WASHINGTON - Mike Tyson was sprawled on the canvas, his head stuck oddly between the first and second ropes. Kevin McBride had shoved him down and now he sat there, trying to contemplate whether to get up.
The round was over, and so was Tyson's career. Nineteen years after he became the youngest man to win the heavyweight title, he was reduced to this.
An Irish heavyweight of little repute was bullying him around. He wasn't the baddest man on the planet anymore, not the baddest man in Washington, not even the baddest man in the ring.
He was an aging heavyweight who looked older by the minute Saturday night, finally coming to grips with the fact that this was the way it was going to end. It was all Tyson could do to look at referee Joe Cortez, pull himself to his feet and trudge wearily to his corner.
Tyson sat on his stool and told Cortez he had enough. Enough for this fight, enough for a tortured career that began with greatness only to spiral out of control and finally end in desperation and sadness.
He said he would fight no more. The sport that allowed him to earn more than $300 million had passed him by, and now it was time for Tyson to admit as much.
"This is it," Tyson said. "It's finished."
For those counting, the once meteoric career ended 20 years and 56 fights after it began, with a March 6, 1985, first-round knockout of Hector Mercedes in Albany, N.Y. In those early days Tyson was spectacular, fearsome and unlike anything boxing had ever seen.
The image of Tyson in his prime was indelible in the minds of boxing fans around the world. For four years he reigned supreme, seemingly unbeatable, knocking out fighters with vicious intensity and making them frightened even to get into the ring.
"How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills," he once said.
For two decades, fans thought he was the same fighter. Tyson knew better.
The Tyson who fought his last fight at the MCI Center bore a physical resemblance to the Tyson of old. But that was it.
He was just a shell of that fighter, much as he had been since losing to Buster Douglas in what was one of boxing's greatest upsets in 1990. Tyson hadn't beaten anyone of significance since stopping Razor Ruddock the next year, yet fans bought tickets to his fights thinking they would see the young lion who thought he would never lose.
"My career has been over since 1990," Tyson admitted.
Tyson lured 15,472 fans to the MCI Center with the promise that they would see a glimpse of the Tyson of old against a much bigger (6-foot-5, 271 pounds) but not very accomplished McBride.
What they saw instead was a tentative fighter who landed some decent shots but threw a lot of haymakers that missed. McBride took them all and gave Tyson some shots of his own, while imposing his will on a fighter who once had no trouble imposing his.
By the fourth round, it was becoming apparent that Tyson, despite all his big punches, was tiring. He began wiping at his mouthpiece, a habit he acquired as a young fighter when he was nervous, and he fought effectively only the first 30 seconds of each round before McBride began pushing him around.
Tyson was fading, just as he had against Danny Williams last year and Lennox Lewis two years earlier. He trained to go only a few rounds, and now McBride was not only standing right in front of him, but was landing some solid uppercuts of his own.
Tyson was becoming desperate, just as he was in the third round of his 1997 fight with Evander Holyfield when he bit Holyfield's ears. He searched for a way to win, a way to end the fight.
Early in the sixth round, he grabbed McBride's arm and tried to break it. He hit him with a low blow and, finally, he intentionally rammed his bald head against the head of his bigger opponent, drawing both blood and a two-point penalty from referee Joe Cortez.
"I was desperate," Tyson said. "I wanted to win."
By the end of the round, Tyson was not just desperate. He was a beaten fighter, sitting on the canvas and trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong.
"I didn't want to get up. I was tired," Tyson said.
Tyson did get up, walking back to his corner and sitting on his stool. Cortez came by and Tyson told him he wasn't going to fight anymore.
Just like that, it was over.
"I'm not going to lie to myself," Tyson said. "I'm not going to embarrass this sport any more."
While McBride's corner celebrated, Tyson sat on his stool, a towel around his neck, and watched. He got up, went over and got a kiss on the cheek from McBride.
Tyson's loss to Williams last year could be explained away by his supporters because he tore cartilage in his knee as Williams gave him a beating. This loss to a fighter who wasn't even as good as Williams, who was picked just because he looked like he would go down when hit by Tyson, couldn't be explained away.
McBride talked about how great it was to beat a legend and what the win would mean to Ireland. But the win was over a fighter whose skills were gone before Bill Clinton became president, no matter how much his promoters tried to convince the public otherwise.
"You're smart too late and old too soon," Tyson said. "I just got caught up in that suction cup. I feel like Rip Van Winkle right now."
Assuming Tyson does quit - and it would appear he has little chance of being a legitimate fighter any more - he leaves the sport with 50 wins in his 56 fights, with three of his six defeats coming in his last four fights.
He doesn't want to play the role of the tragic figure, though he blew his millions and still owes creditors in bankruptcy court about $40 million. His ex-wife, Monica, was supposed to take home more money than Tyson did from his last fight, though she told The Washington Post she would not take the $750,000 she was due.
His creditors most likely will never get paid. Tyson will retire broke and bankrupt, perhaps to tend his beloved pigeons in Phoenix.
He talked about doing missionary work in Africa to help heal his life, but Tyson has said a lot of wild things before.
What he doesn't want is anyone to feel sorry for him.
"Most of my fans are too sensitive when it comes to me. I'm a cold and a cruel and a hard person. I've been around the worst," he said. "You can't take away what's happened to me. I've been abused any way anyone can be abused. I'm not used to sensitivity any more. Don't cry. I don't know how to handle people crying anymore. I've lost my sensitivity."
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