Has time blunted Tyson?

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The Independent Online
When Muhammad Ali got back to serious work after a three-year exile from the ring, Angelo Dundee perceived a worrying change in him.

Instead of confounding the hired help by sticking and moving, Ali, in sparring, made virtually no use of the evasive skills that had helped to make him unique among heavyweights. Deaf to his trainer's sharp admonishments, he retreated to the ropes and absorbed punishment.

At first puzzled, Dundee then realised that Ali was dangerously attempting to compensate for the effects of a long absence from the ring, especially on what had been remarkable leg speed.

"Nobody had a stronger chin or greater courage, but seeing Muhammad deliberately taking shots from guys who wouldn't normally have been able to hit him on the arse with a paddle scared the hell out of me," Dundee said recently.

This emerged from a conversation about Mike Tyson, whose release from prison after serving three years for rape appears to be imminent.

In Dundee's mind, as in the minds of many people in boxing, Tyson will never again be the intimidating force he was before losing the undisputed championship sensationally to James "Buster" Douglas five years ago in Tokyo. "Three years is an awful long while to be away from the game," Dundee added.

"From pictures and seeing him on television, Mike has kept in good shape, but he looks a lot lighter. I would guess by around 10 or 12lbs, which is something his people will have to work on. And after such a time, getting hit in the head might come as a shock. Don't forget that Douglas knocked him out, an experience that was never on Mike's agenda."

Comparisons between the respective comebacks of Ali and Tyson can be misleading. Ali's method was to pull away from an opponent's blows or parry them with his arms and hands. He observed few, if any, of the tenets that tutors held sacrosanct. Attacking, he would step in with swift, cutting jabs and following rights to the head, more or less ignoring the body. It was a spectacular, exasperating style, making great demands on the eyes and legs.

Tyson's reputation grew from the refining of raw power. Much shorter than Ali, he overwhelmed opponents with the sheer ferocity of his assaults, tunnelling in behind a powerful jab to deliver vicious combinations. The famed 83-year-old trainer, Eddie Futch, who is preparing Riddick Bowe to challenge Herbie Hide for the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title next month in Las Vegas, said: "Cus [Tyson's mentor, the late Cus D'Amato] drilled Mike into going relentlessly at every target.

"He hit with tremendous power and near-perfect timing. Because of his style, I never imagined that Mike would have a long career, but for a while he looked awesome. Excellent technique, natural strength and tremendous confidence. But after Mike split with his trainer, Kevin Rooney, who was an important link with Cus, there was suddenly evidence of decline. It showed in the defence against a moderate heavyweight, Frank Bruno, and certainly in the loss to Douglas. He simply wasn't the same fighter."

Habitually, Futch's lectures abound with instances of the horrible fate of those who would not listen. He is never slow to remind fighters that the benefits to be gained by keeping their ears and eyes open are considerable. Consequently, he believes that the choice of a tutor for Tyson will be critical. "Mike needs someone he can respect [possibly George Benton, whose many charges included the former undisputed champion, Evander Holyfield].

"Nobody know what effect prison has had on him, mentally and physically. There is a great deal of money to be made, but Mike's got a lot to prove, not least whether he can regain the desire that helped to make him a great figure."

Tyson's financial prospects from a renewal of his promotional alliance with the ubiquitous Don King, and if the comeback goes according to plan, are estimated in excess of $250m (£164m). However, there remains a big question: who will emerge next month from the gates of the Indiana Correction Centre? The best heavyweight out there or a has-been?