Let's rewind back to February 2003. When I heard that Tyson was fighting Clifford Etienne, I felt that Clifford would murder him. Yeah, Clifford was a bum I'd never heard of previously. But Tyson looked so bad against Lewis that I'd pick almost anyone to beat him by this point.
For the Tyson v. Lewis fight, I threw a big fight party. For the Tyson v. Clifford Etienne fight, the party this time was just me, my dad, and a beer. (His beer)
I remember Mystikal performed the entrance music for Mike. He did the song, Danger!! (Been So Long) I still remember that album. That song might have been his last big hit. Tyson came out to Ambition Az A Ridah, one of the best 2Pac songs of all time. It was always nice to see Tyson honor his slain friend that way.
Now for the fight. (If you can call it that).
The fight was explosive as both men charged right into each other like rhinos. Clifford tossed a jab first. Tyson was headhunting, slinging hooks to the head after jabbing his way inside. Clifford was ducking low, bobbing and weaving under Mike’s vicious hooks. A young Tyson would have taken advantage of Clifford’s openings with an uppercut. By the time Tyson launched one, Clifford’s head was out of position.
Clifford grabbed onto Tyson and both guys went tumbling to the ground. Remember. We’re only 13 seconds into the fight here. This was happening fast.
Once the ref waved both men back into action, Tyson charged in with a wild left hook but Clifford ducked and went back to bobbing and weaving. Tyson, to his credit, threw to the body and even threw another uppercut to the crouching Etienne, but couldn’t land because Clifford kept moving his head and smothering the former heavyweight champion. Both men got entangled and were (again) separated by the referee.
Tyson was famous for his combinations during his youth, and what followed next is a reason why.
Clifford managed to dodge another Tyson left hook, but was surprised when Tyson smashed him with a right hook on the chin. Down he went. This was a flash of the 19 year-old Tyson; the kid who threw “punches in bunches.” If one punch failed to land, there would always be a follow-up or two that would inevitably catch you flush.
Cliff fell under his own leg, which looked even more painful than the punch. Once on the ground, he removed his mouthpiece and got comfortable laying on the canvas as the referee counted him out.
I was shocked and started rejoicing. Iron Mike was back!!! This was the Mike Tyson I remembered from my childhood. Maybe Lennox Lewis was just too big and too good for Tyson? Maybe Lewis would retire? Maybe Tyson now had a good chance to win the title again? All these thoughts and possibilities flashed through my mind. I suddenly had hope for Tyson. Right in front of my eyes, the former "Kid Dynamite" had knocked out Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds. I was caught up in the moment.
Then my dad brought me back to reality. “He (Clifford) probably took a dive.”
I hadn't thought of that. And during the replays you see how smoothly Cliff removed his mouthpiece and made no effort to get up. He was considered a nobody, likely hired to help Tyson get some of his hard-hitting reputation back. I realized my dad was probably right.
The post-fight interview went much longer than the fight itself. Tyson said he broke his back while riding a motorcycle. And he also talked about his new tattoo on his face. Even though he wasn't saying crazy things about kissing Razor Ruddock's big lips or eating Lennox Lewis' children, this interview was still quite bizarre.
Like my dad said, the knockout could be suspect. Considering the way Clifford was content to lay there during the ten-count, and the way he was so quick to embrace and whisper to Tyson when it was over....makes you scratch your head a bit.
Another thing. Tyson is the most explosive in the first few rounds. Why the hell did Clifford come right at Tyson at the start of the fight? That's suicide. A stupid strategy. By this point, Tyson had been defeated four times by three men, and they each finished him using similar tactics. Surely Clifford knew better.
Clifford was also noticeably taller than Mike. Why did he come right at Tyson and fight by ducking into his reach? That's another questionable strategy. If you come right at Tyson and duck into his range, it's only a matter of time before you get blasted out. Clifford should have used his height to his advantage. There is no way someone tall like Muhammad Ali would charge at Tyson and foolishly fight him this way.
But to be fair, Clifford did seem a bit dazed after the knockout. Today I feel the same as I did that night as a teenager - the punch was legit, but Clifford was content to lay there and get his money. He knew he had no chance. He and Tyson put on a nice little 49-second show, and they both got paid. That isn't fair to the people spending money on this farce. But that's the fight game.
Honestly, Tyson was long over by this point. You could argue that his decline began with Cus D'Amato died. Tyson began to ignore his skills after firing Kevin Rooney, often looking for quick knockouts with his right hand. Then came the prison sentence, a year suspension after biting Holyfield, and here we were after the Lewis loss.
Tyson only fought two more times, losing to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride. Both fights took place when I was in college. I predicted Tyson would destroy the huge, lumbering McBride, but instead he quit in the sixth round and retired. He was actually winning the fight, en route to a split decision victory.
Fighters like Joe Louis, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali just didn’t have it anymore when they retired. They were mere shadows of themselves. The 37 year-old Joe Louis that was knocked out by Rocky Marciano was still fundamentally sound. His jab still had some bite to it, and his left hook was still mean. In his fights with Ezzard Charles and Marciano, we saw flashes of the prime Brown Bomber, as he tried to unleash the devastating combinations or “Joe Louis Specials” that he once routinely destroyed guys with. He was arguably the best finisher of all time. Fast forward to October 1951; age had robbed him of those graceful reflexes. He was too old to fight off a younger, stronger heavyweight like Marciano.
Ali had deteriorated to an even worse state by the time he fought Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbrick in his last fights. His arch nemesis Joe Frazier didn’t do much better in his final fight either. Against Jumbo Cummings, Frazier did his best and fought to win. He fought with his usual aggression and tried to kill the guy. The crowd gasped each time Frazier slung his fierce left hook, but the smoke was gone.
In their last fights, Ali, Frazier and Louis fought to win, but their declining skills prevented it. Tyson, on the other hand, maintained the fast hands and brutal power of his youth, but mentally caved in. He said himself after the McBride fight, “I don’t have the fighting guts no more. I haven’t loved this since 1990.” It showed.