Booze, boos and betting as fans see; hero cut down to size on big scree ns

Tom Chessyre gets in the few rounds of the big fight at London's Sports Cafe
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The Independent Online
"Bruuu-no-oh... Bruuu-no-oh", boomed the boxing fans queuing in the cold to watch Frank Bruno's title defence against Mike Tyson at the Sports Cafe in central London in the early hours of yesterday morning.

They were in little doubt about the outcome. "Frank's in his prime," said Bryan Knowland, 23, a builder from Cambridgeshire. "Tyson's an animal, but I don't think he's good enough for our Frank."

Many had confidently placed bets on a Bruno victory. "I've backed Bruno to win in the seventh at 50-1," said Sam Fairman, 20, a hypnotherapist from East Acton. He had arrived early to position himself in front of a huge 10ft by 10ft television screen - the biggest of 120 at the Cafe. "He'd better do it or else that's 25 quid up the Swannie," he added, a little nervously.

Scott Talbot, 25, a surveyor from Heathrow, was another Bruno devotee. " He'll win in the sixth, mate, no doubt about it," he said, clutching a beer. "I've got 100 quid on it at 33-1."

Sitting at one of a number of tables with private TV sets, the Southampton goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar also had strong views. "Bruno is the fittest he'll ever be. He's got the power to win in the early rounds, but if it goes beyond six Tyson will win," he said.

The few dissenting voices mainly came from Irish rugby fans as well as holidaying Americans. A man from Miami who had been drinking at the Cafe since midday on Saturday with Irish friends - he estimated they had drunk 20 pints each - stood to win pounds 20,000 if Tyson won in the first five rounds. He was dressed in black tie and had paid pounds 60 for a four-course meal in a cordoned-off section - the ticket price for those who just wanted to stand by the bar was pounds 20.

As drinks flowed and the fight drew near, cries of "Bruuu-no-oh" and the sound system pumping out "Eye Of The Tiger" became deafening. "There's only one Frankie Bruno," sang a group of friends in football style. Hands were slapped on hearts as "God Save The Queen" blared out - the "Star- Spangled Banner" was, of course, heavily booed.

Before the fight finally started in Las Vegas, however, there was a scuffle at the Cafe. Moments before the first round, a bouncer was struck after an argument with a man who had - against the Cafe's rules - brought in his own booze. Moments later the troublemaker was being dragged out by security - and the police were called.

The fight came as a terrible anticlimax. Bruno fans winced at each ferocious punch Tyson landed. When Bruno struck back there were shouts of "Come on Frankie", but even after the first round most sensed defeat. "What's he playing at?" one viewer asked glumly.

When it was all over, the reality of the mismatch was accepted by some. "I suppose it was bound to happen," said Eugene Knfozi, 25, a banker from North London. "A lot of people fooled themselves that Bruno could win. Tyson was back to his best."

After losing his pounds 100 wager, Scott Talbot was shattered. "Bruno let us down," he said. "His defence was awful - but he's still my favourite."

In the post-fight interview - as dawn approached and people began to leave the Cafe - a dazed-looking Bruno stared into the camera and said: "To all my fans who stayed up all night, I'm very sorry, but I tried my best."

Despite all the disappointment and the screwed up betting slips, "Our Frank" received a final round of applause. There were even a few forlorn, loving cries of "Bruuu-no-oh".

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