Boxing: Box office compulsion drives Tyson to brink of destruction

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The Independent Online

For quite some time Mike Tyson has been declaring his ambition to return to at least some of the roots of his success as the most dynamically disturbing young heavyweight in the history of boxing. Here tonight, though, it seems certain that he will reach back even further than that.

For quite some time Mike Tyson has been declaring his ambition to return to at least some of the roots of his success as the most dynamically disturbing young heavyweight in the history of boxing. Here tonight, though, it seems certain that he will reach back even further than that.

His plan is to perform a mugging at the MCI Center and if it is as successful as it has been so coldly calculated, all he will lack from his street days when he goes into the ring with Kevin McBride - at 6ft 6in a towering, affable monument to pugilistic futility - is the old ski mask.

However, if that sounds like a sneer, the joke, as grisly as we may ever encounter in an officially sanctioned boxing ring, is certainly not on Iron Mike.

Tyson-McBride is not a fight but a ceremony of exploitation. It will end quickly and harshly and few around the ring will doubt that it has served one of the oldest purposes of professional boxing. It will help retain an interest in the man who performs the ritual of a one-sided victory.

Tyson picks up $2m (£1.1m) of what is described in his trade as "walking around money" - plus a guaranteed minimum $3m to set against his debts - for work that needs to last not much longer than three minutes. If it does, even Tyson's Doomsday charisma may be heading for terminal trouble.

McBride has already been categorised as a "tomato can" by Tyson, which means that he has to be crushed not as any spectacular achievement but merely as some token justification for the aura of extreme violence which continues to make the former undisputed world champion - however bogus the impression may be in authentic fighting terms - the most compelling figure in boxing.

From the moment the match was signed the reality of it was never in question. It had one basic, brutal imperative. It was for Tyson to emerge from the disaster of his defeat by Britain's Danny Williams in Louisville last summer, when he claims he was ambushed by injury, with some remnant of his reputation for undiluted ferocity.

However even the validity of this small requirement, against a fighter of McBride's inadequacies, is being questioned here by a man who admits that not so long ago he too would have been intimidated by the idea of going into the ring with the ageing Tyson.

Hasim Rahman, whose finest moment will always be the one in the Johannesburg dawn when he threw a disabling punch at the chin of Lennox Lewis, is saying that Tyson's most valuable asset died in the Louisville ring 11 months ago.

"You can't wipe something like that away. We saw Williams against [Vitali] Klitschko, and that was very damaging to Tyson's old image. Losing to Lennox Lewis was one thing, but Williams, well, that was serious," Rahman said.

"Tyson can't frighten anyone any more - he can't just intimidate them with his sheer presence. That's been lost. If he is going to do any good it is only by working hard at his fitness and picking his opponents very carefully. Yes, with the power of his punching he can still position himself for a challenge for a title, but he has to be careful which champion he goes for. If he picks the wrong one, then it's all over."

Rahman, who is ranked at No 3 by Ring magazine in what most of the the boxing cognoscenti accept is the poorest-ever heavyweight division, believes that he will soon be a champion again and, yes, certainly he would defend against Tyson.

"He still means money and attention, but it can't go on for ever, so whoever wants to exploit what he brings to the table has to be quick. He has been brought very close to the end."

Tyson rails at such talk and this week angrily rebutted the suggestion that his fight with McBride is a "fiasco and a circus.

"I'm not interested in whether I intimidate guys before they get in the ring... I can't control my aura, it is what it is... but you know, I've always felt the best way to intimidate someone is to hit him very hard in the face. That gets plenty of respect.

"I've had some problems but now I'm looking forward to improving my legacy to boxing and stepping up as a champion one more time...

"I haven't missed being out of the spotlight, I've missed doing what I was born to do. When I don't fight for a while I get like a pit bull. Danny Williams didn't beat me ... he just got a win on his belt. He got lucky when I was injured in the ring... We do our best, as I have done since fighting Williams and getting the injury, and you then hope to win, but you are human and you have to remember that.

"For me it's like being on a big plateau, I've been inactive, I've had problems and I've been frustrated. But then when I train well and I come to a fight I feel reborn."

The promoters say that it will be near to a sell-out tonight and Showtime, the cable TV company which has clung to Tyson through so many storms and the ambivalence of public reaction to the worst of his atrocities, believes that pay-per-view sales will produce a healthy profit. But then you consider the kind of fight it will be, you see McBride coming to the scales at the heaviest weight of his career, 19st 7lb, and you cannot but see it as the business of the old Colosseum.

McBride smiles and puts his thumb up as Tyson's more passionate supporters jeer him and he intones an increasingly desperate mantra. Tyson will feel the force of all of Ireland when he receives a big right hand. There will be dancing back in Clones, the home town he shares with Barry McGuigan.

It is a fantasy, and one brusquely dismissed by Tyson. His declaration earlier this week that he will gut McBride as though he is a fish was a terrible, but somehow appropriate, image. It rekindled a score of memories of Tyson at his most destructive, when his entrance into the ring was a statement of ultimate menace, so overwhelming that the superbly intelligent fighter Michael Spinks climbed through the ropes against Tyson in Atlantic City with his eyes glazed by apprehension. He never looked like surviving the first round.

Seventeen years on, we face tonight a tawdry reproduction of that most one-sided of fights.

It is so because it is based on the lie that McBride represents anything more than a large piece of disposable flesh, indeed as pale and as defenceless as a fish on a marble slab.

Tyson in his own words evoked such a picture - and it is one that simply won't go away, at least before the sound of the first bell tonight. Then if it should just prove a grotesque fallacy, if McBride so improbably lands a big, decisive punch, there will be just one certainty. It will be that there will be no more use for the ski mask.

l Audley Harrison returned from a 12-month lay-off to secure a seventh-round win over the American Robert Davis in Temecula, California on Thursday night. The 33-year-old was straight into his stride as he floored Davis in the opening round. Harrison landed the majority of the bigger punches, with his left hook scoring comfortably. Then, in round seven, Harrison opened up and threw a series of left and right hooks that forced the referee to stop the fight.

Tale of the tape

Mike Tyson

Record: 50-5-0

Age: 38

Height: 5ft 11in

Weight: 16st 9lb

Neck: 20in

Chest: 42in

Chest Expanded: 44in

Reach: 78in

Bicep: 17in

Forearm: 14in

Wrist: 8in

Fist: 12in

Thigh: 27in

Calf: 17in

Kevin McBride

Record: 32-4-1

Age: 32

Height: 6ft 6in

Weight: 19st 7lb

Neck: 18in

Chest: 46in

Chest Expanded: 48in

Reach: 86in

Bicep: 16in

Forearm: 13in

Wrist: 9in

Fist: 14in

Thigh: 26in

Calf: 14in