Time may be running out on Mike Tyson but so far his greatest assets, fast and cruelly punishing hands, have yet to pack their bags. He can still go forward with an aggressive intent guaranteed to chill anyone's blood, though for how long and with what chance of success against a genuinely live opponent are questions still to be resolved.
At least it meant that here on Saturday night hopes of getting him into the ring with Lennox Lewis next spring – for the world heavyweight title and a potential $50m (£35m) pay night which would wipe out his debts – were at no point threatened before the local hero Brian Nielsen was brought to the point of double vision and surrender at the end of the sixth round.
However, if Lewis wins his re-match with World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion, Hasim Rahman, in Las Vegas next month, and the big fight happens, Tyson will face a complication conveniently absent at the Parken Stadium. It is that there is a good chance that Lewis will hit him back.
Tyson was no doubt showing some awareness of this when, after drawing from Nielsen a level of a tolerance of brutal punishment which might have fuelled a hundred dockside brawls in old Copenhagen, he said that the Lewis fight could possibly happen – but only after two more fights.
The reality of his situation is that he will probably have to settle for one, in January against the Puerto Rican Fres Oguendo or the time-expired warhorse Ray Mercer. Tyson's Showtime television paymaster, Jay Larkin, has patiently negotiated a deal with his cable rivals Home Box Office television, who own Lewis's contract, and Larkin – who could probably stage his own ticker-tape parade with Tyson's IOUs – made it clear after the fight that he wants Tyson-Lewis for March next year. Said Larkin: "Mike did what he had to do tonight, and he did it well, especially considering he's been out of the ring for a year. But our circumstances are that he will probably have time to get in only one more fight."
Any more dalliance from Tyson would endanger his ranking as the No 1 contender for the WBC half of the titles Lewis seeks to regain from Rahman, but beyond the difficult logistics Larkin did have one reason for optimism about the last phase of his fighter's eternally problematic career. It was that Tyson's aura is not dead, as 21,000 paying spectators proved here, and nor will it be as long as he can marshal the venom which would have cut down most opponents inside a round for two.
Said Tyson: "Nielsen showed a lot a courage, and how unbelievably tough he was, because I hit him him with a lot of heavy shots. I was rusty but I was pleased with the way I got off a lot of my punches. Yeah, I still have an appetite for fighting and I want to retire as champion. That has always been my desire."
It was one which on this occasion was relatively free of self-destructive urges, both in and out of the ring. Indeed, when the Tyson entourage got involved in a fracas in a night-club, in which one local resident had his jaw broken, their leader was safely ensconced in his hotel. Tyson also seemed to be consumed by concern when Nielsen, perhaps debating the possibility of a face and body-saving exit in the third round, squirmed in agony after receiving a punch which was officially deemed to be an unintentional low blow but in fact landed precisely on the belt-line.
Again, Tyson showed the care of a man looking beyond the next moment of his tumultuous life when he cocked a big right hand at the sound of the bell signalling the end of the sixth round and scrupulously left it unthrown. There were two possibilities. He had either been shown a copy of the Queensberry Rules or he really did have some serious ambition to avoid the kind of controversy which had disfigured most of his fights since serving his most recent prison sentence.
What was never in doubt in a stadium last used for a non-football purpose by the Eurovision Song Contest was Tyson's retention of his defining talent of throwing fast, damaging punches. Nielsen came in to his signature tune of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and within seconds his opponent had spelled out the practical limit of that resolve. It was to avoid being killed or seriously disabled.
Neither possibility was entirely remote as Tyson hit the 6ft 2in, 18st 7lb Dane at will, putting him down officially for the first time in 64 professional fights in the third round. The blows that did it were quick and well co-ordinated and will have given Lewis, watching from his American training camp, some reason for serious reflection on his previous failures to deal with heavy shots fired by Oliver McCall and Rahman.
Lewis had dismissed Nielsen as a "blimp" before the fight, but he proved himself an inordinately brave one long before he stayed on his stool at the start of the seventh round. Later, he took up the microphone and called to his departing countrymen: "I hope you enjoyed yourselves." Some of them booed, presumably out of irritation that he had not prolonged his own agony. Afterwards, he explained: "In the end I couldn't see out of my left eye and when he hit me my eyes started going up and down and I wasn't happy."
Nielsen's attempt to provoke Tyson verbally fell rather flat. Tyson explained: "To tell you truth I didn't understand a word he said. He wasn't too coherent but I put that down to him being Danish." In fact, Tyson's fists made the controversy over whether or not Nielsen's remark that he was an "abekat" or – "little monkey" – had any racist connotations seem rather irrelevant. The fact is that the Danish hero is well known for his right-wing views, recently telling a tabloid that all immigration should be stopped. The same paper printed a picture of Nielsen's opponent of four years ago, the former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, under the banner headline "King Kong." Tyson, apart from saying that he would punish Nielsen a little more for an apparent lack of respect, disengaged himself from the debate. He said that he was here simply to fight.
In all his circumstances he did it as well as his bosses could have reasonably expected, especially after he weighed in at 15 pounds heavier than his previously biggest fighting mark. He was less than forthcoming about his immediate plans, earlier having talked airily of the possibility of "hanging out" in Europe for a month or so – or perhaps taking a flying visit to China. Such projects would seem to preclude the early re-visit to the gym which his bulk here suggested is imperative if he is have any kind of serious chance of winning back his titles.
If the speed and accuracy of his punches were undoubted pluses, his level of stamina was certainly not. After Nielsen absorbed all that Tyson threw at him in the first three rounds, and it was more than he could have contemplated in a nightmare, the pace of the fight dropped sharply. Indeed there were times when Tyson had slowed to a desultory walking pace in the fourth and fifth rounds. But by the sixth, Nielsen was plainly feeling the effects of all that earlier punishment, rather like a whale finally aware of quite how many harpoons had landed.
In truth not too much had changed for Tyson's connections. They still have a strong sense of life on the lip of a volcano, they still cannot quite know what will happen next, perhaps no more than Tyson. And Lewis was right about Nielsen being a blimp. But no doubt they will hope that, with a more faithful reliance on anti-depressants, Tyson can keep his time-battered show on the road. It is, heaven knows, a precarious one, but boxing looks in vain for anything even remotely as compelling.Reuse content