Dr Steelhammer & The Rise Of The Dark Apprentice
28th April 2017
You may be thinking from the title that you're about to embark on a new epic Harry Potter style Children's book adventure. A tale about a small unassuming orphan boy with a scar on his toe that gets sent to a remote desert planet with 2 moons, to live with a poor farmer and his wife, and a morbidly obese cousin named Dudley.
Necessary steps, in to order to hide him from his real father, Dr Steelhammer, who was turned to the metal side by an all-powerful ring, after getting his foot cut off by an evil 900 year old intergalactic Sorcerer, who talks to snakes and shouts 'Thou shalt not pass', in a British accent as he whizzes around time and space in a blue police box stolen from the 1960's, caught in an infinite time loop copulating with his hot leggy ginger side kick, whilst wearing a fez and yelling 'Geronimo!', as her husband watches ...
Sadly, no. Given that there's a huge Pay Per View event on tomorrow night, you are going to embark instead on an article about boxing. Well, sort of. More about how boxing, along with other things of the time, were brought into my consciousness as a small child in the 80's. So there'll be lots of other fun stuff in there too. It'll be much deeper than just boxing, I promise you. Just re-read those opening paragraphs again - how can this not be deep?
Truth is, on the whole, boxing hasn't been fun to watch for some considerable time. It's had it's moments, but it's also had a lot more overly defensive matches and fight dodging to protect undefeated records than it should have. And the heavyweight division has become a cross between the land of the slow moving giants, and an all out freak show. It's not that it's been short on knockouts, quite the opposite in fact. It's that it's been short on entertainment and drama. Very short. It's been a long time since the highly competitive Golden Generation 70's heyday, fronted by the late great, larger than life, Muhammad Ali. But I even remember better days in my lifetime. I'm sure I do ... or have my memories just been filtered through those rose tinted glasses of childhood like everyone else's?
Like many kids in the 80's I watched a lot of tv and film growing up. It was an era of many great emerging cultural phenomenon's that would serve to stand the test of time. And that extended to the video game world too. The hours of the day (and night!) I spent on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), were simply unreal. Back then, The Nintendo Entertainment System was simply the best thing since sliced bread, albeit with only marginally less blocky graphics. The excitement of opening the NES Deluxe Set complete with R.O.B., the Zapper, Duck Hunt, Gyromite, and with Super Mario Brothers thrown in on top, must rank as one of the greatest moments in any 80's child's life. Well done mum and dad for that one.
But as a child I was never really into any spectator sport of any kind. As such, to compensate for the cost of the NES Deluxe Set, I like to think that I saved my parents a small fortune, and myself some major dignity, by not insisting on needing to wear the latest expensive badly styled nylon tee shirt with the name of a Korean typewriter emblazoned on it every season. Even though it probably disappointed my dad as a hard core lifelong West Ham supporter (although bizarrely this switched to Tottenham in later life as he said it helped get him work in Jewish building circles), following football never appealed to me. In fact, it confused me.
I loved playing it in the garden, even by myself, but couldn't understand the need to shout at the tv and jump around clapping your hands and swearing when the ball went into the back of the net. Or why grown men started sounding so serious when discussing it. A confusion that still holds with me today. Today, as with back then, I just enjoy playing it for a bit of fun. I'm even pretty good at it. Following football became even more confusing to me when I saw grown adults beating each other up over it on the tv as well. I thought that was what wrestling was all about, not football? And then when I found out wrestling was fake and football violence was real, it just added to all the confusion. And what was with all the mindless chanting? So sad. So pathetic. So embarrassing. I've since learned, of course, that the 80's were the darkest times for English football and hooliganism, and that wrestling back then, as with now, has always been shit.
At the the time though, it just felt normal. Like that's what supporting football was all about. Punching each other in the head and acting all serious, whilst wearing a badly designed nylon tee shirt with the name of a Korean typewriter on it, and wandering around shouting dull monotone chants at every passer by that didn't want to hear it. All this nonsense seemed to be more important than enjoying what is essentially just a really good, fun, accessible game to play. It seemed to me, that the more you wore the tee shirt and punched each other in the head, and maintained a serious composure when talking about it, whilst walking around chanting utter nonsense, the less you actually bothered playing the game at all. That's a shame.
Football really is a good game to play. The most accessible game on the planet in fact. To further add to the confusion, the men that took most pride in wearing these over priced sports tee shirts, more often than not, would be in possession of the most unathletic bodies you could ever possibly imagine. To put those bodies in a sports shirt, didn't just look ridiculous, it looked plain wrong. I'm not altogether sure why these people were even watching football in the first place? It clearly wasn't facilitating their happiness in life. As such, supporting football just wasn't for me. In short, I was more than happy to play sport, but not watch it. But I was much happier still just playing on my Nintendo Entertainment System.
But, even though not interested in being a spectator of sport when I was a kid, there is to this day, one sportsman in particular that stood out in the 80's. A completely unforgettable force of nature that just powered onto my parents ridiculously bulky, slightly fuzzy, incredibly heavy cathode ray tube tv screen in the living room one day. You wouldn't be hanging that on the wall! Not unless you wanted to pull it down at any rate. With no smartphones, tablets, laptops, or internet, it's fair to say that TV was big in the 80's. Not just as in emerging cultural phenomenon's such as The A-Team, Knight Rider, He Man, and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, to name but a few, but as in physically big. TV's were unfeasibly large back then by today's standards. And not as in the screen itself, they were tiny, but as in the parts of it that weren't the screen. I remember there were ornaments and plants on top of ours. And the cats used to sleep on it - sometimes both at the same time. These days, I struggle to balance the wii-mote sensor bar on top of my tv it's so thin. If they get any thinner, I'll surely be risking a paper cut plugging cables into the back of it...
Bulky TVs around the globe were reporting the emergence of a sportsman that stood out so powerfully, that he still holds just as much resonance today, as he did back then. Both with me, and with all else who were around to witness this unique cultural sporting phenomena of the time. For once, there was sporting coverage in the 80s that had nothing to do with Liverpool F.C. or wannabe hardman sad acts beating each other up over football rather than playing it. This sportsman was a one man band, although the media had him labeled as one bad man. He didn't mess around. He didn't run around chanting. He didn't play up to the crowd. He didn't make a fuss. And he didn't wear a nylon tee shirt with the name of a Korean typewriter on it. He just got the job done with maximum efficiency and focus, and then calmly walked off. The kind of maximum efficiency and focus that one might see in a small boy, trying to collect every coin on a difficult level of Super Mario Brothers, whilst not getting hit, AND getting to the top of the flag pole in record time. I had never seen anything like it. For the first time in my life, of an individual sportsman, I had a logical reason untainted by social confusion, to be both amazed ... and afraid.
It was the first time I realised that there was a sport I was happy to watch, but not play. Usually it was the other way around. And the first time I realised that you can enjoy watching sport, without having to be a mindless follower of it week in week out. I don't think I'll ever fully get why the crowd beat each other up at football matches? They seem to be at it again today. Apart from that the sport seems to attract and round up mindless, de individualised, moronic sheep, amongst its many supporters. Boxing, on the other hand, was always much easier to understand than all other spectator sports. The rules were very simple. Beat up the other guy more than he beats you up. I could understand that. It's the nature of the sport that entertains the crowd and makes the boxers and their entourage money, sometimes shed loads of it. And I found that surprisingly, it genuinely lit up some kind of innate adrenal stimulated tribal excitement inside me whilst watching it. For the first time I didn't have to try to understand why people might have enjoyed watching sport over playing it. For the first time, I could actually feel why they did. And a few years later, they even made a video game dedicated to this fine young sportsman. One with such simple yet incredibly difficult and highly addictive mechanics to it, that it turned out to be as timeless in gaming circles, as the sportsman was himself in boxing circles. And the best part was ... it was exclusive to my favourite Nintendo Entertainment System!
There's no two ways round this. This sporting enigma was simply exhilarating to watch. He wasn't just a boxer. He was 'The Baddest Man On The Planet'. And it was fully believable. No one would have questioned it. No one would have dared. He flipped the old mantra that "a good big-un will always beat a good little-un" right on its head. Even though many of his opponents were a good half a foot taller than he was, with a much longer reach to boot, they were all terrified of being in the same ring as him. And for good reason. They had seen the string of knocked out opponents that came before them. Each one occurring in a more devastating fashion than the last. The fear was real. You couldn't just sense it, you could see it. I'm pretty sure the ref could smell it too ...
Clear as day, these giants of men, were visibly terrified of this short stocky focused and unflappable boxing machine that stood confidently before them. Fearful that they were mere minutes away, or even seconds in some cases, from being completely pulverised. And again, for good reason. He hadn't just knocked his previous opponents out, he had hurt them; badly. The man was the human equivalent of a wrecking ball. Blocking his punches would only serve to prolong your agony and inevitable doom. And trying to punch him, was sheer counter attack suicide. This guy was like playing a 'cheating' CPU opponent, that has the kind of reflexes to respond impossibly quick with the perfect counter every time you make a move, as, unlike a human opponent, it already knows what button you've pressed, the instant you press it. Like in a computer game on the hardest setting, his opponents were actually afraid of throwing punches in the fear of what they would return. The man was a machine. Never mind the Nintendo Entertainment System, for the first time in these boxers careers, they were finally going to find out what it's really like, to be playing with power...
Now the decades have passed, I realise just how rare a phenomenon the young and hungry 'Iron' Mike Tyson actually was. As a kid I just thought this was normal in the sport. Far from it. To this day, I can't honestly say I've witnessed such an unstoppable force of nature in the boxing ring since. The young, prime Mike Tyson, was quite simply an efficient demolishing machine. Although I'm certain this is where my like of boxing stemmed from, and I have witnessed some truly great fights since then from other legends in boxing (Benn and Eubank, clashing with each other, and with McClellan and Watson being the most memorable), I'm still waiting for that unique individual to have that killer knockout impact on the spectator sport of heavyweight boxing once again. The exciting fights seem to have been exclusively with the smaller guys over the years, whilst the heavyweight division lost all its appeal as it moved off further and deeper into the freakish land of the slow moving giants. The heavyweight division has been in need of someone to re-ignite the passion back into it for some considerable time now. Boxing is the sweet science. Once you reach heavyweight, as Mike Tyson and Rocky Marceano in particular proved, the old time mantra "a good big-un will always beat a good little-un" shouldn't necessarily hold. But in today's heavyweight boxing arena, dry of sufficient competitive talent, it seems to be all that holds. You can almost predict the winner of every fight from the pre fight tale of the tape. I remember a time where this simply wasn't so. And I want to see it again.
As time would have it, Mike Tyson's career didn't continue or end in the manner it had started, or as people believed it would have. And while nobody's life turns out as they planned it to, no one saw what was coming for Tyson. Several life events happened to change things in a short space of time for him: He got depressed when his trainer and surrogate father, the legendary Cus D'Amato died. His marriage broke down. He was ripped off and used by his promoter, the notorious Don King. He went to prison for alleged rape. He lived the playboy lifestyle, and despite earning over $400 million a year at one point, he had somehow managed to land himself in $39 million debt by the time he was 39. He found religion... None of these things added focus to his immense boxing abilities. In fact they unraveled his abilities at an alarming rate. That intensely focused 20 year old unstoppable boxing machine that stuck fear and dread deep into the soul of every opponent that even dared to step in the ring with him, that impossible 'cheating' NES CPU opponent, by the time of his last fight in 2004, just looked like a slow moving heartless bum with a massive punch, fighting low level brawlers, to keep financing his ridiculous gangster-esque lifestyle.
Indeed a week before this final fight, I'd read that Tyson had told reporters, "I'll never be happy. I believe I'll die alone. I would want it that way. I've been a loner all my life with my secrets and my pain. I'm really a sad pathetic case. My whole life has been a waste. I've been a failure. I just want to escape. I'm really embarrassed with myself and my life." This is tragic. Not just because that could be word for word how any person on the planet that has ever been depressed could describe themselves, regardless of what they have or haven't achieved in life, but also because he couldn't be more wrong in his assertions about his ring life if he tried. Personal life, perhaps, but in the ring ... Mike Tyson is a legend of boxing. What he was in the boxing ring, back in the 80's, still inspires more than nearly any other boxer that has ever existed. It will never be forgotten. What he was outside of the ring ... well, that's for him to deal with.
To my memories, the real Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! final fight was 15 years earlier in 1989, when I was an 11 year old boy, and he demolished Carl Williams with another 1st Round knockout. That is how I remember Mike Tyson as a fighter - not his later career. But he had said in interviews years later, that he had actually stopped training properly after his first round Michael Spinks knockout a year before. And so after that, he ceased to be that 'cheating' CPU opponent that knew your moves the instant you made them, dealing you back at least double what you tried on him. His next fight after Spinks, against Frank Bruno, was the first time you saw Tyson wobbled by a punch, and his personal life was seeing huge disruptions at that time too. Although he always still had one heck of a hook and uppercut on him right to the end, his unique boxing skills were gradually to become mere shadows of his younger self after that point in time. The sweet science was losing him. The hunger, the movement, the speed, the timing, the making his opponents afraid to get their shots out for fear of being countered with a flurry of blind hooks and uppercuts ... they were all slowly eroding.
The next year in 1990, a huge unexpected upset occurred, as Tyson was knocked out by James 'Buster' Douglas. You could see in the fight his head movement had gone, and after, his aura of invincibility was gone for ever too. And although he still had several impressive early round knockouts after this loss, he was never the same as a boxer again. The media generated concoction of 'The Baddest Man On The Planet', the 'Iron' Mike Tyson we all loved to be terrified of, ceased to exist after that moment. He became just Mike Tyson. A vulnerable young man with deep seated mental health problems and psychological issues, that had been hung out to dry by the people he trusted most, and that used to be a great boxer. Fame, other people, and himself, had crippled his focus and drive like a cancer. A cancer that had already spread out of control. And, as abruptly as he had burst onto the scene only a few years before, suddenly, 'Iron' Mike Tyson was gone. All credit to Buster Douglas though, who's mum had predicted her son would win that night, and who had died within a month before the fight. He fought the fight of his life. Who knows, perhaps he would have found the depths to beat any man standing there before him on that night? When the 42-1 underdog was asked how he found the courage to come back and KO Tyson in the 10th, after virtually being knocked out with a 9 count himself in the 8th, he broke down in tears and answered, "Because of my mother...God bless her heart". History was made.
But time flows differently in a child's mind to an adults. Where as most adults realise eventually that there is absolutely nothing that isn't temporary in this world, to a child, everything is always going to be forever. Oh to be a child again. Such precious times. As such, a few years in a child's mind can hold a great long lasting impact over your lifetime. I'm glad to have been around to witness a true sporting phenomena emerge as an innocent child. In my mind, Mike Tyson floats around in the same circles as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Back to The Future, Ghostbusters, Transformers, The Nintendo Entertainment System - and that's a great space to occupy let me tell you. The haloed childhood greats zone. It's a timeless zone - nothing in there can ever be lessened. Nothing in there can ever be changed, added, or removed. It's a magical place in the mind, destined to be recalled time and time again, even if with rose tinted glasses. And such was his impact as a sportsman, every heavyweight boxer since, and before, has been compared in my mind as to whether they would have stood a chance against the young 'Iron' Mike Tyson as I remember him. So far, from all those that have come after, no one could have passed that test. And from what I've learnt from reading and watching fight videos on You Tube since, only a select few 'may' have from before. But the truth is, it impossible to really know either way. This is sport after all.
His re-emergence later on, and notorious fights against Evander Hollyfield, and Lennox Lewis, were just circus sideshows of his younger self. He may as well have been a bearded lady. Tyson was a freak show, bought back after prison and time out to draw the big purse and generate a media frenzy to max out the pay per view. Still a formidable punching powerhouse of aggression, but sweet science wise, he was well past his peak and it showed. After reading his auto biography, it was clear he had become a horrible, brutal, angry, violent, self obsessed, messed up man, suffering from all manner of mental health issues. Both in and outside the ring. He didn't care about boxing anymore, he was just living his life for the next high; sex, drugs, money ... whatever. He was swimming in all of it!
You can take the man out of the street, but you can't take the street out of the man ... only I don't believe that. I believe people can change. Don't get me wrong, I can ackwowledge that he had the worst upbringing imagainable, but there becomes a point with success, and all the riches that it brings, that a person should be able to choose to overcome the negative social programing of their past. Mike Tyson couldn't. He went all out and magnified it. In that respect, he was as weak as a small child. He was no Muhammad Ali. And it's that that destroyed his genuine potential of being the best ever. His own mind. With that mindset, he was always going to be a massivly flawed individual. Cus D'Amato was never going to live forever, but he knew what he was doing. Tyson was his last chance to prove how great he was as a trainer. Angelo Dundee had all the accreditation as he trained Ali; but Ali was a natural born raw talent with a unique fluent style of his own never seen before or after. Mike Tyson was programmed from scratch from the streets by D'Amato. Cus D'Amato programmed Mike Tyson like he was a computer, and man, did he do a good job on him.
He built an absolute monster of unprecedented magnitude in Mike Tyson, that could demolish anyhting in it's path with ruthless efficiency, but he also tamed that monster for his own benefit outside of boxing. But without Cus to keep the discipline, via the genuine fatherly love and education he had and provided for Mike, 'Iron' Mike Tyson didn't stand a chance against himself let alone all the others around him that wanted him for his money. Like Cus had said to him, "no man can take what you do." Neither, it would seem, could Mike Tyson himself. The monster inside was just too big; too powerful. No man could take what he did ...
In truth, the year older Lennox Lewis knocking him out in the manner he did, was nothing short of justice administered. He beat him up, cut him up, and knocked him clean out. It needed to happen. Mike Tyson, a once loved and respected household brand in the 80's, had become an abomination.
Mike Tyson became like a straight to DVD bad Disney sequel that blatantly aimed to cash in on the success of the original with no real merit of its own. His body was there in the ring, raking in the dollars, full of extreme brute force and power still, but the heart, desire, and sublime boxing abilityof his youth, had been stripped out long ago.
But then again, when you are as famous as Tyson was; and we're talking on par with Michael Jackson in the 80's; it was him that started the whole gangster rap bling image; finincial ups and downs swing in the multi millions.
His debts got cleared by his name alone. His aura got him into Hollywood films. And, he now seems to have mellowed out and owned all his mistakes in life. Dare I say it, from the odd interviews I have seen him in, and things I've read of him recently, after a life that could quite easily have landed him dead, 'Iron' Mike Tyson, 'The Baddest Man On The Planet', the terror of the boxing ring, who was done for rape, who bit off a chunk of Evander Hollyfield's ear, and who has said and done some seriously bad stuff ... actually sounds like a nice guy these days? Who knows. Like I said, people can change, and life never turns out as you expect it to. Even the best laid plans can go wrong. And sometimes you're better off when they do. And sometimes you are not. You never know until life smacks you across the face like a sledgehammer to see how you respond.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's amazing how things can influence you as a small child. People, films, stories, sports, games - you remember how they made you feel when you were young. You remember those snapshots in time, and they stay with you without change. And you want them to. You don't want them to change. These snapshots continue to shape and influence you as you grow, even if you don't realise it. There are times where you forget all about them, but even still, every now and again, you revisit them and remember. You remember how they made you feel. And it's marvelous.
They become your own personal fixed points in time, like in Doctor Who, you know, those times that The Doctor always says it's impossible to change. In your mind, they are fixed. And without even realising it, they become a reference, a measuring stick, a point of comparison to all new things that arrive in your life. They might not be better than the new things, many times they almost certainly aren't - film effects can look dated, story arcs need to be much smarter these days, training techniques and technologies have improved massively in sports, and video games in particular have improved and evolved beyond measure - but sometimes they just feel like they were better, simply because what you are actually remembering, are those feelings of absolute amazement that are only really possible as a small child. That is why we cling on to them. That is why we don't want them to change. But the reality is, things do change. Things evolve. And things do improve. The things you remember fondly from your childhood, are because they are from your childhood - kids today will not be as impressed by them as you were. They have their own time to experience and enjoy. Let them find their own pleasures. Even better, try to enjoy them with them. Still, it could be worse I suppose, you could be from the baby boomer generation that continuously talks about how little they used to have compared to today's 'spoilt' youth ...
Realising this, I decided long ago that I was never going to be the parent that says 'things were better or worse in my day'. They probably weren't. I was never going to be the parent says 'when we were young we used to ...'. That's completely irrelevant, it's a different world now with loads of stuff that didn't exist when you were young. I was never going to be the parent that is constantly running down new things that my children get to experience for the first time. It's important to embrace and enjoy the new, and all the changes that come with it, just as much as it is to remember and cherish the past. Especially if you have children.
Which leads me nicely back to the title of the article - Dr Steelhammer & The Rise Of The Dark Apprentice. Look at the picture below and I'll let you decide who is who ...
It looks set to be a great fight. Like two grand prix drivers in the same car, only one is older than the other. You know the older car runs fantastically well under pressure, where as the new car hasn't been properly road tested yet - it could fall apart under pressure for all we know. We shall see I guess. Looks like a great fight ahead. A real positive event for heavyweight boxing both to inspire new boxers, and to inspire spectatorship by injecting some much needed fire back into the stale heavyweight division with some great competition.
And yet at the back of my crabby ageing mind, I find myself thinking, a young 'Iron' Mike Tyson would just slip the jab and weave in, followed by a flurry of body hooks and a killer uppercut. He would have wiped the floor with these giant, cumbersome, heavy fisted, slow moving, muscle bound beasts, and in exhilarating style. But then I'm thinking, is that a fair analysis? He may be boring to watch, but Klitschko had been beating all manner of opponent, many much younger than himself, for a decade. That's very impressive and makes him a great ex-Champion. It wasn't luck. And with hindsight, Tyson's opponents in his prime were not exactly a stellar act themselves. Am I just wearing rose tinted glasses or would Tyson really have wiped the floor with these two in few rounds?
The truth is, it's irrelevant, we will never know. And this is now, not then. Kudos to both Joshua and Klitschko for making this genuine super fight happen. I hope the fight can live up to its billing. Both for the fighters and for the new generations that they inspire. Even though age wise, one is on the way in, and one is on the way out, you are the main men now. I have a feeling this will be one of The Doctor's fixed points in time - A fight of the ages. It's meant to happen. Everything seems to have fallen into place at the right time. And I have a feeling that there will be people remembering this fight for some time to come, for reasons we will just have to wait and see ... I for one am already looking forward to to the rematch!
Make history fellas - and may the best man win!