Say this about Buster Mathis Jr. He hung on longer against Mike Tyson than Peter McNeeley did.
Hanging on and hanging on and hanging on, his head buried in Tyson's chest, Mathis' arms were wrapped around the former champion like the tentacles of an octopus.
Mathis' strategy was simple: If you can't beat him, smother him.
But in the third round Saturday, Tyson took a step back from Mathis' massive frame, untangled himself, unleashed his right hand and ended the fight 2:32 into the round with two devastating punches in front of an estimated 8,000 at the Spectrum.
"I thought I did well," Tyson said, "but I still have more to learn."
No argument there.
Tyson will get his first title shot since going to prison for three years on a rape conviction when he meets World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Frank Bruno on March 16 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
But Tyson doesn't appear to be close to the fighter he was when he reigned as the undisputed champion. The rust remains on Iron Mike.
That was evident Saturday. Time and again, Tyson, a 25-1 favorite, would fire his left hook, only to miss Mathis by a huge margin. He missed five consecutive punches at the end of the second round.
And keep in mind, Tyson wasn't exactly facing the next Muhammad Ali when it comes to speed.
Judge Ron Greenley gave Mathis the second round, the only one of the three judges to give Mathis a round.
Tyson laughed off his ineffective performance with the left hook.
"I was doing that," he said, "to put him to sleep. It was a setup.
"Just like society is a setup."
But Bruno, sitting ringside, wasn't buying Tyson's claim of deliberately missing his left hooks.
"Tyson doesn't look right," said Bruno, who was knocked out by Tyson in five rounds in 1989. "Something is wrong there. Prison doesn't do nobody no good. It doesn't do the body no good. It doesn't do the mind no good."
Still, Tyson, who pocketed $10 million for the night's work, did well enough to improve to 43-1 with 37 knockouts.
The final series of blows began with a solid uppercut that seemed to take the fight out of Mathis. He ducked his head as Tyson delivered a second right that glanced off the side of his head. Then, Tyson planted his right foot and applied the coup de grace, a right hand that sent Mathis to the canvas, his gloves covering his eyes.
"When Mike dropped me," Mathis said, "I heard the referee say, 'Five.' I thought, 'Damn, I didn't hear one, two, three or four. This man counts fast.' "
Mathis, who earned $600,000 for the fight, made it wearily to his feet just as referee Frank Cappuccino reached 10 and signaled that the fight was over.
For awhile it looked as though it might never start. After McNeeley, Tyson's first opponent after his release from prison, lasted only 89 seconds in August, the public seemed to sour on Tyson.
Mathis entered the ring 20-0 with six knockouts and two questionable non-decisions. But this fight had to be moved from Las Vegas to Atlantic City to Philadelphia before it finally happened, promoter Don King given only two weeks to set the match up in the Spectrum.
Under those conditions, and considering the fact that the television blackout in this city was lifted, a less than half-full building--the Spectrum holds more than 19,000 for boxing--is probably all that could be expected.
And perhaps flashes of his brilliant past are all that can be expected of Tyson at this point. Before the McNeeley fight, Tyson hadn't been in the ring since June 28, 1991.
He has less than three months to get ready for Bruno.
He'd better work on that left hook.
In the semi-main event, World Boxing Council junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris (41-6, 25 knockouts) won a unanimous decision over International Boxing Federation champion Paul Vaden in a unification bout that was so one-sided that Vaden's $250,000 purse was held pending an investigation.
Vaden, who went into the fight 24-0 with 12 knockouts, spent much of the bout laying back and employing the rope-a-dope strategy. But he seemed to forget the basic element of that strategy, which is to eventually come off the ropes and fight back.
Vaden rarely did, drawing boos from the crowd and a lackluster performance from Norris, who seemed to grow weary of trying to draw Vaden into the fight.
"It was an effort unbecoming of a championship bout," said Philadelphia boxing commissioner George Bochetto, who said he'll confer with Vaden to see if there was something physically wrong with the fighter.
At one point, referee Rudy Battle checked Vaden's glove, presumably to see if there was a fist in there.
In the night's other title bout, Julio Cesar Vasquez, behind on all three judges' cards, won back the World Boxing Assn. junior-middleweight championship with an 11th-round TKO of Carl Daniels.
Vasquez, who had been down in the third round, improved to 56-2 with 39 knockouts. Daniels is 35-2 with 22 knockouts.
Also on the card, former heavyweight champion Tony Tucker (52-4, 43 knockouts) lost a unanimous decision to Henry Akinwande (27-0-1, 16 knockouts).