Mike Tyson turned 50 on Thursday, i’ll let that sink in for a moment. In thinking of all the ups and down of his career and his life in the public spotlight I got to thinking of the impact Tyson has had. In doing so, I immediately came to one story, not my greatest moment but certainly one of my most vivid memories. It was a happening and as a newly minted 10-year old I knew that because all of the adults were talking about it. “Are you going to watch?” was the most common question at the family Christmas party at my Aunt Linda’s house. The answer even to this group, which featured about 3 sports fans in its midst was a resounding “DUH!” This event was bigger than sports and it went to that place where a sporting event headlined the A-block on the news. The date was Saturday, December 16, 1995 and the event was Mike Tyson vs. Buster Mathis, Jr.
Mathis wasn’t seen as a threat to Tyson or anything other than a speed bump on the way back to the top for the former champ. This fight came after Tyson’s 3-years in prison on rape charges, but isn’t notable because it was his first fight since getting out of jail. His first fight out of jail was in August of ‘95 versus a guy from Medfield, Massachusetts named “Hurricane” Peter McNeeley and lasted 89 seconds before his manager stopped the fight for fear that McNeeley would take too much punishment. The Tyson-Mathis fight was supposed to take place in November and run on Showtime opposite HBO’s rubber match between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. Because of a broken thumb to Tyson and Don King not having a promotions license in the state of New Jersey, the fight was pushed back until December and moved to the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Somewhere in this entire mess of mismanagement is the reason that this fight became such a newsworthy happening at my Aunt Linda’s Christmas party and that’s because the fight would not air on Pay-Per View, it would air live, for free, on FOX!
The anticipation for this fight to me as a 10-year old was what I imagine a previous generation felt while waiting for Frankenstein or Dracula to appear in a horror movie. I had seen clips of Tyson on Sports Center I’m sure, I remember seeing his knock downs of McNeeley but that couldn’t prepare me for the experience of seeing Tyson fight live on television. I eagerly awaited the fight with little else to occupy my mind during the 2-hour car ride home from the Christmas party, by the time we arrived home my stomach was a mixture of excitement and nerves. Then, the happening, happened. I was laying on the floor of the living room on my stomach when on the TV a huge group started moving towards the camera. In the middle of this group was the most menacing, intimidating and scariest thing I’d ever seen in my young life. There in the middle, wearing a white towel with a hole cut in the middle like a poncho was Iron Mike Tyson. With the strains of Tupac blasting throughout the Philadelphia Spectrum, Tyson made his way to the ring with such an intensity I did what any captivated 10- year old would do: I threw up all over the floor. The build-up and intensity of the moment was too much for me to stand. Mike Tyson was stalking prey and I was convinced that what he was after was a kid laying on a living room floor in Kingfield, Maine.
The fight itself was only surprising because it lasted until the third round when Tyson predictably knocked Mathis, Jr. out. Over the years I’ve searched many times on Youtube to find a clip of Tyson’s entrance for this fight unsuccessfully, the fight is there but not the entrance. There are plenty of Tyson fight entrances and many of them are titled things like “Tyson Entrance, SCARIEST EVER!” I was unable to find the entrance to the Mathis Jr. fight, I assumed because it had been deemed too horrifying, even for the internet. While doing research for this piece I stumbled upon a clip entitled “Tyson ringwalk.”Sure enough, it’s from the Mathis, Jr. fight. Watching it now it doesn’t seem quite as intimidating, probably because I’m older now or because it’s not in HD. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen Mike sing in The Hangover 2 and is, in 2016, seen as an endearing character. He has his own cartoon and stars in his own one-man show in Vegas, The Undisputed Truth, and seems as normal as a 50-year old man can that has a tattoo on his face. As a kid I wasn’t scared of the boogeyman or of monsters under the bed. No, the basis of my nightmares was real and in 1995 it didn’t get any more real than Tyson.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays at 4pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and online at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow The Drive on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.