An hour after taking the bludgeoning he so richly deserved, Mike Tyson sat in his dressing room bloodied, swollen and oddly happy, his tiny newborn son in his Popeye arms.
Any other time the sight of an infant in Tyson's lap would set off alarms in every social service office in the country. But Lennox Lewis's ham-sized fists had not just remodeled daddy's mug—his eyes plumping and closing fast—but had also beaten Tyson into a strange new man: softer, human, with ego thumped flat.
"I didn't quit," Tyson said, still looking at his baby, two-month-old Miguel, as if to explain. "Course I nearly got murdered in there, so maybe I should've."
Last week everyone in Memphis had Tyson figured for Hannibal Lecter coming off a weeklong fast. Keep the women and poodles away. It was even written into the fight contract: He could not go near Lewis at the weigh-in, could not go near him at a press conference and could not even receive the referee's instructions with Lewis, lest he again mistake the Brit's thigh for tenderloin.
But Tyson didn't kick, bite, swear or butt. As far as we know he didn't commit a single felony, yank out a single spleen or deflower a single beauty pageant. This time he shocked us by being a gentleman, hugging a gay protester, taking his red-stained whipping like a man.
"I never thought there'd be a problem," he said after the fight, as a woman dabbed at his eyes with cotton. "I got this reputation of being a dirty fighter. But it's not me that's a dirty fighter. I just had to fight [Orlin] Norris and [Evander] Holyfield [that way]. They fought me dirty. But Lewis, I knew he wasn't dirty."
There was one moment with this new Tyson that I still don't believe I saw. It came after a brain-loosening right hand sent him down for good, in the eighth round, and after ringside physician Mike Miller looked into Tyson's eyes and asked, "Do you know who I am?" Tyson walked over and hugged Lewis, who was about to be interviewed in the ring. After Tyson unclenched and moved away, he went back when he noticed that a bit of his own blood had smudged Lewis's face. He reached around the interviewer and tenderly wiped it away.
You wanted to ask Tyson for I.D. This was Godzilla straightening a man's tie. Where was the madness, the rage? Why wasn't he in this locker room swinging at cops, smashing watercoolers, demanding a rematch?
"I asked Lewis for a rematch in the ring," Tyson laughed, "but I must've been a little groggy. I'd be crazy to ask for a rematch. He's too big and too strong. I mean, for the right price, I'll fight a lion. But I don't think I can beat that guy."
Tyson is a despicable character, a rapist, a thug you would not want within an area code of your daughter. But it's going to be just a little harder to despise him now, not when you think of what will happen when those eyes open again and he sees how ugly his tomorrows look.