NEAR Detroit one night in 2000, fans went to the boxing hoping for a dirty fight.
It is pointless being polite about the Andrew Golota-Mike Tyson fight – people expected the unexpected, they wanted to see a vicious circus. It seemed written in the boxing stars.
Instead, the fans got a dose of shocking madness and two great rounds of boxing.
At about 10pm on that Friday night in October 2000, Golota quit after two rounds and ran screaming and ranting to his dressing room. He looked like a maniac that night.
It was the latest and craziest incident in the long and calamitous career of Golota. The big Polish brawler had an impressive history of causing mayhem in fights long before he met Tyson.
Golota was fighting a rejuvenated Tyson that night, a man refreshed with the help of Tommy Brooks in his corner. Brooks was a decent man, in the middle of an indecent gang.
Both Tyson and Golota had been thrown out of fights, disgraced after truly ugly and shocking skirmishes in the ring. The fans were back for more, please.
It was Golota’s 41st fight. And it was not the first that would either end in chaos or contain dirty tactics and just outright illegality. Golota had won fights where he had bitten and butted opponents; he often fought like he was on a lost circuit somewhere, a long way from television and in one of the decades when dirty fighters were applauded. Rocky Marciano was and remains the Saint of the Dirty Boxers; other giants have membership.
All the filthiest of fighters have one or two prime nights, a night when all the darkest of dark arts fall wonderfully into place. Marciano had Don Cockell, a fight that can only be watched through your fingers.
Golota had his two foul-filled fights with Riddick Bowe at Madison Square Garden. Golota was winning both before being disqualified for vicious and intentional low blows. They were the type of punches that only good fighters can throw – you need craft to hurt that much. There was agony and riots when Bowe doubled over. Golota was guilty; his career survived, and he secured a world title fight, but in his fight with Lennox Lewis for the title, he froze. It added to Golota’s wayward enigma. The man was a menace, unpredictable and still a leading contender. Strangely, he was polite and attentive when being interviewed, a different soul to the transformed brawler.
In the ring, without a doubt, Andrew Golota was a dirty fighter. He was not ‘physical’, as dirty fighters are often called in a thinly veiled attempt to clean up their methods. The big lad was dirty. And dangerous, skilled in all the dirty arts. “I’m not dirty,” Golota said. “I take a shower three times each day.” Yep, he did say that.
He could bite, butt and hit with precision and a smile. He joked that to him rounds lasted 3-05; he finished many, many rounds with a late crack.
And Tyson, well, Al Certo, a fifty-year veteran of the corner on the night, truly believed that Tyson was the “dirtiest fighter in history.” Tyson had the famous bite fight against Evander Holyfield, an attempt to break Frans Botha’s arm and a lot of late blows. The expectation was high for illegal carnage when the fight was made, during the week of the fight and on the night. However, there was a slim hope that it could be special for the quality of the boxing action, not the filthy tactics. Tyson was fighting for a shot at Lewis and boxing redemption. And it was very good for six minutes.
Golota had been dropped heavily at the end of the first round. He was badly hurt and looked in real trouble as he stumbled back to his corner. In the corner, the wise words of veteran Certo persuaded Golota to go out for the second. Golota was reluctant.
Tyson looked sharper than he had for a long, long time. It is forgotten, but this was a really good fight. The second round was even better than the first.
Somehow Golota, with cuts above and below his left eye and between his eyes, survived about two minutes of pressure. And then, suddenly, there was a Rocky moment and back came Golota. He was fighting for his life, fighting for forgiveness for far too many slips and fighting to restore the promise he had shown during his career.
At the bell to end round two, Tyson looked dejected as he walked back to Brooks in his corner. Golota was possibly one round from glory and just seconds from disgrace. “I quit,” he told Certo at the end of the second round. Certo pleaded, Golota stood and started ranting. It was a lost cause.
Golota was about to take the short walk from his corner and then a giant leap to infamy. He ran from the ring, the missiles started to hit him. It was pure bedlam.
The screened images of Golota, covered in liquid debris, pacing, rambling and stumbling in his dressing room are disturbing. His childhood stutter is back, he is raving – he needs help.
“He’s a dog, he’s a coward,” screamed Jay Larkin, the much-missed boxing boss at Showtime.
In the ugly aftermath, as many too easily condemned Golota, there was some compassion from Brooks. He was always a nice man to speak to, even when he was deep in the boxing swamp back in the Nineties. “I believe he (Golota) is not a coward,” Brooks said. “He had an anxiety attack. Show some decency.” Nice idea, Tommy.
Golota, incidentally, did survive and twice fought for versions of the world heavyweight title after the shame of that night. Tyson, obviously, is now officially the nicest stoner in the world. What a business.