Bruno's brief reign; ended by Tyson onslaught

Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas on the shattering defeat of Britain's world heavyweight champion in his first title defence
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The Independent Online
The second of three uppercuts Mike Tyson threw in a seven-punch combination climbed into Frank Bruno's chin with such force that his feet came off the floor.

If Tyson had then been on target with the four violent hooks he was able to get in before the referee, Mills Lane, terminated proceedings after 50 seconds of the third round, there might have been something more serious to report than an end to Bruno's brief reign as the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion and probably his career in the ring.

As he did when challenging Tyson for the undisputed title here seven years ago, losing by a fifth-round stoppage after being battered almost senseless, Bruno ended up a great British loser, outclassed utterly, again exposed at the highest level of heavyweight boxing. This time he was inconsolable. "I don't know what happened to prevent me fighting better," he said. "I'm disappointed for the fans who came to support me and everyone back home who stayed up late to watch the fight on television. I really thought I could beat Tyson but he was on me like a harbour [sic] shark and I couldn't get going. Now I'm going to hang out with my family, take some time to think about things."

The confidence Bruno had conveyed with bold utterances during preparation seemed to evaporate immediately on being summoned to the contest. A television monitor showed the champion making the sign of the cross seven times when travelling to his corner and at first sight of Tyson's glistening physique he looked extremely nervous.

If Bruno's demeanour was not exactly that of a man awaiting execution, there was enough in his fidgeting under Tyson's bleak glare during the preliminaries to suggest an affliction of pessimism.

An important factor in assessment was the possible effect of a four-year absence from the ring on Tyson's purpose and timing. Technical flaws evident in contests against Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis encouraged Bruno and his associates to believe in the idea of a sensation. Some critics went along with it.

Tyson proved this to be naive thinking. If not quite the force he was when spreading terror throughout the heavyweight division, he had far too much speed and power for Bruno, who realised this quickly.

Doubtless, the champion went in there with a battle plan but it soon disappeared from his mind. Bruno never got off with the stiff jab that set up a famous victory over Oliver McCall and before he could get into the contest Tyson was swarming all over him.

It is not in Tyson to follow a policy of systematic destruction. His style conforms to basic principles but scorns scientific displays of judgement. Once he feels the measure of a man the aspiration is to get him out of the way in the shortest time possible.

A conclusion formed personally at ringside was that the first punch Bruno took, an overhand right, did for him. Clattering into the side of Bruno's head, it introduced him to the reality of his situation and was a brutal reminder of technical shortcomings. When a similar blow opened an inch- long cut in the corner of Bruno's left eye that bled profusely, it was clear he would be fortunate to last more than a few rounds and avoid a terrible beating.

One of the things that has to be said about Bruno is that he has never lacked heart and determination. Another is that he withstands heavy head punches better than has been argued. It is not that Bruno cannot take a punch but that he has no instinct for surviving the subsequent confusion.

A less courageous fighter than Bruno might have considered it prudent to be counted out from the stunning hook that almost sent him over in the second round. Instead, half-blinded by blood, he fought back gamely.

The term to describe a tactic fighters employ when in serious trouble is "claiming". This does not come naturally to Bruno. He has to think hard about it and as a result is as clumsy in application as he was when deducted a point for holding Tyson in an arm lock.

Including this setback, Bruno was, to my mind, already four points adrift when the bell to end the second round sounded.

Realising the extent of Bruno's problem, his many supporters in the audience (an embarrassment personally was to hear their whistled abuse of the United States national anthem) sent up a cheer of encouragement.

Coming up for the third round, the hapless champion looked as though he had just stepped down from a tumbrel. Execution was inevitable. Tyson went for him immediately. No reasons left for the challenger to be cautious, none to discourage the menace of his forward motion.

Turning southpaw in a desperate attempt to overcome impairment in vision, Bruno merely invited the left hook that rattled his head to be followed rapidly by another, then an equally murderous right. Falling back on the ropes, Bruno tried to cover up but Tyson was instantly on top of him. A right uppercut crashed into his chin with the force of a wrecking ball. The next one missed, but the third was devastatingly on target.

When Lane stepped mercifully between them, you remembered other occasions when Bruno's inadequacy under fire raised similar apprehension. As against James "Bonecrusher" Smith, Tim Witherspoon, Tyson, the first time and Lennox Lewis, he subsided slowly, slack-jawed, switched off from his central nervous system. Lane did not bother to count. An adventure that had brought thousands of British supporters to the Nevada desert was over. History had spoken its hard word.

Before climbing down from the ring, Tyson paused in front of the press section and slapped his hands on the championship belt around his waist as though demanding apology for doubts that have been expressed about him. Something else could be sensed in the deliberate forward thrusts of his pelvis.

If not entirely Tyson reincarnate, he had looked a considerable heavyweight, still devastatingly quick and powerful. "You all saw me in there," he said. "I was just throwing punches, all kinds of punches. How could anyone believe that Bruno would give me a big problem? It was ridiculous. I'm my worst critic and there's still plenty of room for improvement. But I'll fight anyone Don King puts against me."

Nobody should suppose a first defence against Lennox Lewis, whose claim gained impetus in New Jersey last Friday when a judge ruled that the WBC cannot sanction further heavyweight championship matches until his status is again considered. "We have told Lewis that he is guaranteed a shot this year," the WBC president, Jose Sulaiman, said.

This should not be taken as gospel. In his next step towards unifying the title, Tyson will meet Bruce Seldon for the World Boxing Association championship on 13 July in Las Vegas.

On the evidence of Tyson's form against Bruno only Lewis and Riddick Bowe have a chance against him. The only route left for Bruno leads into retirement. If taken, it will be considered a tribute to intelligence.

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