Tyson may be primed for last brutal fling

How ever did a place of such a peaceful name get to host a fight whose main attraction for the average $49.95 (£35) pay-per-view punter is that it could set new standards of unloveliness for the never lovely sport of boxing?

How ever did a place of such a peaceful name get to host a fight whose main attraction for the average $49.95 (£35) pay-per-view punter is that it could set new standards of unloveliness for the never lovely sport of boxing?

Auburn Hills at this time of year is truly that - a patch of gentle rolling country studded with opulent homes and reflecting-mirror corporate headquarters, ablaze in the glorious colours of the North American autumn. But here tonight at the Palace Arena, itself a luxurious postmodern construction of ochre brick and turquoise green glass where the Detroit Pistons play basketball, the latest chapter in the depressing boxing career of Mike Tyson will be played out. And, who knows, maybe the last.

As ever, he has been peddling his usual semi-deranged bile to pump interest in an evening's work against the Pole, Andrew Golota, for which he will earn over $10m. "I'm an angry guy, I'm bitter, I'm mean because the people I trusted all my life, they screwed me. This fight will last as long as it takes to kill somebody," he opined at his final press conference, before addressing a reporter who ventured to ask about some of his questionable tactics in recent fights (most lately, of course, the way he went berserk against Lou Savarese in Glasgow in June, unleashing a barrage of punches after the bell.)

"Listen, right, I've never done anything he [Golota] has never done in the ring, so ask him that question. Ask him, white boy. I mean, you know I'm insecure about that ****, so stop ******* with me about that."

So much for the continuing wit and wisdom of Mike Tyson, possibly influenced by the unspecified anti-depressant medication he is currently taking. More intriguing was a hint that this could be it, a prospect to which tens of millions would reply with a heartfelt Amen. "This might be my last fight. I might just say, that's it and go home." Which would have indeed a kind of logic. The likely prize for the winner will not be a shot at Lennox Lewis, but at a fading Evander Holyfield, who has already bested Tyson twice, albeit losing part of his facial anatomy in the process.

As Tyson suggested, Golota is no angel either. True, the Pole seemed gentleness personified on Wednesday evening, amid the red velvet and dark wood-panelled kitsch of the Polish-American cultural centre in Troy, just south of here. He smiled softly as he inscribed a slow, sloping signature across greeting cards proffered by members of Detroit's vast Polish-American Community, murmuring a few words to each of them.

But, in an eight-year professional ring career, the most redoubtable fighter to emerge from the land of Pope John Paul II has done more than his share of biting, butting and hitting low, and offered ample evidence of a short mental fuse. In October 1997 he froze against Lewis. Last November, he simply copped out against Michael Grant, refusing to fight on when he had taken a count of two after a 10th-round knock-down, even though he was far ahead on points.

"I did what I did, it's not important why, even though I can't forget it," Golota said this week. Then there was his inexplicable straying south of the border in both of his contests with Riddick Bowe, the former world champion, earning him the nickname of "The Foul Pole" and two disqualifications when on each occasion he was winning by a mile.

All that, of course, is forgotten now. "I have sparred, boxed and run more than ever before, I am ready for this fight. Some guys have been intimidated by Tyson and lost even before they get into the ring. But not me. As long as he doesn't bring any voodoo, I'll be OK."

And, buried beneath the aberrations, the insecurities, the self-destructive and semi-criminal impulses, the pandering to an indubitable popular lust for bizarre and bloody mayhem, there lurks the remote but tantalising possibility that we will witness not the habitual Tyson farce but a real, perhaps even a great fight.

For one thing, serious pugilistic traditions abound in these parts. For once Tyson has not been working out in the neon-dollar wonderland of the MGM-Grand in Las Vegas - but at one of the most hallowed sites in American boxing, the old Brewster gym on the edge of downtown Detroit where Joe Louis, the city's most famous boxing son, used to train.

This time too, the marquee promoter is not Don King, but another of Detroit's fistic legends, the former middleweight great, Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns. Maybe such associations will merely re-inforce Tyson's vision of himself as the eternally victimised black man. Just maybe, however, it will inspire him, reminding him of what might have been, of what old Cus D'Amato instantly saw in him when he was a kid: a lethal fighting machine with a swarming style and a jackhammer in each fist and the potential to become one of the greatest champions.

Tyson has plunged irretrievably far from that pedestal, of course. But, in training this week, he looked in fantastic shape, sharp as honed steel, punching with juddering power. Golota has for his part also inflicted major damage on some of the best. On the slow side he may be, but he has good technique, takes a heavy punch and can deliver one himself with either hand. If he keeps out of trouble for three rounds, he could cause real problems.

Golota, unarguably, is far and away Tyson's strongest opponent since the debacle with Holyfield on 28 June 1997, since when the disgraced former champion has fought just nine competitive rounds. Indeed he has fought only 31 rounds in earnest - equivalent to just two and a half championship fights - in the nine years since his brush with Desiree Washington landed him a rape conviction and three years in an Indiana gaol. Just what Tyson has left in the tank if he is roughed up a little, no one knows.

The 4-1 odds favouring the American to score his 49th victory in 53 fights reflect the prevailing view that Tyson, like Lewis, will get to a psyched-out Golota early on and that the scorekeepers will not be troubled beyond round two or three. But the Pole could cause an upset provided he survives the early onslaught.

Is this our last chance to see Tyson in the ring? Probably not, given boxing's ability to survive on what is left when the barrel has been scraped. Nor will he ever be what he once was. His mind is too warped, and at 34 he is in the autumn of his career. But before he vanishes into history, even mother nature here is demanding that Tyson/Golota turn out not to be a freak show, but an unexpected blaze of boxing's finer colours.

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