Friday, 12 February 2010

It was 20 years ago today (or yesterday)

Nelson Mandela became a free man. And Buster Douglas KO'ed Mike Tyson. Talk about a reversal of fortune for two unstoppable forces.

Learning about Mandela was a formative event in my political education, primarily through the Specials' song, which was played a lot on CFNY back in the day. It's still a great song, but I'm glad the lyrics are so out-of-date. That he has gone from prisoner to president is one of the most powerful stories I can think of and, in my weaker moments, proof that people can still prove themselves capable of doing good things.

As if the world needed a counterpoint, this same week 20 years ago saw an equally large (and for some, an equally polarizing) figure begin an equally momentous decline in exactly the opposite direction. That "Iron" Mike Tyson was indestructible was as much a seeming certainty at the time as Mandela's life sentence. He dispatched opponents not in minutes but in seconds, making tickets to his fights - on a per-second basis, at least - the most expensive in sports. Yet there they were, interrupting the evening's sportscast: fuzzy images from the fight in Tokyo - Mike Tyson had been beaten. Not lost a decision. Not even a TKO. But Knocked Out.

As Richard O'Brien writes this week, the signs of Tyson's defeat were there if you chose to look hard enough. He calls the defeat the dividing line in Tyson's career.

We all know the repsective histories of both men since that fateful week. Mandela is one of the most respected and admired men on the planet. In a few months the country he led will play host to the world in the FIFA World Cup. Mike Tyson, to many, is a monster and a disgrace.

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