Joyce Carol Oates on Mike Tyson

In the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_425 Nov. 28 17.41Already as a young, ascendant boxer in his mid-teens Mike Tyson was drawing attention for the rapid-fire, nonstop aggression of his ring style even in amateur boxing matches in which points are scored by hits, as in fencing, without respect to the power of punches. He’d been trained—at first during weekend passes from his upstate reform school—to fight like a professional by Cus D’Amato, a revered if controversial and contentious trainer whose previous world champions were Floyd Patterson and José Torres. “The whole amateur boxing establishment hated me…. And if they didn’t like me, they despised Cus.” Typically, Tyson terrified his opponents by his very size and manner. At the Olympic trials in 1983 the Tyson legend was beginning:

On the first day, I achieved a forty-two-second KO. On the second day, I punched out the front two teeth of my opponent and left him out cold for ten minutes. Then on the third day, the reigning tournament champ withdrew from the fight.

To see Tyson’s early fights, both amateur and professional, is to see young boxers stalked, cornered, and swiftly beaten into submission by a younger boxer who pursues them across the ring with the savagery and determination of Dempsey, whose nonstop, combative, and punitive ring style Tyson imitated under D’Amato’s guidance. To see these fights in quick succession, the shared incredulity of the boxers who have found themselves in the ring with the relatively short, short-armed Tyson, their disbelief and astonishment at the sheer force of their opponent as he swarms upon them, is to witness a kind of Theater of the Absurd, which is perhaps the most helpful way to understanding boxing.

More here.