Mike Tyson has had some bizarre fights in a checkered career – from biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear to trying to break Frans Botha’s arm – but the craziest end to one of his entertaining fights came when he traveled to Glasgow in 2000, knocked out Lou Savarese and floored the referee, all in a chaotic minute.
As the contest was called off in the first round, Tyson tried to land brutal haymakers after the stoppage, knocked down British official John Coyle, somehow avoided disqualification, said he wanted to eat the children of Lennox Lewis in an unforgettable post-fight interview and then escorted by police straight to the airport to get him out of Scotland.
Tyson first fought in Britain in January 2000 and the event was a box office hit. He was greeted as a hero when he visited Brixton and then stopped Julius Francis in straight sets in Manchester. But when promoter Frank Warren brought him to Hampden Park this summer, Tyson’s mood had changed. “As soon as it landed I knew it was a different animal I was dealing with,” Warren later explained.
The murder of his friend and former bodyguard, Darryl Baum, had deeply affected Tyson. There were also rumors (never confirmed) of a physical altercation with Warren over an unpaid $2.5 million jewelery bill stemming from her first visit to the UK. Warren sported a particularly bloodshot eye on fight night when a contemptuous Tyson walked to the ring in the rain.
Savarese was actually a solid opponent who had gone the 12 round distance with an aged George Foreman. But the 33-year-old Tyson showed some of his vintage talent to smash the Italian-American with his first-ever punch; dodging under a stinging, leaping jab to land a high left hook on the temple that sent Savarese sprawling.
He got up bravely but Tyson was on top of him like a shark tasting blood, his array of hooks and uppercuts forcing referee Coyle to jump between the two to end the fight. Alarmingly, this was not the end of the violence. Tyson kept trying to land punches and actually maneuvered around the official, and threw a left hook that missed Savarese and hit Coyle, briefly sending him to the canvas.
Iron-jaw John instantly pounced, however, and managed to end the fight late after just 38 seconds. It was Tyson’s second-fastest knockout – the 22nd first-round knockout of his career – but his cornermen looked nervous he was about to be disqualified, until Coyle lifted belatedly Tyson’s growling fist.
However, the drama was not over. In his post-fight interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray, a fiery “baddest man on the planet” launched one of his most infamous rants. “Lennox Lewis, I’m coming for you,” Tyson said of his main heavyweight rival. “I only trained probably two or three weeks for this fight. I had to bury my best friend, and I dedicate this fight to him.
“I was going to rip his heart out. I am the best of all time. I am the most brutal, vicious, ruthless champion that has ever existed. There is no one who can stop me. Lennox is a conqueror? No, I am Alexander [the Great]… My style is brash, my defense is impregnable and I’m just fierce. I want your heart. I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”
Lord knows what the then-childless Lewis made of it, but at least the concrete-chinned Coyle calmly downplayed the controversy of the ending. “I shouted stop and dove in – Mike said he didn’t hear me, but he obviously couldn’t see me either!” he joked.
However, the referee added that Tyson’s disqualification never crossed his mind as he called off the fight before Tyson’s post-fight knocks. “As soon as I shouted ‘stop boxing’ and dove in, the contest is over,” he concluded.
Sky Sports expert analyst Barry McGuigan had none of it, saying Tyson should have lost. “He could have – and should have – been disqualified here,” fumed McGuigan. “He hit the referee on the head; he hit him with his arm. [Coyle] was there for five seconds trying to pull them apart – it was shameful… He’s out of control outside the ring and now it looks like he can’t control himself inside the ring either.
McGuigan’s former world champion Jim Watt was always the voice of reason, adding: “This man is not a sportsman, he is a devil.”
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Carry on, Jim. Tyson’s own take on his autobiography, Undisputed Truth, gave a warmer take on his visit to Scotland, while admitting he was using marijuana and cocaine at the time.
He claimed: “The fight was in Glasgow and the reception for me was overwhelming. I was doing a few punches before the fight and I smoked pot. There was no problem with the shot because it goes straight out of your system, but for the pot, which stays in your system, I had to use my whizzer which was a fake penis where you put the someone’s clean urine to pass your drug test… I was high as a kite the night before the fight. They dressed me in a kilt and I waved to the crowd from the top of a Mercedes-Benz.
Warren vehemently denies the fake penis story, saying it was “garbage” that Tyson had embellished for his book. But clearly, whether it was his friend’s death or some other influence, Tyson was in a volatile mood in Hampden 22 years ago. No wonder he was apparently taken straight to the airport from where he flew to the United States.
Savarese’s KO1 – and Coyle’s bonus knockdown – was the last time Tyson fought in Britain. He stopped Andrew Golota in October (later ruled a no contest due to Tyson failing a drug test) and fought Lewis late in 2002, losing by eighth-round knockout. But given that the whole fight in Glasgow officially lasted less than 40 seconds, ‘Iron Mike’ has managed to pack a year of carnage into his record, but the bonkers remain in Scotland.
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