Joseph Santoliquito is a longtime sportswriter, having written for The Ring, ESPN, CBS and others. Over the years, he has covered a myriad events – often boxing – and encountered a myriad characters (including wannabe boxer Tamerlan Tsarnaev). Too often, Joe has been unable to tell the real story, what he really saw. From The Sports Bowels affords him that opportunity. First up: the time Mike Tyson called him a “motherfucker.”
We’re supposed to be the illuminati of sports, the cognoscenti when it comes to all things inside the locker rooms. Wending through the dank corridors of our sports cathedrals, we like to think we have all the answers before the questions are broached, assuming already what’s in the heads of the athletes who we pay to watch play. That’s us—the sportswriter, sports columnist, the broadcaster. The ones who really know. At least that’s what we think. The reality—we often don’t know shit. What follows are the rare opportunities to infiltrate the inside. That stumble into an unknown and mine a gem. To provide something for fans that they didn’t read or hear in canned, rehearsed post-games soundbites. Here are tales From The Sports Bowels.
Moooooothhhhheeerrrrrrr fuuuukkkkkkeeeeeeerrrrrrr!!!!! Moooooothhhhheeerrrrrrr fuuuukkkkkkeeeeeeerrrrrrr!!!!!
It was as if the walls of this sterile, narrow white room would combust, then explode. The words reverberated with as much force as his two gloved fists, clasping into each other like great anvils. Mike Tyson was pissed. Really pissed.
And this was in his dressing room half-an-hour after he won a fight!
Tyson just devoured Andrew Golota and he wanted more. Much more. But the Foul Pole had other ideas, denying Tyson the rite of knocking his bulbous head to Venus, when Golota got up off his stool between the second and third rounds and quit. That was nothing new.
What was novel was Al Certo, Golota’s crusty, every-other-word-is-fuck trainer, trying to jam Golota’s mouthpiece into his face and Golota spitting it out and leaving the ring. Golota told Certo, “It’s tough fight.” To which Certo, fearing what was next, screamed into Golota’s face, “Don’t you dare, you cocksucker, you’re going to win this fight!”
What was also novel was me imbedded in Tyson’s jammed dressing room, standing among Tyson people, many from his old stomping grounds in Brownsville, Brooklyn, 30 minutes later. With Tyson at one end still stalking like he does in the ring. Still feeling ripped off he didn’t have the chance to kill Golota with his own hands.
To arrive at this lofty juncture, I had endured almost being trampled by two large feet from one legend, ran into the legend of legends, wound up being the impromptu body guard/escort of two stars before almost soiling my suit pants being glared down by one of the most fearsome men in history.
Not to mention dodging all the falling debris from the Palace, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, that Friday night in 2000. You name it, it fell, from full water bottles, to cardboard popcorn containers, a hair piece, a woman’s weave, a purse, plastic juice bottles, a shoe and a hat that whizzed by I thought intended for my throat.
In covering fights, I usually liked to arrive early, get a feel for the place. Mostly though, I liked getting there early to find, well, weasel, my way backstage to a fighter’s dressing room in trying to gain access no one else had. At the Palace that night, security was tight. There were six main arteries leading to the Palace floor, but two entrances I was concerned about, one used by the fighters from their dressing rooms, and the other for media and VIPs.
The stars came out that rare Friday night to see if Tyson, at the waning stages of his career, could regain his invincibility. Golota was the perfect foil.
Before grabbing my seat in the press corral, I peeped a small tunnel area underneath the stands, where the TV crew was running cables, connecting the fighter entrance to the media/VIP entrance. Good, if I can’t credential my way back through the fighter’s entrance, I could use this conduit under the stands as a Plan B, I thought.
Only Golota nearly screwed up my plans.
Sitting three rows off the ring, you’d be surprised what you can hear and can’t hear above the din of a packed arena basin. You have to rely on your eyes. It’s when I noticed something strange happening in Golota’s corner after the second round. He wasn’t sitting on his stool. He was up walking around. Certo was at his gesticulating best, arms waving frantically, finger pointing. Basically, going bananas. Golota was going to be Golota—and about to quit. It’s something everyone suspected going into the fight.
I wanted to get a jump on things. I darted off for my secret warren.
That’s when the bombs began raining.
Fun starts around 15:30
As everyone was looking and jeering at the ring, I tried making myself invisible going toward the fighter’s main tunnel. Flash the pass, maybe no one will notice it’s a different color than the required color. No dice. Stopped cold by security who thought they were protecting the President. So Plan B went into effect. As I crossed the Palace, amid a near-riot, a big hand suddenly came down on my right shoulder.
“Hey dude, you look like you know where you’re going, can we follow you, we gotta get out of here,” he said.
I looked up at Vince Carter and told him, “Sure, follow me, just don’t step on me.” He laughed nervously, as did John Salley, who was right behind Carter. Both looked at the mob scene unfolding and wanted out.
The three of us pushed through a human maze, to the media/VIP security guard manning the entrance. He looked down at my credential and thumbed I could go—“But these two with you, they don’t have passes, they can’t go,” he said, shockingly.
“You’re kidding me,” I remember telling the security guard, as Carter and Salley began getting more anxious as things were flying down at Golota on the arena floor, indiscriminate in who they targeted. I pulled out the “Don’t-you-know-who-these-guys-are” card. The security guy did a double take and waved them along, sensing he was going to deal with bigger problems than stopping two NBA stars he didn’t recognize at first glance—nervous himself.
We got by. All hell was now breaking loose and Carter and Salley couldn’t have moved faster. They each shook my hand and thanked me. Plan B, however, needed to be implemented. I found my connecting tunnel to the fighter’s causeway. I remember squeezing through thinking the stands were going to collapse on me at any moment and I’d never be found—thank you Golota!
As soon as I got through, I was tripped by two gunboat ship-sized shoes. Not good. I almost got sliced up by a flying Fedora and now this, nearly stepped on by a giant.
As a big hand reached down to help me up, I told my tripper, as I dusted myself off, “I hated you as a kid that time you beat my Sixers in Game 6.”
Magic Johnson just beamed that wide grin of his.
“From Philly, huh?” Magic asked, walking with a handful of people through the fighter’s entrance. He asked me what I thought of the fight as we proceeded. “I was hoping Golota would stick around a little longer than he did,” I told Magic.
We parted as we turned into the fighter’s hallway, which erupted into chaos. TV crews and executives tried to get through. Everyone was searching for Golota, who had barricaded himself inside his dressing room. I’ll never forget Jay Larkin, the head of Showtime Sports at the time who passed away in 2010 due to cancer, zipping by me and pounding on Golota’s locker room door.
“You’ll never get on this network again after pulling that shit, you fucking asshole!” Larkin screamed. Finally, Larkin got in and you could hear him, all 5-foot-9, yelling at the hulking Golota through the paper-thin Palace walls, “You’re not going to push my camera crew outside. You’re going to speak to my people!”
Then Larkin, seeing me leaning against a wall right outside, a place where I shouldn’t have been, pointed a finger in my face, “You didn’t hear a goddamned thing.” I got out of there, as Golota’s pissed-off corner people arrived. The mission was getting to Tyson. I needed to get to the furthest dressing room, where Tyson was, scrambling through the crowded hallway. I was in such a hurry that I never bothered looking where I was going when I banged right into a human wall.
You don’t really realize how large Muhammad Ali is until you actually run into him. His wife, Lonnie, laughed at my surprise to have walked right into “The Greatest.” A flea flying into an elephant. “Are you all right?” Lonnie asked, mid-laugh. Ali, carrying a wistful tint in his eyes, extended a quivering hand to me.
It’s then that Tyson and his entourage walked by. They paid quick homage to Ali, and moved in one great swirl like a tornado down the corridor. I caught Yoel Judah, Zab’s father who I knew well, and Tommy Brooks, then Tyson’s trainer. I asked them if I could join them. They nodded yes … though little did I know what was ahead.
There I was, in a place as pristine as an operating room when I originally walked in transformed into an unpadded nut house. It’s about then I began questioning my own sanity, as Tyson, in full froth, was livid.
He railed against the world. No one in there spoke but him. He “mother fucked” Golota, the refs, world peace, Poland, Showtime, liquid soap, the terrible things that always seemed to happen to him, and boxing for what seemed like an eternity, though they were mere minutes. Amid his tirade, he spotted me—the face that didn’t belong—in the crowd like a hunter scoping prey for his ire.
Still dripping sweat in his black silk trunks and black shoes, he came raging at me. Volcanic Iron Mike.
“Who the fuck are you, what the fuck you doing in here mother fucker,” in his famous lisp, spittle flying everywhere, including my face. I was never afraid of another man in my life. I was then. I couldn’t move. I became a china sculpture. Tyson could have pressed his index finger against my forehead and I would have shattered into a thousand yellow and brown-stained pieces.
I stood there, trying to wear a smooth, expressionless veneer. Sensing my nerves were doing handstands, Yoel Judah grabbed my left hand with his fingers and leaned in whispering “Be cool, man, just be cool.”
Then, Tyson stomped off, retreating to a back corner of the dead-silent room. He sat, elbows on knees, hands holding up his shaking head. Brooks and Judah, along with numerous others, went over to huddle around and console Tyson. A few minutes later, a glowering Tyson emerged toward me again, and I closed my eyes thinking, “This is it, Mike Tyson is going to punch a hole in my head and piss in my dead skull. I’m going to be on every news outlet in the world.”
But as Tyson approached, he pulled me in, put his big, meaty right arm around my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, man, Tommy and Yoel tell me you’re a good guy. I’m just really mad the mother fucker quit,” a subdued Tyson said. “I wanted to knock his teeth through his brain and I didn’t get the chance. The pussy quit. I knew he would quit, but I wanted to make the bitch quit.”
Then Tyson shook my hand and asked me to give my number to his manager. He’d call me personally in a few days to talk “on the record” about the fight.
About a week later, my phone rang. The man on the other end had a famous lisp and was much calmer than what I witnessed a week ago. “Hey, it’s Mike,” he said. “So you wanna talk about that mother fucker Golota.”
Follow Joseph Santoliquito at CBS Philly and on Twitter at (@JSantoliquito)