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If Richard Steele, a referee of global renown, had been at Bunker Hill, he would have pulled the trigger early. Failing to look into the whites of Razor Ruddock's eyes, Steele signaled an unnecessary cease-fire with 38 seconds to go in the seventh round in Las Vegas on Monday night, thus saving the courageous Ruddock from further assault by Mike Tyson. But by rescuing Ruddock from this attack, Steele may only have set him up for a similar mauling on a future date.
Hardly had the smoke cleared in the Mirage hotel's outdoor arena, when Ruddock's seconds—after a furious but unsuccessful attack against Steele—screamed for a rematch. Wearing the look of a man who had won a state lottery, promoter Don King reviewed the case, weighed the evidence, smiled when he thought of more millions to be made, and agreed. It took him three seconds. Ruddock, who had complained the least about the stoppage of the fight, smiled painfully at the prospect of facing Tyson again.
Tyson, calm in the midst of this storm, took on the sort of look that George Foreman sports on his way to Burger King. "I don't mind doing it again," he said softly. "I wanted to punish him, and if he wants more, that's O.K. I'd rather knock him out cleanly."
Next time they should put sawdust on the floor. This was a fistfight, pure saloon, fought with bravery and savagery, butting and elbowing, each man trying not to defeat the other but to destroy him. There was no finesse; no intent to score points for 12 rounds and then wait to see how the judges scored it. Tyson made at least $6 million, and Ruddock, a 9-2 underdog, earned $3 million, but they fought as if they would have done it for nothing.
As expected, Tyson came out like a pit bull freed from its leash. "I want to kill him," Tyson had said, more recently adding that he didn't think the statement needed elaboration. "He has made it a personal thing," said Ruddock. "It's no longer about money. He said he was going to kill me, and that's serious trouble."
At 6'3" (to Tyson's 5'11") and 228 pounds, Ruddock looked like a Michelangelo statue. He hoped to use those sculpted muscles to test the chin that had cost Tyson his heavyweight title against Buster Douglas 13 months ago. But all of Ruddock's 25 victories—18 of them by knockouts—and his one draw had come against either unknowns or boxing's elder statesmen. In his lone defeat, to Dave Jaco in 1985, he had quit on his stool after seven rounds. Ruddock said it was asthma; his critics suggested it was a faint heart.
On Monday both Tyson's chin and Ruddock's heart were tested and proved sound. Coming in at a hard 217 pounds, Tyson opened with a savage body attack. Ruddock had begun his career as a boxer, but as he piled up the KOs he began to emerge as a puncher. "They're crazy," said Tyson's trainer Richie Giachetti, of Ruddock's brain trust. "He knocks out a couple of old guys, and they all go nuts. That has to hurt him. They are making him believe he is something he's not."
"Keep the pressure on, and it's an easy fight," Giachetti told Tyson in the days before the bout. While knocking out 35 of his 40 opponents, Tyson had drifted from the basics taught him by his late guardian and mentor, Cus D'Amato. Under Giachetti, Tyson has gone back to working on a jab and head movement, two tools he had honed early in his career and then virtually discarded. "All those knockouts made him lackadaisical," said Giachetti. "I haven't taught him a thing. I just have him fighting the way Cus taught him to fight, going back to the basics."
Tyson and Ruddock wasted no time testing each other. Before the opening bell Ruddock bounced around the ring, seemingly eager to begin, while Tyson eyed his foe with a small smile. "I don't try to intimidate anybody before a fight," Tyson said. "That's nonsense. I intimidate people by hitting them."
Ruddock was not intimidated. He did go down in the second round, and though Steele ruled it a knockdown, it was a fluke. Tyson threw a left hook, which Ruddock took on his right elbow and shoulder. As Ruddock turned, Tyson's right leg hooked him, and he fell. He bounded up immediately and shrugged as Steele counted to eight.