Boxing: Lewis looms large as 'old' Tyson shows new work ethic

Lennox Lewis is "a pretty good fighter," Mike Tyson conceded, "but there's all that speculation about when he gets hit and I really want to fight him again before I make my decision on where he goes down in history.

"Besides," Tyson said during a wide-ranging discussion – from his oldest daughter "thinking I'm crazy and I eat children" to "white-ass Republicans" – who was he to be "judgmental"?

The 36-year-old spoke in his dressing-room after an impressive closed-door sparring session. "Every religion has a saying about throwing stones in glass houses," he said after a workout for his 22 February fight against Clifford 'The Black Rhino' Etienne. "I can't throw a sand pebble. I can't spit, I can't throw an atom at nobody."

He did not throw much against Lewis last June and absorbed a horrible beating before the eight-round knockout. Yet, a victory over the modest Etienne in the same Memphis arena where Lewis beat him up, could earn Tyson a rematch on 21 June. "I'm not looking past Etienne," Tyson insisted.

Tyson's latest trainer, Freddie Roach, added: "If Mike can't beat a guy at this level, he can't be champion again, and it might be time for Mike to think of doing something else. He just can't beat the Black Rhino in a lacklustre fight. I expect Mike to make a statement. People aren't going to buy a Lewis fight unless he does that."

Almost two million bought their first meeting, and Tyson still has not been able to watch tapes. "I've seen clips, but the world never lets you forget it.".

What he remembers about Lewis, though, "is he looked pretty soft in the body the day of the fight. I did, too, but he never goes to the body. I was going to break his ribs."

After the fight, though, Tyson was saying: "I don't think I could ever beat a guy like that, it was a splendid performance." Now he says he knew in the opening round "it wasn't my night".

Shelly Finkel, his adviser, asked why he did not say that then. "He told me: 'Look, that night, he was the best man and I wasn't going to take anything away from that. Next time, we'll see what I do'," said Finkel.

Tyson told Roach that for the first time since returning in 1995 from his three-year prison sentence, he feels like fighting. Roach said Tyson has been working hard. Tyson allowed only this reporter to watch him spar eight rounds with the Nigerian novice Teke Oruh and the former cruiserweight champion Arthur Williams, and indeed there were many signs of the "old" Tyson, moving his head, throwing jabs, swift combinations.

The world has been alerted before to "new" and "new old" Mike Tysons. A parade of trainers after Kevin Rooney have all marched to that old tune. Tyson, not on any medication yet genial and relaxed, said he believes he can regain the championship almost 17 years after he first won it in 1986.

"If I really, really work hard, I can do it," he said, sitting on a bench in his dressing room. "Look at me. I put on weight quick, but I lose it quicker. I even train quick. I feel good. I run faster than when I was 18."

There was a slight roll in the midsection, but otherwise he was lean and cut at about 228 pounds, up from 222 a week ago, said Roach, "and that's too light this far away".

Tyson is on a long losing streak from the 1990 loss to Buster Douglas to the rape conviction and the suspension for biting Evander Holyfield's ears. He admitted his image was "totally destroyed, disintegrated". "I got to take it on the chin," he said. "I'm pretty rugged."

He was not that sure about Lewis. "One of the greatest fighters, Battling Nelson, said you judge a man's character by how much punishment he can take. But then they say when you're good you don't have to take punishment, but that's what this game is all about."

He said Lewis was "a good person," but was "not a people's champion, the people don't grasp onto him".

Tyson likes acting the bad guy – "sometimes" – but he says no one should pay much attention to what he says. "I'm raw, I just like to bust chops and shock and amaze people."

He said even his daughter and niece believed the hype. His oldest daughter, Mikel, is staying at his mansion here, along with a 16-year-old niece. He said he was enjoying "this family, parenting role stuff" and reported he sneaked peaks at their letters.

"My niece [his late sister's daughter] told her homies they should be here with her crazy uncle," he said. "She thinks I have psychological issues. My daughter's letters, man, 'You won't believe this...' They think I eat children. But dig this. My daughter says, 'Don't worry about your money because I've got millions'. And she does."

He said he was certainly not broke. "I don't like to brag, but listen, I spent a lot of money, I blew a lot of money, but I still have a lot of money."

He said while most of his friends and family were Democrats, "my bank book don't look the same when they are in control. When Reagan was in control, I was fat."

He said his daughter and niece don't like to work – "they're just like I was, lazy, arrogant, proud". He was asked if his laziness, especially in the gym, affected his career. "Oh, yeah, that's probably true. But it's not that way anymore."