By Eric Taylor
If you’re old enough, you remember a time just before pay-per-view television. For the most part of boxing’s heyday — late 1970s through the late 1980s – there was a thing called closed circuit television. Although Vince McMahon and what was then known as the WWF were introducing the world to pay-per-view events that could be watched from home, boxing’s cash cow was closed circuit.
The concept of closed circuit television was pretty awesome. A large screen was set up in a large arena – Municipal Auditorium for those in the Nashville area – and the big “Fight of the Century” was shown on said big screen. It was awesome because although you weren’t at the actual event, you had every ingredient that makes a live event great minus the actual event. You had concessions, you had loud cheers and boos from hordes of fans who
were cheering on their favorite fighter (or had money on the fight) and you had the electricity of attending a bigger-than-life event.
The last fight of the closed circuit generation was Mike Tyson versus the one guy I knew could beat him – Michael Spinks. Spinks was 31-0 with 21 Knockouts and had beaten Larry Holmes twice while Holmes was somewhat in his prime.
I remember being a young child in the early ‘80s and hearing my dad tell stories of seeing Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler as well as other superstars fight on closed circuit. He even went to a few despite my threats to let me go with him or I would take the power tools from his workshop and not put them back. He knew I was lying and went anyway.
Finally, June 27, 1988 rolled around. My dad was taking me to my first closed circuit fight. I was always a fan of the underdog, so I hated Mike Tyson. I was only 11 years old, but on that night, I felt like I could beat him.
Looking back, how could you not love Mike Tyson? There hasn’t been a more intimidating and/or dominating figure in sports since. Not Michael Jordan. Not Shaq. Not even Lawrence Taylor in his prime. Mike Tyson was so good that his opponent usually lost the fight somewhere between his fourth and seventh step on his way to the ring.
I knew Spinks could beat Tyson. This was going to be a great moment. I was finally able to go to a closed circuit fight with my dad, and we were going to be together right here in the state-of-the-art Municipal Auditorium when Tyson finally lost.
Then Spinks began his walk to the ring. He was no different than any other yokel that stepped in the ring with Iron Mike. His eyes were the size of Tyson’s biceps. His entourage was slapping him on the back, telling him that he had this. It was his to lose. Everyone in his crew believed. Everyone except Spinks.
Some people went to the restroom or to grab a quick beer before the fight started. You can imagine how pissed they were that Larry Merchant was already conducting the post-fight interview with Tyson when they returned to their seats.
Tyson knocked down Spinks twice and the second knockdown was the KO. Those two knockdowns occurred in the span of 91 seconds. NINETY-ONE!
The longest 91 seconds of Michael Spinks’ life.
It was at that point I realized no human would ever beat Mike Tyson.
To this day, there was nothing more shocking than seeing Mike Tyson knocked out when he lost to Buster Douglas. I’ve said this for years and it still holds true — Tyson losing to Douglas is the No. 2 upset of all time. No. 1 is vacant and waiting for a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even then, Tyson losing may still be No. 1.
To my point, no one has ever been this level of dominant or intimidating in sport. Ever.
Enter the phenomenon known as the 2012 Alabama football team. The parallels are eerily similar.
The mid-to-late ‘80s sports world would build up boxer after boxer believing they were the one who could beat Tyson. Then fight night would arrive and those feelings quickly subsided. Michigan was the first name on that list for Alabama in 2012. How many people thought Michigan had what it took to beat Alabama? Denard Robinson was going to be a great counter to the aggressive and inexperienced Tide defense. Michigan was a legit contender.
Then the game kicked off and Michigan was looking at third-and-long. Robinson had heard about how good ‘Bama’s defense was. Then he saw how great they were. He no more wanted to show his running skills than Johnny Majors wanted to give a bro hug to Phillip Fulmer in 1992. The game was over.
Mike Tyson once said it himself, “Everyone has a plan to beat me until they get hit in the mouth.” Michigan had a plan, and then they were hit in the mouth.
How great this Alabama team could be considered by historians of college football may be damaged by how good they actually are. When a team dominates any opponent to the point that it looks effortless, it seems like the team is so good because the competition is so bad. In other words, you’re too good for your own good.
Alabama’s strength of schedule is already being questioned. No, they haven’t played five top five teams, but then again, how can the No. 1 team in the country have a strong strength of schedule when everyone they play is ranked below them?
Tyson has the same issue when it comes to whether his era of dominance qualifies him as the greatest fighter of all time. The closest anyone ever came to beating Tyson in his height of dominance was when he won the IBF title from Tony Tucker in a 12-round unanimous decision to become the unanimous heavyweight champion. I really can’t remember a Tyson fight getting much past the third round other than that fight.
Tyson, like many people who go from great to average, was his own worst enemy. His fall had less to do with the enemy getting better than it did with him getting complacent long enough for it to catch up with him. The legend of Iron Mike caught up with the fighter, Mike Tyson.
Can the same happen to the 2012 Alabama team? Sure. Maybe the glare of ALABAMA FOOTBALL will be too bright for these 18-23 year old kids. We’ll find out soon enough. But don’t get too caught up in the talk of how South Carolina or Oregon could beat Alabama unless you’re into being sorely disappointed. You’ll look like me on that hot June night in 1988 at Municipal Auditorium when Iron Mike robbed my 11-year-old innocence in 91 seconds. You can thank me after the Tide defense has forced yet another third-and-long situation on the first drive of the game, and the opposing team’s eyes are the size of Saban’s fourth BCS crystal football trophy.