On Wednesday Mike Tyson was talking with some candour about his tumultuous march through boxing. Yesterday we heard about the Life of Brian – Danish heavyweight Nielsen, that is. Long before the end of the account, the mystery was not so much that they shared the same profession but the same universe.
Tyson has always insisted that fighting is for the blood money of survival. For Nielsen it is plainly part of a retirement scheme. Tyson talks about a youth of scuffling crime on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn, of fire and tempest. Nielsen speaks of milking the cows at dawn. Clearly something has to give when the men step into the ring tomorrow night at the Parken stadium and the more compassionate locals are hoping desperately it is not the head of the man who, according to levels of performance, is known here either as Super Brian or the Danish Pastry.
Blissfully, though, Brian seems utterly unaware of concerns about his fate when he steps in with the former Iron Mike. "I'm popular here," he says, "because I'm a nice guy. Everybody will tell you I'm just one of the chaps. Brian is Brian, always. I'm the same man as back when I started and I'll be the same after I beat Tyson." How he anticipates doing it is a closely guarded secret. He much prefers to talk about his idyllic life, the big Harley Davidson he rides with great gusto, his home removal firm which has become the biggest in Denmark, and his decision to retire to the sunnier climate of Spain.
This plan has been much enhanced by the $1m (£700,000) he is due to receive for fighting Tyson. But then, even though Tyson last night weighed in 15lb over his previous heaviest fighting weight, Nielsen's grand scheme cannot be said to be without flaw. The main one is that at 35, one year Nielsen's junior, Tyson still punches hard enough to knock down a wall.
Though Nielsen on the face of it has a splendid record – 62 wins, one loss and 43 knock-outs – it is not easy to dispel all dread about his prospects. One troubling fact is that his most notable triumph thus far is a dubious points decision over Larry Holmes. Not a bad scalp, you might say, but Holmes was 48 at the time. It is also a little disconcerting that when Nielsen reviews his youthful football career as a goalkeeper he is at great pains to say: "I was never afraid of being hit by the ball."
Avoiding a football is of course somewhat less challenging than the punch of a man who once declared, jokingly he insisted later, that his ambition was to drive the nose-bone of an opponent into his brain. "I'm not worried about that kind of talk," says Nielsen. "Boxing has been good to me, it has opened so many doors to the good life and I'm experienced enough not be scared by Tyson. After working as a milkman I became a butcher. Now I just want Tyson's head on a plate. It's nothing personal. I rather like the guy. I met him once at Las Vegas airport and said: 'Hey man, are you ready to fight?' He just laughed.
"I don't care what he thinks of my career. On Saturday we are just two guys in the ring and I know I've worked harder than him for this fight. I've seen him fight in the flesh and I've spent a lot of time watching videos, especially those of his defeats by Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield. He is hiding no secrets from me. I know he can punch but he can only fight one way and if he doesn't hit me properly in the first three rounds he has a very big problem. He should also be concerned that I can take a punch. I've only been down once and that includes 111 fights as an amateur and 63 as a pro. I've never been scared going into a fight and this is no different. Tyson may have a huge reputation – and I have to admit I recently called my speedboat after him – but when we are in the ring we are just two men stripped down to the basics."
They are never likely to be imperatives shared by Nielsen's 15-year-old son. "He doesn't have to follow me or his grandfather into the ring. My father was like me when I started – he was a hungry fighter. My son has money, and I'm proud that I can say that. Tyson's got all these people around him but I don't pay any attention to that. I'm not intimidated. The only thing that matters is what goes on in the ring. I've always wanted to fight Tyson, he has such an image. But when I met him in Vegas I realised that behind all that he's just another guy."
This can of course be said of Tyson probably with more conviction than at any time in the last 15 years, but it does little to lessen the bizarre nature of tomorrow's fight. Tyson seeks to drum up his appeal in a pay-per-view blockbuster with either Lennox Lewis or Hasim Rahman early next year. Nielsen is looking for a final payment into his hacienda-by-the-sea fund. Meanwhile, boxing casts around desperately for proper fights and a touch of charisma.
Britain's Joe Calzaghe, who defends his World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title against the lightly considered American Will McIntyre on tomorrow night's undercard, did not exactly lift the foreboding yesterday when he expressed admiration for Roy Jones' policy in recent years of picking easy fights at around $3m a shot. The world light-heavyweight champion, felt by some to be boxing's best pound-for-pound performer, is being pursued by Calzaghe's new promoter Frank Warren, but Jones' recent reluctance to enter serious fight engagements has become well documented after earlier in his career dominating reputable opposition in the form of James Toney, Bernard Hopkins and Virgil Hill.
When Calzaghe was asked if Jones's attitude angered him, he shook his head and said that he would follow the same policy if he reached a similar position. "I've had enough tough fights. What do you think I am," he asked, "a mug?"
No, the presumption was that he was a real fighter pursuing real fights. It would be a wild one, you had to agree, at any time in these dog days of boxing, and perhaps never more so than on the eve of Tyson against Nielsen. Calzaghe had already said that he expects the big fight to last only a round or two, and that the resulting dead television time gives him a chance to sell himself to the American fight public. But for what? Surely not a little stab at the Life of Brian.Reuse content