When Mike Tyson laced up his boxing gloves for the first time as a professional in 1985 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, he understood the importance of the moment – even at 18 years old.
“I wanted to be there and I wanted to be spectacular,” Tyson said Friday. “It was the most intense moment of my life because that first fight had to be spectacular.”
Wearing white trunks instead of the black ones that became his trademark, Tyson knocked out Hector Mercedes just 1 minute and 47 seconds into his pro debut with savage body punches that made Mercedes crumple into a corner.
So began one of the most dynamic, fearsome and publicized careers in pro boxing history. Thirty-seven years after that fight, Tyson is returning to the convention center on Saturday to preside over “Mike Tyson’s Fight Night,” a mixed martial arts card of 14 amateur fights that begin at 4 p.m.. Tyson will provide the livestream commentary on stimulus.com.
Looking grandfatherly with a white beard, Tyson still showed a powerful build in a white tennis shirt and dark shorts during Friday’s weigh-in in the hotel lobby of the Rivers Casino & Resort.
Tyson, 56, said it is “very humbling” to return to where his pro career began.
“I can’t be a big shot here,” Tyson said to audience laughter. “Very humbling. I’m happy to be here. I’m looking at friends from my childhood, guys that we used to go hang out with after fights, or go in bars, go on dates and now we’re all grandfathers. I’m grateful to be that, but it just happened so fast.”
Among those at the weigh-in was Bobby Stewart, who first taught Tyson to box at 13 years old at the since-closed Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown. Stewart then referred Tyson to legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, based in Catskill, who helped mold Tyson into the fighter who would become the youngest heavyweight champion at 20 years old in 1986. D’Amato didn’t live to see it. He died in November 1985 at 77 years old.
Asked if he wished he had done anything differently, Tyson responded, “I wish I had Cus D’Amato with me.”
Tyson had depressing lows to go with the exhilarating highs of his 50 victories, including 37 straight to start his career, and 44 knockouts. He was convicted of rape in 1992, serving a three-year prison sentence, and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
But Stewart, who raved about Tyson’s work ethic to overcome a difficult childhood, admired the man he’s grown into.
“So mature now,” Stewart said. “So negative at one point, but he’s so positive now. I can see him helping other people, and that’s great. I often said to him, we should go and talk to kids. It’s all work ethic. A teacher’s got to find something a kid likes and hold it over their head. … How much better of an example can you have than (Tyson)?”