If you live around here, you know The Egg, maybe even have been there (or below it) for an event.
It’s enormous, considered by some an elegant, unique piece of sculpted architecture, derided by others as a feeble attempt by Nelson Rockefeller to lend some grace to the otherwise cold, impenetrable monolith of state bureaucracy that is the Empire State Plaza in Albany.
In John Hodgman’s intro to a music video for a song called “The Egg” by the absurdist duo They Might Be Giants (who have played there), he describes it as “More than just a venue, The Egg is a gigantic cement performance orb, whose smooth featureless exterior suggests a worrisome lack of fire exits.”
The Plaza Convention Center is below The Egg, and on March 6, 1985, the pristine, unformed yolk of a heavyweight fighter dropped into the middle of a boxing ring in front of a less-than-capacity crowd of about 2,000.
Video from ringside shows the baby-faced Mike Tyson in white trunks with a red waistband — he was just 18 — as he spends a minute and 47 seconds dismantling a tomato can named Hector Mercedes. There are boos as Tyson is awarded a technical knockout, the smallish crowd’s bloodlust denied the spectacle of Tyson delivering even more punishment.
Fast forward to this Saturday, when the 54-year-old Tyson will face the 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. in what is supposed to be an exhibition of eight two-minute rounds at the Staples Center in L.A., but to hear both boxers tell it, will be more than just glorified sparring.
The fascination with Tyson will never end. He is now a graybeard convicted rapist with a Maori warrior facial tattoo who owns a cannabis ranch and is stepping into the ring having experienced three years in prison, bankruptcy despite $300 million in earnings and the death of an infant daughter by accidental strangulation.
“The Baddest Man on the Planet,” who bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear, once joked post-fight about his intention to hit Jesse Ferguson “in the nose one more time so that the bone would go up in his brain.”
The Jones fight is available on pay-per-view for $49.99, and because this is 2020 and because it’s a Tyson fight, the referee’s name is Ray Corona. Because of course.
Who knows what this fight will produce, but I imagine anyone who saw Tyson in his formative years in the Capital Region will nod knowingly and have flashbacks to the relentless, vicious, compact combinations, the right uppercut, the left hook that withered men, body and soul. The visceral fear of his opponents before the opening bell.
Tyson was born in Brooklyn and lived in Catskill for the early part of his boxing career, having spent time at the Tryon School for Boys in Johnstown after having been arrested 38 times by the age of 13.
He became a local story for us because he fought here many times early on, four times under The Egg, three times at the long-gone Latham Coliseum, twice at the Glens Falls Civic Center and twice at RPI’s Houston Field House, where he appeared on national TV for the first time when ABC Sports broadcast the Ferguson fight on Feb. 16, 1986, Tyson’s 18th pro bout.
“I just went back and checked, the Gazette had a small one-column, three-paragraph story, ‘Tyson wins pro debut’ or something, in Albany,” my friend and colleague Bill Buell said last week, of the Mercedes fight in 1985.
That level of coverage would change. Bill worked at least a dozen Tyson fights, including his TKO of Mike Jameson at the Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City on Jan. 24, 1986, and his 12-round unanimous decision in the Jame “Bonecrusher” Smith clinchfest at the Las Vegas Hilton on March 7, 1987.
Tyson eventually moved his headquarters back to New York and never fought in these parts again after needing just 30 seconds to turn Marvis Frazier into overcooked spaghetti at the Glens Falls Civic Center on July 26, 1986, the 25th fight of Tyson’s career.
The menacing no-robe black trunks and sockless black shoes made their first appearance here for a 50-second destruction of Mark Young in Latham on Dec. 27, 1985, Tyson’s third fight after reaching the age of 19. Those who did witness Tyson as he approached his peak surely remember the look in the eye of his opponents as much as they do any particular punch that he threw.
“I still have PTSD from Mike Tyson coverage,” Bill said with a laugh. “I can remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, how could I get this beat?’ Because I used to love boxing, but just watching him up close and personal and seeing the terror in the eyes of his opponent, it really kind of soured me to boxing.
“You could see these guys were afraid of Mike Tyson when they stepped in the ring. And then he would hit them once, and it turned into terror. You knew the guy just wanted to get the hell out of there.”
I haven’t covered live boxing much myself, but clearly remember a Kevin Pompey card in Latham for my first one, and being struck immediately in the first undercard bout that, hey, these guys are actually trying to take each other’s heads off. You don’t get that in the same way from watching it on TV.
In another bout, my thought was “This guy just does not want to be in this ring,” and, sure enough, he got clobbered after trying to run away for a few rounds. When Pompey knocked out his opponent, dude was out on his feet and didn’t even extend his arms to break his fall as he went face-first into the canvas.
Watching Tyson under the same circumstances must’ve been next-level.
“Mike Tyson never took a step backward,” Bill said. “He was just fearless and just had this dogged pursuit of his opponent. I probably covered him in person 14 times, and each time I just came away feeling sorry for the opponent, because he was just so incredible.
“He wasn’t a big guy, but he was huge, if that makes any sense. It’s like he was a 6-foot-4 guy, and they got a machine to kind of squish him down. It made him a truly unique physical specimen. He was beating up these guys who were 6-4, 6-5, and just tossing them around the ring.”
That wasn’t Bill’s experience in Las Vegas.
Bonecrusher, who knocked out Mike Weaver in the first round in Latham 11 months before his fight against Tyson, became Bonehugger.
“It was casino-like. Lot of buzz, lot of activity,” Bill said. “A Mike Tyson fight was a great place to be. Celebrities were there, the atmosphere was electric, people just loved watching him.
“I think it was [trainer] Kevin [Rooney] who said it best, Bonecrusher pulled a stinker. Bonecrusher just hung on to him the whole day, just tried to tie him up. Occasionally, he would throw a punch himself, but they were few and far between. So it was 12 rounds of close dancing. So it was a disappointing fight, in that sense.
“I can remember talking to his manager in the elevator after the fight, after we already had the official interview. I said, ‘What do you think?’ and he said something like, ‘Well, Bonecrusher’s going to go back to North Carolina a rich man, so we’re happy.'”
As much as Iron Mike was perhaps ruefully embraced by a mesmerized public for his ferocious style and success, he also offered omens of future trouble through his behavior while Albany was his home base.
In 1987, at the age of 19, he was kicked out of Crossgates Mall for sexually propositioning a sales clerk and becoming disruptive, then was kicked out of a movie theater under similar circumstances later that night.
He was pulled over twice in a span of 10 days for drag-racing on Central Avenue (71 mph in a 30 zone) in his white Lamborghini in 1989.
In 1996, he was in an Albany courthouse after being sued by Rooney, fired as trainer in 1988, for $49 million in back pay. Rooney got $4.4 million.
It was just blocks away from where the not-quite-chiseled embryonic man-beast was hatched in front of 2,000 in 1985, with a guy named Hector Mercedes finding no fire exit.
“You could tell there was a rage inside of him that took over inside the ring,” Bill said. “I always had this feeling, he was always polite and gentlemanly toward me. We never had a problem. I never felt like I got close to him. I mean, I went down to Catskill and watched him train. I had him alone for about 45 minutes, we had a great conversation, but I always felt like I didn’t really get to know him, so I was always thinking he’s probably going to disappoint us at some point.
“You hate to say that, but you could tell he was a young kid who was angry. At times. And that anger showed in the ring, that’s for sure.”