Tyson Says He Wasn’t Ready : Boxing: Chagrined former heavyweight champion blames loss to Buster Douglas on rapid loss of 25 pounds while training for fight.
“I never took the fight seriously.”
That was Mike Tyson’s comment recently on his surprising loss to Buster Douglas last month in Tokyo. The remark came in his first extended interview since the fight, generally considered to be the greatest upset in the history of boxing.
Interviewed at the home of a friend, Rory Holloway, Tyson also said the Feb. 10 debacle forced him to scrap, at least for the time being, his plan to retire from boxing later this year.
Tyson also said:
--He still is embarrassed by his only defeat.
--He has no intention of firing his two much-criticized trainers.
--He still believes he is the best heavyweight in the world.
--He fell into “sloppy habits” in training because of a series of easy victories as the world heavyweight champion.
Tyson who was relaxed, animated and in good humor during the 90-minute interview, said he plans to fight again in June or July.
Tyson, at one Las Vegas casino, was a 42-1 favorite over Douglas. He had a 37-0 record and was anticipating a $22-million to $25-million June 18 payday against Evander Holyfield at Atlantic City, N.J., in a showdown of the heavyweight division’s two unbeaten stars.
But all that was knocked off the Boardwalk before 30,000 at the Tokyo Dome. Douglas finished Tyson off with four hard punches to the head in the 10th round.
In the interview, Tyson, who weighed 220 1/2 pounds--his normal fighting weight--for the Douglas bout, blamed the defeat on his loss of 25 pounds during the five weeks he was in Japan.
“I was out of shape, more or less,” Tyson said. “I let myself get too heavy before the fight. I lost 25 pounds in Japan, in the last month before the fight. It was too much. I was training hard and just not eating. But really, I wasn’t worried going into the fight because I’d done it before and still won.
“When I beat (Jose) Ribalta, (Tony) Tucker and (Tony) Tubbs, I wasn’t in great shape, either. But I still beat those guys. I guess I figured it would work every time. So I fell into sloppy habits.
“This time, though, I picked the wrong opponent to do that with. I don’t mean to tear down Buster Douglas because he was really prepared to fight me and did a good job, but he didn’t beat Mike Tyson. He beat an out-of-shape guy who didn’t prepare properly.
“That won’t happen again. I’m still convinced that when I’m right, I’m the best fighter in the world, that no one can beat me.”
Tyson said he ranks Tony Tucker, whom he defeated on a 12-round decision in 1987, as his toughest opponent. Earlier in ‘87, Tucker stopped Douglas to win the International Boxing Federation championship.
“I don’t mean to run down Douglas, but on his best night he still couldn’t beat Tony Tucker,” Tyson said.
Tyson, 23, who has boxed since he was 13, said he had planned an early retirement from the sport.
“I was going to quit, at least for a couple of years . . . maybe after the Holyfield fight,” he said. “But now I can’t. Now I’m a whore to the game. Now I have to prove something. In fact, now I wonder sometimes if I’m not bigger than I was before, because I lost.”
Tyson, who successfully defended his championship nine times, said his desire to retire from the sport springs from reasons outside the ring.
“People in boxing have no pride,” he said. “They have no sense of dignity. They’ll look you in the eye, tell you what a great guy your are and that they’d do anything for you . . . and then 10 minutes later, they’re bad-mouthing you behind your back.
“Can I tell you something? I still love it inside the ring. I really do love to fight. But it’s all the rest of it . . . all those stupid news conferences, with people who know nothing about boxing asking all those stupid questions . . . “
Although Tyson didn’t appear to have any difficulty discussing the Douglas fight, he said he is still embarrassed by the outcome.
“I’ve had phone calls from people I haven’t heard from in years,” he said. “I know they want to cheer me up, but I haven’t returned a lot of the calls because it’s embarrassing to me.
“People are very nice, and I appreciate that. But it’s hard to talk about. Can I tell you something? It’s difficult for me to talk to you about it, right now. I’m hurt and embarrassed. I didn’t go to the (Julio Cesar) Chavez-(Meldrick) Taylor fight (March 17) because I knew everyone would want to talk about (my loss), and I wasn’t ready for that.”
One of the worst aspects of the defeat’s aftermath, Tyson said, was the Tokyo-New York flight home. He said he stepped into the first-class section of the plane in Tokyo to find Holyfield and all his advisers. Holyfield, who would have earned about $12 million for the scheduled June 18 Tyson fight, watched the upset from ringside.
“That’s supposed to be a long flight, right--Tokyo to New York? Well, when I stepped on that plane and saw all those people, I knew it wouldn’t go like that ,” he said with a snap of his fingers and a laugh.
“When the plane was up, Holyfield came over to me and said: ‘You OK? You all right?’ I told him I was fine, and that’s really all we said during the flight. It was embarrassing for him, too. It was awkward. He’s a nice guy.
“When we got off the plane in New York, there were a lot of people there, and that was kind of embarrassing.
“Just the other night, I went to a nightclub in New York, and this guy got on the microphone and introduced me as ‘the heavyweight champion of the world,’ and I kept saying to myself, ‘ex, ex, ex.’ ”
Tyson appeared to have reconciled himself to his loss. The marks of battle remain, however. His left eye, swollen shut at the end of the fight, still has some discoloration beneath it.
Tyson, in a hooded gray sweat shirt and loose-fitting jeans, also appeared to be overweight during the interview.
“It comes into my mind a lot, every day, but each time I just black it out. Then it comes back again,” he said.
“I’ve been hit harder than Douglas hit me, and I don’t mean by punches. I mean just by things that have happened to me in my life. And losing to Douglas didn’t hurt me as bad as another loss, when I was in the amateurs.
“When I was 15, I was fighting this guy who was older and bigger than me, in Providence (R.I.). His name was Ernie Bennett, and he was more experienced than I was. In fact, he was getting ready to turn pro.
“I lost the decision, and I thought I won. Can I tell you something? I cried for two weeks. Oh yeah, that hurt a lot more than this one. But now, I’m more mature.”
His dealing with defeat, he indicated, has been made easier because of his extensive knowledge of the sport’s history. Tyson has one of the world’s most comprehensive boxing film libraries, given to him by his late co-manager, Jim Jacobs.
He began ticking off names of great fighters who lost early in their careers.
“Joe Louis lost, Tony Zale lost a lot early in his career, Gene Tunney lost. . . . I’ve seen them all, and they all lost,” he said.
Tyson said he wants to fight again in late June or July, but his promoter, Don King, hasn’t selected an opponent or a site. Tyson is building a gym in Catskill, N.Y., that is near completion, and he will begin road work and floorwork again this week, he said.
Since the Tokyo bout, Tyson’s co-trainers, Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright, have been accused of coming up short in their cornerwork. They failed to motivate their fighter between rounds, many have said. Also, they didn’t appear to have any ice with which to treat Tyson’s swelling eye.
“I read where it was all Aaron’s and Jay’s fault,” Tyson said. “Well, for me to fire them would be blaming someone else for what was my fault. I didn’t prepare correctly. That’s my fault. Did you hear any criticism of Aaron and Jay when I won?”
John Horne, Tyson’s training camp coordinator, acknowledged that there was insufficient ice in the corner for the fight but said Snowell and Bright were blameless.
“That was someone else’s job, to have enough ice,” Horne said. “We’re not getting into finger-pointing about it now, except to say it wasn’t Aaron’s or Jay’s fault.”
Horne said that in the weeks and days leading up to the Douglas fight, there were subtle signs that Tyson wasn’t quite right for the fight.
“I saw little things that made me worry, things in training, in sparring--like lapses in his concentration,” Horne said. “But I talked myself out of my doubts. We all did, because he’d always won before and we all figured this would be more of the same.”
In spite of the pain, disappointment and embarrassment of losing to Douglas, Tyson said he feels he is under no added pressure to perform well in his next fight.
On this subject, he became particularly animated, laughing and making demon-like faces and punching the air.
“People think I’m going to have to come back like this,” he said, roaring and growling.
“I’m supposed to get all pumped up, all hostile and going for revenge, right? Can I tell you something? It won’t be like that, not at all. It’ll be just another fight. Except this time I will be prepared properly. I won’t be in some kind of pressure cooker.
“People are coming up to me and saying: ‘Get the title back, Mike.’ They mean well, but no one has to tell me that. I will. I’ll be ready. Can I tell you something? If I had to psych myself up for this, for what I have to do, I’d be an insecure person.
“Through all of this, I can tell you that when I’m right, no one in the world can beat me.”
A pleasant distraction for Tyson during his period of dealing with defeat is his new dog. Warlock is a seven-month-old mastiff, already 110 pounds and on his way to 240, Tyson said.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Tyson said, vigorously petting the big blond dog’s head and neck.
Tyson, reflecting again on his heroes, talked about his all-time favorite fighter.
“Roberto Duran, as a lightweight, is my favorite fighter,” he said. “When he was a lightweight, he had that fire in him and he was so quick. And he had that Charles Manson face. He was beautiful, man.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.