CANASTOTA, N.Y. - Mike Tyson was the quintessential knockout artist, defeating his first 19 opponents as a professional boxer inside the distance, 12 of whom went down and out in the first round.
But some of those blowouts lasted longer than Tyson's acceptance speech here yesterday when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Speaking without prepared notes and clearly nervous - his pink shirt was soaked in sweat by the time he stepped up to the microphone, despite the unseasonably cool temperature - the youngest man ever to win a heavyweight championship stammered on for less than 2 minutes before telling a crowd of 7,000-plus, "Hey, guys, I can't find the words. Thank you."
But Tyson, who posted a 50-6 record from 1985 to 2005 that included 44 KO victories, was more comfortable before the formalities began, chatting easily with several reporters who covered him when he burst upon the boxing scene in the mid-1980s, much like Tiger Woods burst upon the golf scene in the late 1990s.
When his former promoter, Don King, came up from behind to wedge himself between Tyson and Sylvester Stallone as photographers snapped away, Tyson - who sued King for mismanaging his finances - tried to force a smile, but clearly he didn't enjoy being in such close proximity to His Hairness.
"Don is so happy to be standing between me and Sylvester Stallone," Tyson, leaning over the stage, told some of his media acquaintances.
Which is not to say that Tyson, appearing to again be down around his old fighting weight of 215-220 pounds after ballooning up to over 300, wasn't even happier to be a Hall of Famer.
"It's a little overwhelming," he said. "You try to pretend it's not a big deal, but it is. I can't believe I'm here. It's something I always wanted."
If only Tyson, who turns 45 on June 30, could have expressed those feelings to the crowd before misting up when he tried to pay tribute to his first trainer, the late Cus D'Amato.
Tyson did elicit some chuckles during his brief address, mentioning that he had been rescued by D'Amato from the Tryon School for Boys, an institution for incorrigible youths, because he was "always robbing somebody."
One fan yelled that Tyson shouldn't have been there, but Tyson smiled and said, "No, I did it."
In short order, however, Tyson moved ever closer to tears, belying his stated intention "not to get goofy and emotional up here."