Boxing: Lewis turns his rage on Tyson the 'Rhinoman'

Britain's world heavyweight champion seeks America's acclaim by ending myth of 'Iron Mike' in explosive style
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The Independent Online

When Mike Tyson most recently raged against the distortions and the humiliations of his life, once again portraying himself as a violently tormented spirit, the background music was of roaring surf. Here, in the gentle Pocono hills, Lennox Lewis's rebuttal was accompanied only by the breeze-stirred lapping of a small lake. Sometimes nature does a little bit of editing. However, you could not fail to notice the ingredients of another storm.

After the Tyson typhoon, it was, relatively speaking, reflection on a Golden Pond. But at the heart of it there was also the promise of extreme and, maybe for Tyson, terminal brutality.

"For a long time," says Lewis, "there has been a need to put an end to the Mike Tyson story – it has become increasingly bad for boxing. People look at the sport and they see Tyson, whose name is synonymous with money. And they wonder how it could happen.

"How could this man, who doesn't respect women, doesn't really respect anything, become some kind of icon? Well, so much of it is myth. He makes money because a lot of people don't realise what he has become as a fighter. The sooner the Mike Tyson story is over the better and the end is coming. It will come on 8 June in Memphis, Tennessee – at the end of my fist."

As always, Lewis's statements of violent intent are softened by the style of their delivery. They generally come, for one thing, within the earshot of his beloved mother Violet, who has said more than once that her son essentially has the disposition of a lover rather than a fighter.

This week, with Violet in attendance and serving up the home cooking, his outlining of the last days of Tyson as a credible mega-earner were punctuated by Mother's Day greetings to the world in general. But if Tyson is likely to gag and then leer at the sentimentality, he might also just measure the weight of Lewis's contempt.

It is being expressed with a force undiminished by a lack, superficially at least, of anything that might be mistaken for rage. Lewis is not good at rage, at least not outside the ropes, but when he speaks of his inherent superiority of mind and body his voice, at least at this distance from Memphis, is unbroken by doubt.

"The way I'm looking at it," he says, "the good guy has to win. I respect only one thing about Tyson, I know he has power in his punch, but the rest is garbage. He needs to be disciplined. No one should love being in jail. Anyone beating him would be a victory for decency in boxing. He talks about being a victim, but anyone could say that... I could say that. I never grew up in a nice place, a nice world, but look how I turned out.

"Like everyone else, Tyson can choose how he turns out. He's just got to stop using his background as an excuse. It's such a silly excuse because, when you look at it, it doesn't really mean anything, especially to me because, as I've said, it has turned him into a cartoon character. It's unreal. Who is he supposed to be? Someone charging through buildings? Who is it? Rhinoman? He really ought to grow up."

As Tyson did in Hawaii last week, Lewis looks to be in excellent physical condition but without supplying the clinching proof of a bared torso or serious ringwork, though his trainer Emanuel Steward was quick to say that his man had gone through eight rounds of hard sparring 24 hours earlier. Lewis seems to be thriving on the work. His eyes are unclouded.

"He's in his prime condition," said Steward, "and he is very confident indeed. So am I, and one big reason for this is that Lennox only has problems with people he don't respect. His only two losses [against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman] were because of that. If he respects someone it is different. Remember both the guys he lost to were beaten easily in the return fights."

Lewis's respect for Tyson, he relentlessly makes clear, dies the moment he registers professional concern for the disorientating possibilities of a properly thrown punch from the former world champion.

"I'm tired of Tyson's talk, of the attention he gets for simply being someone who can't take any control of his life or his career, and I'll be glad to see him coming into the ring because that's where it gets hard, where whatever you say doesn't mean a thing, and you have be honest and just fight. I'm going to turn it on. I'm going to put down that American belief that Tyson is some kind of god of the ring. I'm going to say to the Americans who have not shown me much respect over the years: 'Hey, I'm really the very best.'

"I'm going to ask: 'Why haven't you people given me my acclaim?' and then I'm just going to take it, as I did when I beat Evander Holyfield or anyone they cared to put up. This is a bit about the history of boxing in my time, and one way I look at it is that the greatest of men have been persecuted. It is time for my boxing to do the talking.

"I've answered a lot of questions about myself fighting people like Morrison, Golota, Mercer, and Holyfield. The other day I saw Mercer cursing me on television, and I thought: 'Man, you had your chance, now be quiet.' The Mercer fight was a hard one and a crossroads for me. There were all kinds of questions against me, my chin, my stamina, my heart, whether I could take it when the going gets tough. Through my career I have answered all those questions. Mike Tyson is the last question. He was a good champion once, no doubt. He matured very early, while I matured later. But why has he been at the top for so long?

"It's not because of the way he has worked, the way he has put all of himself into boxing. It is because he has become a freak show, something out of a comic. When they talk about him now they are really talking about the past. But I'm operating in the present.

"People keep saying it's a defining fight, but I don't really see it that way. Financially, of course he is still important, but that's business; in the reality of fighting I'm the man at the top. He tried reaching and staying at the pinnacle before, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't get past Holyfield in two fights."

But, yes, Lewis concedes, Tyson can lodge terror in innocent hearts. He can weave patterns of menace with his wild utterances and behaviour. He can step outside the rules of boxing at appallingly short notice. Does Lewis not fear, in some corner of his mind and heart, such assaults from the darker areas of Tyson's psyche? "The way I look at it," says Lewis, "I'm going to be fighting within the rules. If he is coming in with something else it just makes me greater because I will be able to deal with it.

"I know I can win even though he might be dealing differently, trying to punch me low, elbow me, knock me out of the ring. This will make me a better person in the end. My girlfriend said to me: 'You're the best out there and all you have to do is show that even if he is coming in trying to bite you or do this or that you can dominate him right from the start. You must know you can defeat anything he's coming in with.' She's right. I've been in this sport too long to be impressed by his show. I've seen everything.

"Tyson definitely has the bully mentality. He showed it at that press conference in New York. The geezer bit me. We're two fighters and he bit me. There's no honour in that. When you do something like that you make yourself an idiot. I know there are a lot of Americans out there who are disappointed in Mike Tyson. If they are patriotic, how can they respect such a person? They really can't and after I've fought him they will have no reason. I will fight him within the rules of my sport because for me there is nothing in winning as a dirty fighter. I'm not interested in that. I want honour, the kind that is given to a gladiator."

At this point a great sword should break the surface of the lake. But it doesn't. A water hen merely gives a plaintive cry. Lennox Lewis, no doubt, would say it is on behalf of Mike Tyson. But then the editing of nature has it limits, as does boxing hype. Given that reality, Lewis is talking a good fight. He appears to believe what he is saying. The rage, he suggests, will come at a more relevant time.