Forget for the moment the $50 million that Mike Tyson stands to earn during the next 12 months as he circles the earth continuing his bid, victim by fallen victim, to become the greatest heavyweight champion ever. Set aside the fact that in less than 12 minutes last Friday night, Tyson destroyed Larry Holmes, himself a giant among past heavyweight champions. Concentrate instead on a new, if temporary, window in Atlantic City's Convention Hall, for that is the stuff of which legends are made.
In about half an hour Tyson, clad in his no-frills attire of black trunks and black shoes, would begin his somber walk to the ring. Near a floor mirror in his dressing room, Tyson shadowboxes; his heavily muscled body glistens with sweat. Whack! His gloved right fist slams against a wall and disappears in the direction of Pacific Avenue. Plaster dust explodes into the room. When the fist comes back, it leaves a 10- by 12-inch aperture in the three-quarter-inch-thick wall.
"Sweet Jesus!" someone says softly. Four officials from the New Jersey State Athletic Commission and a gaggle of security guards stare in awe at the jagged opening. Walking over to the opening, assistant manager Steve Lott peers through; he can see a billboard across the street: 6 HOURS/PARK FREE/ATLANTIS/CASINO HOTEL. Tyson stands, head down, embarrassed. An official examines the glove and pronounces it undamaged. "I'm sorry," Tyson says in a small-boy-caught-stealing-the-cookies voice.
A short time later, he was in the ring and trying to punch a window in Holmes. Three times in the fourth round Tyson's right hand dropped the former champion; twice Holmes stoutly picked himself up off the canvas. The last time, with just five seconds remaining on the clock and Holmes stretched out stiffly with his eyes closed, referee Joe Cortez mercifully signaled a cease-fire.
Hardly had Cortez stilled Tyson's guns when Holmes's eyes popped open. "I want to get up," he told the referee, who restrained him. Dr. Charles Wilson stepped into the ring and knelt beside the fallen fighter. "Please let me stand up," Holmes said to the ring physician. Wilson shook his head. Holmes spotted Richie Giachetti, his trainer. "Richie, get me up off the goddam floor," he roared. Finally, Holmes was helped to his feet.
His dignity restored, Holmes walked over to Tyson. "——you," said Holmes. "You are a great champion."
"Thank you," said Tyson. "You are a great champion, too."
That exchange may have made the evening worthwhile for Holmes. The former champion, who last fought in April 1986 and announced his retirement seven months later, had brooded over a career left unresolved by two controversial losses to Michael Spinks. "I hated the way I lost against Spinks," he had said earlier in the week. "Win 48 and then lose two like that. That's why I came back. One way or the other, this time I will retire at peace with myself, and with honor."
Holmes may have wanted the fight badly, but he did not agree to it until the bidding crossed the $3 million mark. The matchup was hyped as a stern test for the 21-year-old Tyson: strength versus experience. Holmes had pared 30 pounds off his frame and at 225� looked reasonably fit. But he had worked out in virtual isolation, and there was no way of telling how much skill and savvy remained in his 38-year-old body.
Tyson was simply too strong and too swift for Holmes, whose once feared left jab had become little more than a tired wave. For the first two rounds Holmes held Tyson at bay with his left, much like a running back straight-arming his pursuer. When Tyson pressed, Holmes tried to find safety in clinches. But here the vastly improved Tyson surprised him. In the past he had responded to clinches by ceasing all movement until the referee called for a break. But now Tyson used his strength to wrestle free, and the grappling quickly sapped Holmes's energy.