That power is what sustains his mystique, insofar as no fighter can inoculate himself against it. It just turns up, nobody knows when, and certainly no one knows how to defend against it. But what is not so encouraging is that just as Botha had predicted, Tyson was losing. Tyson hadn't put two punches together, didn't jab effectively at first and was susceptible to Botha's smothering tactics. The fight, before that stunning visual, was sloppy, at best.
It will take several more fights, with similar visuals, before Tyson can entirely reconsolidate that mystique and satisfy his doubters. The even more stunning image, after all, is his shameful breakdown after Holyfield called the bully out and whipped him for the second time. Other visuals complicate his marketability. Appearances at Nevada State Athletic Commission hearings, where he was forced to plead sanity to get his license back, and blowups here and there have not been reassuring. Hearing him curse out a TV reporter, as he did the week before the fight, or even lapse into that old riff about "character assassination," as he did in the ring immediately after the bout, does not satisfy everybody that he is completely safe and sane.
What's more, there are doubts about his drawing power, even though he may have made as much as $30 million for the fight ($13 million of which will go to pay off IRS liens). This was not a great time to hold a megafight in Las Vegas, as it came between the town's two biggest dates—New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. But, for all the money being paid Tyson, the near total lack of buzz was disquieting. It seemed that the world stopped for his first postprison fight here four years ago. This time, in his seventh bout as a paroled felon, tickets were offered at tremendous discount to hotel workers.
Tyson, under new management (his former promoter, Don King, and ex-managers John Home and Rory Holloway are being sued by the fighter), does not seem much steadier for the change. He seems no more built for the long run than ever. But as Tyson said after last Saturday's fight, he's not in this for the long run. Three more fights in 1999—the next, April 24, back in Vegas—and he's done with boxing.
For the moment, though, as we savor the footage, boxing is definitely not done with Tyson. The sport, and many of its fans, will accommodate any number of comebacks, any amount of failure, just for the sake of excitement. Tyson has probably long ago forfeited his chance to attain lasting greatness in the ring, and he could still degenerate into a novelty act. But he can drop a guy with a straight right hand, and he can do it in an instant. For better or for worse, that counts for a lot.