Boxing: The disturbing truth behind Tyson's fading aura

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The Independent Online
AFTER SCANNING the many thousands of words that were tapped out last week about Mike Tyson and watching his performance against Francois Botha on television, two conclusions have been reached personally about the former undisputed heavyweight champion.

The first - and it allows for the disturbing effects of ghoulish media attention - is that Tyson has become a bore. The other, not by any means an original or ringing announcement, is that he will not be remembered as a truly great fighter.

Television's two dimensional restriction could not conceal from this viewer the technical shortcomings evident in Tyson before he delivered the short, stunning right that brought a fifth-round knock-out over Botha in Las Vegas last Saturday.

Long-range consultations with a number of good judges who were close to the action added to the impression that Tyson would now probably be at risk against any well- schooled, resolute opponent.

In truth, Tyson is finished, only a ghost of the fighter who once spread terror throughout the heavyweight division, lessons imparted by his mentor Cus D'Amato long since forgotten.

When Tyson was launched on a career that became quickly spectacular, every version of the championship his at barely 22 years old, he was clearly a programmed fighter, his natural power refined by D'Amato's tuition, responding to numbered combinations called out from his corner. D'Amato's death, a rancorous split with trainer Kevin Rooney, and Don King's seductions left Tyson without critical ring guidance. A three-year prison sentence for the rape of a beauty queen heightened fascination with Tyson, making him even more marketable, but it put paid to him as a fighter.

Suggestions that he could emulate Muhammad Ali's remarkable resurrection after a long absence from the ring were hogwash. Apart from anything else, and size comes into it, Tyson did not have Ali's talent for extemporisation.

Realising that his leg speed, exceptional in a heavyweight, had gone, Ali first explored the extent of his will and then devised a method of smothering that was taken a daring stage further when he drew George Foreman's fire in Zaire before knocking him out to sensationally regain the title.

The latent intellectualism attributed to Tyson has not shown itself in the ring. An aura of invincibility disappeared with the loss of his title to James `Buster' Douglas. Unlike Ali, who was unique, he has been unable to compensate for the effects of inactivity.

I found it interesting last week to read that Tyson's latest trainer, Tommy Brooks, was sure of a response to his instruction. Assuming it meant that Tyson would again be employing a stiff jab, that he would be a more elusive target when coming forward and throw clusters rather than single punches, I looked for signs of improvement.

There, in the first round, they disappeared once Tyson grew frustrated in his efforts to weaken Botha.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Floyd Patterson when he was preparing Donovan `Razor' Ruddock to fight Lennox Lewis in an eliminator for the heavyweight title. After putting in a great deal of work Patterson was sure that Ruddock would enter the ring as a much improved fighter. Instead, at the first crisis, he reverted to type and did not last long against Lewis.

This was more, or less, the way things went last week in Las Vegas. Forgetting most of what Brooks had told him, Tyson concentrated on trying to dispose of Botha, who was not up to much anyway, with a single punch.

News came yesterday of a bizarre incident two days before the contest involving Tyson and a group of broadcasters who were waiting to interview him. "Call me nigger, call me nigger," he shouted at them. He then became tearful. "It was very odd, disturbing," I was told. "You couldn't be sure what Tyson would do next so we decided to tape the interview rather than go live with it."

Stories like that make people wonder what the future holds for Tyson, whether his violent mood swings will have a tragic outcome.

Significantly, I think, there was no eagerness on the part of Tyson's television sponsors, Showtime, to talk up his effort against Botha. The implication in their silence is that they can see it will soon be over for him.