO production book in which WBC champion Frank Bruno, at King's behest, would jump into the ring following Tyson-Mathis and go psycho, causing Fox to extend its boxing telecast, thus delaying Bowe-Holyfield.
What happened was nearly as strange: Tyson bailed out of his $10 million payday last Tuesday, claiming he'd reinjured his thumb—which he said he broke three weeks earlier—in a sparring session. Examinations by well-regarded Las Vegas doctors confirmed the injury to nearly everyone's satisfaction; injuries do happen, and indeed they had happened four times before in Tyson's career. Still, the skepticism the pullout engendered did not contribute to the health of a troubled sport. The timing of the withdrawal, if Tyson's injury really had been sustained three weeks earlier, encouraged dark thoughts (many reporters viewed the public workout the day before the pull-out announcement as a setup, with Tyson first mentioning his sore hand there). But even if everything was exactly as Tyson's camp said it was, the affair still points to a comeback that seems without direction, plan or much motivation (and for the moment, without King, who has been in New York City for the past month on trial for wire fraud). Somehow Tyson's dismissing the cancellation as not even an inconvenience to his personal finances ("It's not like I'm hurting for money," was his extremely odd reaction) does not make his comeback any more credible.
What Tyson cannot yet do, and wouldn't have done even in a blowout of Mathis, is deliver on his mystique, one that seemingly gained strength during his prison term for rape. His aura of danger is now rapidly dissipating. What he hasn't done, or won't do, as he culls easy marks for his comeback, is produce a memorable fight. Sadly, he learns nothing from Bowe and Holyfield, who have made three.
After Saturday's fight Lennox Lewis, the man whose gifts certainly rival those of Bowe's, was at the press conference demanding a fight. Presumably that will happen, perhaps as early as March or April. There were reports that up the Strip, Tyson was going to go after Bruno for his WBC title, also next spring. Presumably Mathis will be bypassed. However, neither Bowe-Lewis nor Tyson-Bruno seems as interesting nor as promising as any single Bowe-Holyfield fight. But Bowe-Holyfield, let's face it, is history.