It is never pleasant to watch a once-great sportsman struggle down the stretch.
Wonderful careers can come to a rather unflattering finish. Legacies can even become a little tarnished. The problem is the one opponent even the very best cannot beat is Father Time.
NBA legend Michael Jordan won’t be remembered for his years with the Washington Wizards, that’s for sure. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl in his final NFL appearance, but he was a shadow of the quarterback he once was [insert joke about his dodgy throwing arm here].
In boxing, having to watch a former star dip toward retirement can be brutal. It is a sport that shows little mercy, no matter what you have achieved in the past.
Mike Tyson’s last fight made for particularly painful viewing.
On June 11, 2005, the fighter once dubbed The Baddest Man on the Planet stepped between the ropes to take on Kevin McBride, an Irish-born heavyweight who had spent the majority of his pro career in the United States. He wasn’t particularly well known on either side of the Atlantic.
Here, Bleacher Report looks back at the final chapter of Tyson’s see-saw story.
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Mike Tyson’s ring return had more to do with his financial issues than his desire to fight.
McBride realised fighting Tyson was an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. Win, lose or draw, this was likely to be the highlight of his professional career (and so it proved).
The Clones Colossus had represented Ireland at the 1992 Summer Olympics during his amateur days.
He received a bye in the opening round of the super heavyweight tournament in Barcelona, only to lose 21-1 against Czechoslovakian Peter Hrivnak in his first fight at the Games.
Before the end of the same year McBride had joined the paid ranks. He plodded along yet struggled to register a ripple on the world scene.
Ahead of his clash with Tyson, the giant Irishman had at least reeled off seven wins on the spin—albeit against limited opposition.
In the opposite corner was a man who was in it simply for the money.
Tyson—who filed for bankruptcy in 2003—had only fought three times in the past three years. Two of those outings had seen him suffer defeats against British opponents.
While there was no disgrace in losing to world champion Lennox Lewis in 2002, very few expected him to be come a cropper against journeyman Danny Williams just over two years later.
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Kevin McBride competed at the 1992 Olympics.
That could, perhaps really should, have been the end for Iron Mike. However, his financial issues meant he had to fight on.
According to BoxRec, he earned a purse of $5.5 million for the bout at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. However, he received just $250,000 of the fee, with the rest going to a lengthy list of creditors.
Despite disappointing against Williams 11 months earlier, some of the old Tyson spirit still remained.
At a pre-fight press conference, the former undisputed world champion made sure he gave the waiting media yet another soundbite.
Asked how the fight against McBride would go, he replied: “I’ll gut him like a fish.”
Yet his mouth was spouting words his body could no longer back up. At 38, Tyson was on the decline. He had not only lost some of his physical abilities, but the unbeatable aura that once surrounded him had long since disappeared.
He parted ways with Freddie Roach—who had trained him for his last two bouts—and hired Australian Jeff Fenech, a former three-weight world champion.
It was a move meant to reinvigorate Tyson in the twilight of his career.
It turned out to be the boxing equivalent of trying to clean up after heavy flooding with nothing but a tea towel. The problem wasn’t who was in the corner—it was the shell of the man sent out to fight.
At 6’6″ and 271 pounds, McBride had a substantial height and weight advantage over his rival.
Tyson, who stands at 5’10”, had registered 233 pounds on the scales at the weigh-in. To put that number in some sort of context, he had been around 220 pounds during his prime.
If his conditioning was a concern, so too was Tyson’s mental state.
Once known for bull-rushing opponents straight from the off, he was unusually passive when the action got underway in front of a crowd of 15,472.
McBride was quick to close the gap and deprive the American room to work. Occasionally, there was a punch that drew roars of delight from the majority of the pro-Tyson audience inside the arena.
Yet those moments of success were fleeting.
Tyson did briefly look more like his old self in Round 4, as Dan Rafael pointed out in his report for ESPN.com: “He was going for the knockout and McBride looked a little woozy. But he hung in there, even after Tyson landed another left hook and body shot.”
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An exhausted Tyson sits against the ropes.
McBride showed impressive punch resistance to come through the storm.
By Round 6, a tiring Tyson had to resort to desperate—not to mention illegal—methods.
He tried to break McBride’s left arm, a trick he’d also attempted against Francois Botha in 1999, then he had two points deducted by referee Joe Cortez for a deliberate headbutt that cut McBride over his left eye.
By the closing seconds of the sixth, he had exhausted all options, both fair and foul. The end was nigh.
Pushed to the canvas as the bell rang to end the round, Tyson sat on the ring apron. His back was up against the ropes and his legs were spread apart. He looked a forlorn figure, almost resembling a little boy propped up by his mother to allow him to play with his toys.
That was it. The prolific puncher who had once terrorised the division and dismantled all-comers was done. He lumbered back to his corner but refused to rise from his stool for Round 7.
Surprisingly, Tyson led on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
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Kevin McBride celebrates the biggest win of his professional career.
After it became clear the fight was officially over, McBride and his team celebrated a stunning upset.
Yet his moment in the spotlight was quickly overshadowed by the loser announcing his retirement. No matter the extent of his financial problems, Tyson was finished. He no longer wanted to fight for a living.
Per Chuck Johnson of USA Today, Tyson also issued an apology: “I don’t want to disrespect the sport that I love. My heart is not into this anymore. I’m sorry for the fans who paid for this. I wish I could have done better, but it’s time to move on with my life and be a father and take care of my children.”
Despite rumours suggesting otherwise on more than one occasion, the New Yorker was never tempted to make a return.
Well, not in a professional ring anyway. He did undergo an exhibition tour involving bouts against Corrie Sanders to help boost his bank balance.
As for McBride, he won just twice more in his remaining eight outings.
There were losses to Andrew Golota and British veteran Matt Skelton, while he was knocked out by Mariusz Wach in his 46th and final bout.
Recalling the night he faced Tyson a decade on from the event, McBride told James Slater of Boxing News:
I was very bruised after that fight. But I was on a mission to win and thank God I did win. It showed that the underdog can win. That’s the beauty of boxing. And he quit on his stool, against Kevin McBride—who would ever have believed it? Twenty years from now I’ll still be talking about it. I made a little bit of history and I’ll take that win with me to my grave.
McBride was paid just $150,000 for his career-defining outing, per BoxRec.
He never quite cashed in on his brief brush with fame, yet he will forever be remembered as the man who sent Michael Gerard Tyson into retirement.
It is a moment that will stick with both men forever, albeit for contrasting reasons.