Fight fever fails to grip Americans

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Boxing

KEN JONES

reports from Las Vegas

In contrast to the bombardment of predictable hyperbole it has set off in the most widely read British newspapers, and of course on Sky television, Frank Bruno's defence of the World Council heavyweight championship against Mike Tyson in Las Vegas next Saturday has yet to cause any excitement on this side of the Atlantic.

Doubtless interest will have picked up by the time Bruno's 3,000 or so supporters begin to arrive in the Nevada desert, but an event Sky would have its customers believe to be the "Fight of the Century" is presently so far down the list of American sporting priorities that it did not rate even one paragraph in the publications I scanned before leaving New York.

This has less to do with the notion that British heavyweights are naturally inclined to the horizontal position than things taking place in their time, and the conclusion, admirable to my mind, that prizefighters are fired by personal ambition, not patriotism.

You may sense the voice of a cynic, but it is a fact that Tyson would raise a great deal of embarrassment over here if, like Bruno, he prattled on about representing his country. The singing of the US anthem at sports events is no guide to national sensibilities. The tradition goes back only until shortly after the outbreak of war in 1941 when, in deciding that sport was important to morale, President Roosevelt ordered a reminder of more important issues.

There has been plenty of evidence down the years to show that British sports fans generally see things in a different light. Those who turned up to support Bruno seven years ago when he challenged unsuccessfully for the championship Tyson then held caused considerable amusement. "Who are these people?" I recall an American friend asking when they stormed the weigh-in, chanting Bruno's name. "Do they always behave so childishly."

Doubtless Las Vegas is in for a repeat performance, but what else can you expect when Sun readers are being encouraged to fire off encouraging faxes to the WBC champion?

It reminds me of a story told about the build-up to a contest between an outstanding British boxer, Dave Charnley, and Joe Brown of the US for the latter's undisputed lightweight championship. Sluggish ticket sales prompted the promoter, an imaginative type, to come up with a suggestion he put to the British boxing writers in attendance. "What about getting the Queen to send Dave a good luck message?" he asked.

While boxing fans are known to have divergent notions of pleasure, what they expect in the main from heavyweights is violence. When big men get into the ring, technical considerations matter less than the ability to induce a state of mind known commonly as unconsciousness. It is why the first fight of Mike Tyson's comeback sold out at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and why the arena will be full again on Saturday.

Even as champion, Bruno is perceived in the role of supporting actor. What will eventually capture the attention of Americans is Tyson's hugely rewarded attempt to again unify the heavyweight championship. No amount of support for Bruno can undermine their belief that he is in Las Vegas merely to provide Tyson with an opportunity to re-establish the reputation that once spread terror throughout the heavyweight division.

Returning to where we started, a confident personal assumption was that the fight would by now have gained some momentum, at least in the Las Vegas newspapers. Not a word, no sighting so far of the American boxing correspondents who have been made temporarily redundant by attention given to the basketball championships.

A curious fact is that while USA Today made no reference to the fight, it carried a story about the first game in qualification for the 1998 World Cup, a 3-3 draw betwen Dominica and Antigua. You may find this odd. I find it healthy. All things in their time is no bad philosophy.

n William Hill have taken a bet of pounds 50,000 from one customer at 1-4 on Tyson to win.

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